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The CTA Insider dishes the dirt

Here's the CTA Insider's views on dirty trains and buses.

Oh yeah, the CTA is dirty!

The trains, buses and platforms are now picnic venues. I see it every day all day. From95th Street ... well the whole of the Red line has been referred to as the Dirty Red by employees for years. It comes from one source...people.

There was a small brochure put out a couple years ago giving the numbers of rail stations and the amount of people riding the trains on an average day. After doing the math it looked to me as though the average was 2000 people in an eight hour shift for our personnel to deal with all the stations, and there are usually 2 shifts at the stations an AM and PM.

The CTA cut back in station maintenance and car cleaners for the last 3 years as happens whenever you hear about budget problems these departments get cut first. Well not cut per-say but as people leave for whatever reason they are not replaced for months and the jobs are stretched to make up for this. So in the Loop on the elevated you have two janitors for the entire AM or PM shift. That equals out to 4 stations per man and it is the same in the subway and it is like that system wide.

The car cleaners are to make their way through the train as it is getting ready to go back into service, picking up as they go -- and we are talking about 5 mins sometimes so some things are going to be missed.

They too are down in manpower and it shows so having raving supervisors is not going to make anyone work better if they are doing the work of 2 people or more. That is not to excuse someone  from not doing their job but come on people if you have a problem with a rolling bottle on a train pick it up and dispose of it in its proper place.

It shouldn't be about, "it's not my job, I don't get paid to do some one else's job!" If you have a problem act on it and solve your problem. We as employees see enough during our day to realize that we can only be in one place at one time and I see them everywhere doing their jobs some not as I would do it but I also see a lot that passengers do things that I wouldn't dream of doing, employee or not.

After all it's a PUBLIC service not an office that so many of you work in a classroom and cannot be controlled the same way. There are A LOT of people that feel that 2 bucks or $2.25 buys them a foot rest, a bathroom, a sleeper car, a picnic table or any thing else that they want. But truly it doesn't even buy you a seat it buys you a ride.

So please continue to ride and hopefully we can make it better for you, but remember there are ways you can make it better for yourself and others. Speak up, pick up and we'll do the same and before you know it WE all can have what we want when we leave work, a quick clean ride home to our families...or a punch in the face from the guy eating the giant sub or the chick eating the 10 wing special. Ha Ha sorry couldn't hold the corporate line there.   


Down in manpower?

I get on the Red Line at the Sheridan Station. Last week time it was being cleaned, there was one guy running the hose, one guy emptying the trash, and two guys talking but not working. So there's 4 at the station, but only 2 are cleaning.

It didn't appear to be down in manpower then.

Were the two guys talking part of the cleaning crew or were they motormen just got done with a trip and taking a break.

I'm curious about the costs of cleaning. How, if at all, does that factor into the last two rate hikes?

This establishes two things:
There are a lot more slobs on the train. Why can't people follow the rules that there is no eating or drinking, and that newspapers should be put in the blue boxes on the platforms after being read?
CTA has $1.3 million to blow on consultants like AECOM, but apparently can't afford maintenance workers.

I stand at the north end of the Howard outbound platform every morning, where there are 1 or 2 cleaners (usually just one) stationed. I watch them work so hard to try and clean up when each red line train comes into the station, but because they come so often they need to leave just as frequently, and the cleaners can usually only get one or two cars done, and not very completely. There may be more cleaners stationed for the other end of the platform, but when 1 person has about 2 minutes to clean 4 cars, there's just no way it can be done.

Riders are not going to buy this sob story when the fares continue to go up and the general attitudes of CTA employees and security is deplorable towards customers.

There are some of us who may eat/drink on the train without making a mess AND sometimes pick up behind others, but the CTA isn't going to win many converts by keeping tight-lipped about how much IT'S working to keep the system clean.

The agency has been around for decades and again, this shouldn't be as much of a challenge at this stage of its existence.

It should not be looking to drown itself in additional services like the Circle Line if it can not properly manage what it already has.

The platforms and subway stations are generally pretty clean. Why? Because there are trash cans.

Would be nice to have something similar in the cars. Could even be clear plastic and antiterrorism-approved!

Question. How many runs does a train make before it's brought into the yard? Because there is NO WAY the filth I see is the result of a few runs without a thorough cleaning. It's more like weeks without being cleaned. Does the same train run the line for weeks nonstop?

