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Aldermanic call for conductors on trains a panacea?

I'm just a little skeptical that adding conductors to in CTA subway trains is the key solution to communication problems during subway accidents. But that's what our aldermen are demanding from the CTA.

The alderman demanded yesterday that the CTA  use Homeland Security funds to hire conductors, "but a top CTA official said the agency plans to spend its federal grants on technological upgrades, including a network of subway cameras, instead of more employees," The Trib reports.

I can't fault the logic of one alderman, who said he had never seen a camera carry a person out of a smoke-filled tunnel. And the two sides bickered over the cost of hiring 25 conductors for a year, with the union saying the tab would be $1-2 million, but the CTA says it would cost $24 million. But still, I just don't know how one more person can make that big a difference in getting 1,000 people to safety.

I'd like to suggest a compromise: The CTA should run a yearlong pilot to determine if conductors really do help, and Daley should cough up the money to pay for the pilot, rather than sap other funds for much needed capital improvements on the system.


Or better yet, why aren't the aldermen giving the CTA a resounding "WTF?!" in regards to their information infrastructure?

Even you mentioned yesterday, communication to the customers sucks hard. One more CTA employee being useless wont help anyone. Camera's wont do anything if people are not trained and drilled and competent enough to use the tools they are given.

The CTA needs to be held *accountable* for their screwups. If we want to use some money, lets use it to fund hearings on what the CTA is going to do about their serious breakdown in information infrastructure. Force them to set hard targets, and hell, wanna spend a bit more? Set up some kind of outside special observer, with the power to tell the CTA: NO. This is wrong, this is how it SHOULD be done.

But, adding more crap to the system is not going to help. The issue is not so much what they have. It's what they are doing (or not doing) with it. One more person on a train, will be one more person who joins the motorman in not saying anything. Camera's are useless unless the CTA has someone watching it EVERY MINUTE. Let's get the employees working first. From the people in Control, who should be answering calls from people driving trains and buses when there are problems, to the drivers themselves.

I am afraid it's too little too late. In 1997, no alderman or public official said anything, or came to our aid, and from reading cta tattler's piece, he probably didn't care either. While I do praise Alderman Lyle's efforts, as long as the poster child for term limits, Richie Daley is in office, they conductors will never come back.

You wrote "...And the two sides bickered over the cost of hiring 25 conductors for a year, with the union saying the tab would be $1-2 million, but the CTA says it would cost $24 million..." How did the CTA come up with that figure? Are they telling me that a conductor makes $960,000 a year in wages and benefits?!?! Sign me up! As a matter of fact, I'll do it for half!!!

From what I gather, Daley wants to drive everyone out of the City that doesn't want to drive or pay to use express train services that will not work.

He is driving the less-than-wealthy or connected out of the city. Purely because he does not want the current transit system fixed. How can he want the olympics here without having the system work? Everyone should vote no on the Chicago poll about the olympics in Chicago.

I would have liked a conductor on the red line train last night when 3 teens wouldn't stop screaming at each other for 30 minutes.

I don't feel like composing anything new on this, so I'll just repost my opinion from a thread a few weeks ago...

"The idea of adding conductors is just pure, knee-jerk foolishness. It makes no sense to add tens of millions of dollars to the agency's operational expenses for the sole purpose of increasing the peace of mind of a handful of neurotics (ED: And their aldermen apparently...). Conductors would come in handy (assisting with emergencies, passenger disruptions, and making runs more efficient) on at most 5% of trips, yet we'd obviously have to pay them for being present 100% of the time.

Moreover there is no guarantee that having a duo of frequently unmotivated, unskilled, uncommunicative CTA employees on trains would prove to be any more helpful or efficient than the the single person in place now. As someone who rode the el when they used two person crews, I have to say that the difference I've felt as a rider has been minimal. For all of the things CTA management has done wrong, getting rid of conductors ranks next to implementing farecards as one of the major decisions that has been hugely beneficial.

The real need isn't for more personnel, but better trained, better managed personnel who have access to the tools that will allow them to handle these situations appropriately. All the failures in the incident last week could have been remedied by more effective training featuring a well organized emergency plan. The CTA desperately needs to implement succinct, standardized communications protocols between front line employees and management, the CTA and emergency service providers and most importantly, between the CTA and it's customers. A single person on the train should have been able to effectively act as a lever between passengers and those involved in emergency response, while at the same time checking down on a list of safety procedures to determine whether the situation warranted an immediate evacuation.

Adding conductors would just swell the CTA headcount while providing very little in tangible day to day benefits. In fact, adding conductors would probably make the CTA LESS safe because money would be diverted from more useful expenditures, like communications equipment, more frequent training, new trains and buses with better safety features, more security personnel and equipment, and renovated stations."

I daydream about a complete management change at the CTA, with someone coming in who has run another city's system very well, and one of the first changes being a well-defined passenger-communication plan backed by effective training.

So I'm an idealist.