Also, why is it that I rarely see the maintenence people actually WORKING? When I was younger, I helped clean the stands at Soldier Field the day after games. We're talking about knee high garbage. If we worked at the same pace as the CTA workers I see, fans would be sitting on weeks of accumulated trash by the end of the season.

Quite frankly, it's absurd that you're asking customers to pick up trash themselves. It's reasonable to encourage riders to help by asking others to not eat while on transit, or at least to pick up their trash. However, I'll be damned if I'm going to pick up a bottle god knows who has slobbered all over. Nor am I likely to wipe up dried vomit, pick up gnawed on chicken bones, wrappings dripping with sauce, or anything else. I already have a job thanks! Will CTA workers come over to help me with my design work, since I'm helping them do their maintenance? Moreover, I PAID for my ride while CTA workers ARE PAID to keep vehicles clean. NO OTHER BUSINESS would tell customers to pick up other people's trash.

Finally, even if I wanted to pick up trash, there is no place to put it. There are no trash receptacles on trains and few on the buses. Should I cuddle with someone's bottle until I get to my stop, where I can finally throw it into a trash can?

It doesn't give me any pleasure to say that public facing CTA workers are, taken as a whole, among the laziest, most vacant and surly bunch of slugs I've ever encountered. In nearly twenty years of riding, for every janitor I see who's working diligently to pick up after sloppy customers, for every knowledgable customer assistant with a pleasant demeanor, for every bus driver with courtesy and good humor who fights to stay on schedule, I see several others who make a mockery of the fine efforts of their peers.

In this case, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You could pay people to clean the cars every N weeks, or, I dunno, might it not be cheaper just to have a second person ride trains busting people for eating, throwing off bums crapping in the hobo corner, etc? I mean, if you prevent the messes (for the most part) in the first place, there wouldn't need to be a team to scrub each car down.

Also, and this is probably pie-in-the-sky, but couldn't these cars be constructed so they could have auto wash systems that the cars could just be run through? Open the doors, run them through a car-wash type thing, and blow them dry? If the new cars don't have the carpet seats, it's not like there would be much to dry. Also, if the ads were

The CTA doesn't think it's getting enough funding, so it makes the system dirtier to try to garner support. The hard part is finding the line between "impoverished" and "incompetent".

If the trains and buses and stations were clean to start with, I bet you'd find a lot fewer people messing them up.

The "Insider" is an apologist. This is the second straight time we've been treated to this person's "insight" and have been told, in so many words, that our problems with the CTA are OUR problems.

Symptomatic of a larger problem: the CTA is blameless. If you don't like the shitty system, get a car. That's basically what we're being told.

Hey-- the trains are all delayed and we're offered no explanation (which seems to be happening every second trip, or once a day)-- hey, maybe you should leave home earlier, it's not the CTA's fault you're late. Too bad if it takes an hour to get from Western to Chicago Ave.

Trains are dirty-- maybe you should be picking up after your fellow-riders.

Supervisors chase you off the train and assault you for asking questions regarding the service-- you should be more polite. Don't take pictures of people who are assaulting you.

Ridiculous. The "Insider" hasn't offered up anything we didn't already know from the way we're treated on a daily basis.

I know there are lots of people who seem to be able to drink their morning coffee and perhaps eat something along with it without making a mess, but lots of other people have ruined that for the neat folks. So the CTA needs to enforce its rules about no eating/drinking.
They also need to close the in-station Dunkin Donuts, remove the vending machines, and have people who are eating/drinking on CTA property arrested. Then we won't be subjected to the rolling pigsty.

The CTA is the most poorly run transit system that I have ever relied upon.

While I stand on the dirtiest subway platforms known to mankind, I am surrounded by miles of unutilized advertising space, enough to pay for a good scrub down, surely.

I think the CTA plays this game of "poor me" with the public and local government, when all they're really about is pleasing their shareholders, and keeping tight reigns on the tired old-school-union-mafia thing that seems so popular up here.

I say we give capitalism a whirl, and bring in people with money who are willing to give us a system we can be proud about: clean stations, express trains, and reliable service.

We live in a city for a reason, don't we?

The only people I blame for dirty trains are the people who make them dirty, and that includes everyone who eats and drinks on trains, even right under the sign that prohibits eating, and including those self-righteous souls who are so sure they never drop any of what they're filling their faces with. Not to mention all the other stuff that gets left behind. I fail to comprehend what is so difficult about getting on a train and simply riding it to one's destination without leaving something.

This entry has become quite the bitch fest!

Ok I really don't want to take a urban train system in this city that has been essentially if not actually privatized. Can we say advertising bombardment? We would get subjected to advertising visually and aurally. 'Cause you know any time there isn't station announcements it would be advertising at full volume. And before you say well the system doesn't work so why worry, if they're making money from it, it will work very well. Think of video ads with sound at all stations and trains and then let your imagination run wild. Plus there would be even more reason to sell food at stations since that would be a real moneymaker if you expand that.

Now this is a hypothetical situation but adding capitalism to the mix could have repercussions that no one wants. Or not, maybe you all want it.

But seriously the real problem here is that all of you just want a place to vent but not do anything about any of this. If you really have a problem talk to your elected representatives. If you by yourself isn't causing anything, get several hundred others to talk to them about the same thing. Or go start a group or join one and petition these people in the city government who could make a change and then ride their arse 'till it happens. Basically if you're pissed do something, don't just bitch.

Also, maybe you should pick up others garbage to know how crappy a job it is no matter how much you get paid, on top of any other problems they may have. Try to see it from all sides before making accusations.

David must ride the Brown Line.

And the Red, Blue, and Green. And everything I say still stands. So what action are you going to do?

The CTA is already a private business, and it's been that way since 1947. I'm as much as a socialist as the next guy, but advertising space is something the CTA has but doesn't fully use. Travel to London or Paris and tell me if you feel bombarded with ads in their clean stations?

The CTA is a joke.

There, I said it... and I thought this blog was here for some rousing debate among patrons, not the "go complain somewhere else" fanclub.

Thanks, but I didn't come here to suck on a teet, nor do I need lessons in democracy.

I don't dispute that picking up garbage on the CTA is a shitty job.

The point is that people get paid to do it, and it doesn't appear to be done. I don't need to pick up litter on the train to understand it's shitty job. I think the point is that there is a budget for maintenance/upkeep/cleaning-- and a lot of people, including the Chicago media, are wondering what use is made of this money.

One of the points of this forum is to talk about issues we experience on the CTA. Just because we choose to vent here does not mean that we don't follow the civics lessons you so helpfully suggested.

I'm a frequent rider of the Red line and I agree, it is disgusting! Sunflower seed shells everywhere, chicken bones in the corner, sticky soda syrup on the floor. The list goes on and on. The majority of CTA employees are rude and could care less about the riders. This attitude can resonates throughout the entire system.

Take a look around you at a station. I see empty buckets, scrap parts and debris strewn across and in between the elevated tracks everywhere. Maintenance crews don't pick up after themselves. The entire system is sloppy, its embarrassing. The other day while riding, I heard one tourist comment to one another, "The trains in NY are a lot faster and cleaner."

And while we're at it, if the homeless are just going to use the stairwells and cars as bathrooms anyway, wouldn't it be easier to just HAVE bathrooms so it was easily cleaned in one convenient location? I mean, basically, it's a choice...do you want to clean up the human waste on the stairs or in a stall?

Look, I'm sorry if I came on a little strong but I feel passionately about taking advantage of our democratic system. I was raised with the idea that if you have a problem, do something about it. And if you need to, get as many people involved to make it happen. So when going though this entire site and not seeing anyone saying "hey I need help for some CTA action committee" or something I'm confused. I really just want to hear people saying they're doing something and using the complaints here to galvanize them into action. So keep commenting and kvetching so those people know what's going on.

Looking back at my old comment I realize I didn't make that clear enough, but that is the point I'm trying to make. So once again I'm sorry if anyone took offense but this is what I believe in.

If you want to know how the democratic system works in this city, follow the Sorich trial. Don't forget, the same machine appoints 4/7ths the CTA Board and installed its President.

I've been so busy lately and have forgotten about this blog. There's some crazy stuff that's happened over the past few weeks.

Anyway, here's my two cents: I forgot who said it first, but I'm tired of the CTA not taking responsiblity and shifting blame to everyone but themselves. The "tattler" has definately changed since year. Did he/she get promoted? Is he/she getting his/her pockets padded? Frank, Carole and every other executive were hired to help the CTA run efficently on a tight budget. Instead, they keep increasing fares and crying broke. If this was a publicly trading company would they still have their jobs? I think not. How can NYC transit system have a huge surplus? Compentency is lacking at all levels of the CTA... from the lazy red line car cleaners to the board president who thinks wearing a yellow coat on a bus and saying hi to us common folk is public relations. What's the answer to our problem.....I don't know. If our local state rep or aldermen knows the answer to his huge problem, then they're in the wrong line of work. What I do know is every executive, board member and president were hired and appointed to figure out these problems and they've just created more problems so they obviously do not need to be in those positions anymore.

Hi. You know how the Chicago Cards read "On Time, Clean, Safe, Friendly"? LIE, LIE, LIE, LIE!!! Especially on the "Clean" part. Take the word clean off that card and maybe they'll be telling the truth.

BTW (and I don't know if this is off topic or not), you can't eat or drink on the CTA or Pace BUT YOU CAN EAT IN YOUR CAR!! This is obviously yet another reason why people prefer to drive. And I'll bet you'll have an entire Thanksgiving spread on your lap while riding Metra and the conductor will only say, That's OK, knock yourself out?

So, say you're a diabetic and you desperately need a snack or you will get sick. If you ride CTA that means get off the train AND the platform, or the bus or whatever, and when you get thru snacking get right back on and spend more money! That's something nobody ever thinks about: the issue of whether the Chicago Transit Authority cares about the physical health of some of its riders.

I have diabetes and have never worried about the "no food policy" applying to me if an emergency arises.

Presumably the rules goes out the window when you're dealing with a serious medical situation.

I think the ban on food and drink is the right rule. If only they enforced it.

Dave: I don't think that anyone here is anti-democracy, it's just that change needs to start from the ground up (i.e. people sharing their feelings in public forums like this one).

I'm sure that in time (especially if gas prices keep climbing) the general public will see a larger need for public transportation in this city, and the CTA doesn't rise to the occasion, someone else will (which is the point I tried to make in my first comment).

Also keep in mind, and as Jackonthebus pointed out, Chicago politics are largely effected by money, not citizen awareness. Protest signs and petitions are cute 'n all, but it's going to take a lot more muscle than that to uproot this rotten stump.

Oh I agree wholeheartedly, and I don't think ANYONE here is antidemocratic. And while signs and petitions are fun they don't do much without real oomph behind them like oh maybe a transit equivalent of the Citizens Utility Board (though are they effective at all?). Or create a group with the power to do something like audit the financial records for the last 10 years, and then drag that assessment where it needs to go. Something along those lines, I don't know for certain these are just ideas.

And no the irony of living in place where we get to elect some people and others get appointed with out our control isn't lost to me.

Heck with Chicago leasing the skyway why not the transit system as well? It could be better, it could be worse, or it could be a net gain of zero. Who knows.

Heck with Chicago leasing the skyway why not the transit system as well?
You can't do it in the same manner, since it doesn't make money. The Skyway wasn't leasable until it the Indiana casinos opened and generated traffic on the Skyway.

One thing that could be done is to contract out the management of the system to some company like ATC, Laidlaw, or First Transit, like they do in Las Vegas, or even as close as Hammond. But you know that both the politicians and unions would scream about that. However, if the contractor didn't keep it clean, there would be some other contractor that would want the job.

Also, the following comment seems off:
Ok I really don't want to take a urban train system in this city that has been essentially if not actually privatized. Can we say advertising bombardment?That seems inconsistent with your later comment to lease it. Also, when transit was private (according to the history books) the City Council prohibited exterior advertising. Now we have wraps on buses and trains. Have you seen the advertising TVs on Pace buses? Compare the similar situation, where taxis only now get limited ads and regulations on how to split the revenue. However, I don't object to the ads if they pay part of the freight. The worst combination would be if the current management sold naming rights, such as the "Nuts on Clark Transit Authority" managed by imbeciles on Lake & Clinton.

I use the Brown Line to get to work every weekday. I catch the train @ Damen Ave @ 4:50 AM. Every morning there's a very attractive woman who uses her commute to Fullerton to apply her make-up. Nothing wrong with that, except she has a habit of leaving Q-tips behind on the seat. I can only imagine how her house looks!!

If you guys bothered to research operating budgets rather than launch ad hominem attacks and complaints out your ass then you'd realize that CTA has the most efficient major bus system in the country and arguably the #1 or #2 most efficient train system, this in terms of the level of service provided (number of routes and frequency on those rotes) compared to their operating budget.

NYc runs a surplus because they are largely funded through a property tax, and well look at property values in NYC lately....
CTA is funded through a regressive sales tax.

In real terms (adjusted for inflation and fuel costs), CTAs subsidy has gone down continuously for decades and yet since Kruesi has come on, he's managed to increase service levels.

There are plenty of educated complaints with CTA, but do your research (google anyone? most transit agency's budgets are public) before you start claiming that its an efficient operation.

And the comparison to London and Paris is hardly apt, since those services cost much more to use AND receive much greater public subsidy (in terms of taxes and through land use controls that ensure dense transit-oriented development and as a result, high ridership)

Can someone please tell me what’s going on at the CTA? I’ve worked there for many years and I still can’t figure it out. CTA is in the process of expanding the platforms and remodeling the stations on the Brown Line, which some think is a good thing, but that’s a debate for another time. My question is, who drew up the plans for these new stations and hired the incompetent contractors to put them together?
Anyone who rides the Brown Line north of the Western station, as of last week may have noticed that the platforms at Kedzie and Rockwell have been installed and that this week several sections of the platform have been pulled up. That’s because the genius’ that laid them forgot that they had to put up the light poles and connect them to the electricity under the platform. Speaking of the platforms, another question comes to mind. Why are they using untreated wood to build them? From what I’ve heard from other employees (and they are just as confused and surprised as anyone else) the wood supposedly was special ordered from Iowa or somewhere and is supposedly fire resistant. We all agree that fires do happen on the CTA, but they usually happen at track level. None of us can remember ever having a fire on the platform. We all assumed that with the base infrastructure made of concrete and steel I-Beams, that the platforms themselves would be concrete slabs. The wood that they’re using is already beginning to warp from the weather. Which brings me to another question our paying customers might be interested in. There isn’t going to be any canopy covering the platform. During inclement weather our customers are going to have to stand in the rain, snow or freezing wind or everyone will be bunched up at the front or the rear of the station, where there is some coverage, and end up over crowding the train on the first and last cars. The bad thing about having wooden platforms for our employees’ mostly affects the janitors. Have you ever gone out on a winter morning to shovel snow? How does it feel when you’re pushing the shovel and you start building a little momentum when all of a sudden you hit a crack in the sidewalk? It feels like you’re going to go flying over the shovel or yank your arm out. Well, with wooden platforms, as time passes the nails start popping out and when you hit a nail that is sticking out, even if you don’t notice it in normal conditions, the shovel will find it when you’re pushing snow and knock the shovel right out of your hands. Wooden platforms take longer to clean because of all the spaces between the boards the get clogged up with paper, candy, gum and cigarette butts (I know there’s no smoking on the platform, but some people still do), etc.
As for our Customer Assistants, who have to work at these stations, does anyone know why they are making these new stations without bathrooms? Top management, the riding public and the media all like to complain about how the Customer Assistants are never around to help when needed. Well, when the Kedzie and Rockwell stations open and they close down Kimball and Francisco to start construction there, the Customer Assistants will have to take the train to the Western station to use the washroom. Now under normal to good conditions, that could take up to about fifteen minutes and that’s if the employee catches the train as soon as the urge to go hits them and all they do is go pee and then catch the next train back. But what happens if both of the employees for Kedzie and Rockwell end up at Western at the same time? They don’t know in advance that the other is going. And what if when they get there the employee for Western is already in the bathroom? Also, take into consideration that in the winter the employees wear a one-piece jumpsuit that they have to struggle out of before they can drop their pants. Now imagine yourself at the Kedzie or Rockwell station just as the employee leaves and your transit card gets captured or your Chicago card doesn’t work. Who will get the blame? The Customer Assistant, of course.
If anyone can answer any of these questions, please do. Myself and other employees would like to know.

Imagine that! The RedEye hires someone to determine whether the CTA is dirty and -- shocker of all shockers! -- the CTA IS DIRTY! And it's Page 1 news! Stop the presses!

I really just chuckled when I saw the hysterical headlines on both the Trib and the RedEye's front pages. Apparently the RedEye hired the company in hopes of finding if any of us commuters are leaving behind staph or E coli germs.

Well, no. Thank God.

But there's still enough bacteria to make us sick, and to warrant thorough hand washing after riding trains or buses. Well, duh!

The study, though conducted by a scientist, wasn't exactly scientific, since it was limited to two Red Line train cars, two Brown Line train cars and two buses on different routes.

To me, the funniest and most ironic finding was that the flocked seats themselves on El trains were found to be among the dirtiest spots.

So let that be a note of caution to all you folks who bend down and "brush off" the seat before sitting. You're just coming in contact with germs when you don't have to be.

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