I agree completely with everyones postings above except dbt's. In addition, I would suggest all of the current boardmembers, management and executives at CTA be fired immediately & hire new peopleto replace them. Then Fire ALL of the employees and replace them with a workforce supplied by various specialty subcontractors under a fixed price contract in order to get control of the budget and hold the line on spending.

It's clear you don't need conductors on every train 24 hrs a day ... but what about on rush hour trains in the subways? Blue Line example: Conductor boards at Western (Division or wherever), and then gets off at LaSalle and returns north, etc.

I agree we don't need more people doing very little (like some station attendants) but a few more well-trained people in the right places could, in addition to making things safer, might actually get trains in and out of the station a little quicker.

Something the blue line, at least, could sure use.

1. Fire everybody above the title of "supervisor"
2. Fire everybody with the title "supervisor"
3. Hire the genius at Wal-mart that has stopped unions from entering their company.
4. Fire everybody under the title of "supervisor"
5. Hire Kevin to be the spokesman for the CTA.
6. Hire everybody on this board except Joe Blow (I think he's a CTA employee so he would fit under #1, 2, or 4) to be the new CTA board.
7. Hire Trump to be the head of personnel and help us find a new president.

Ha, ha...I just had to get a good laugh :)

anthony b - Well, under your proposal, conductors would be warranted on about 180 runs per day. The real numbers might vary slightly. I'm working with two 90-minute rush periods of 15 runs per hour in each direction on both the red and blue lines.

If conductors were to work say 3 am and 3 pm runs per day, alternating inbound and outbound runs between subway endpoints on each line (UIC and Damen on the blue. Fullerton and Cermak on the red.), we'd end up with the need for only 30 conductors. I have no idea how much motormen are paid, but let's just say $50000 each, including contributions to health care and such. That would yield an expense of $1,500,000 per year. Which doesn't seem too bad, depending on what kind of communications, training or infrastructure expenditures would have to be sacrificed as a result.

Knowing how the CTA can waste millions in consultant fees without even blinking, 30 conductors might actually be the best way to spend $1.5 mil., really. Even better, the CTA could yank some of the useless CAs from stations, train them, and make them conductors during rush periods. Each would get a pay bump, but all told, it would probably cost less than $600 thousand per year. Since their absence from stations would barely be noticed, it seems like a win-win proposition to me. Good idea, seriously.

conductors would just add an extremely small helping hand, if that... Most likely that CTA figure includes a padded study, and perhaps re modification of all or some rail cars to support conductors.

Of course the number 1 priority should be fixing up the system, not throwing funds around and ghost payrolls then making it look like there just isn't any money left, meanwhile they plow forward with adding cameras, building a $200 million "superstation" (all they really need is an interlocking at block 37)

There is always an extremely small chance that at the next mayoral election something might actually change.

I have to agree with the alderman that said that they have not seen a camera carry a person out of a smoke-filled tunnel. Needless to say that the current cameras they have already set up and are supposedly "on-line" (with the exception of the Lake/Randolph and Chicago Red Line Stations) DO NOT WORK. At North/Clybourn, I counted approximately 14 cameras on the platform, but only FOUR were showing up on the platform monitor. The rest of the cameras show up as a big blue screen. Nice, huh?

This is just a smoke and mirrors game that Frank and Company are playing. He doesn't want to bring back conductors because he doesn't want that money coming out of his pocket!

Having worked as a CTA train conductor(I still have my hat,sweater, uniform, pants, well, I was lighter back then), I think those against re-deploying conductors don't realize the behind the scenes work that would take place.

I carried one of those Motorola Radios. They were specially equipped to work in the subways. Many times, I used mine to alert the Control Center of problems I witnessed and experienced.

Here are a few stories:
1) On the Ohare Line south of Harlem, our four car train started to smoke. We evacuated everyone off the train at Jefferson Park. I can't remember if the train was dead headed to River Road or if we pulled in to Jefferson park to head back to Ohare for a new train.
2) Blue light specials. Sometimes, the train motors would act up..especially on the Boeing equipment (2400 series). I can't count the number of times I had to run through the train to get to the bad car and cut the circuit for the motors. The train would then run but with reduced power and reduced acceleration.
3) Or when someone would decide..hey that's my stop and pull the emergency door control. I mentioned in an earlier blog that if it was in front of my position, again, I would need to hustle to that car to close the door...then alert the motorman after checking out a window...all was a go.
4) AC/Lights. Sometimes the AC, the lights, the PA would cut out in car due to a blown fuse. I always wore gloves for blue lights and fuses in case a blue arc would appear :)
5) 22nd/Cermark. One time, my motorman and I were on a 2 car train. We hit railroad ties that street kids had piled up. I got out on the track...balancing myself on the 'L' permanent ties...watching my step. I grabbed the tie from underneath the snowplow. The motorman backed up the train. I pulled the ties out. He then deactivated the cab, jumped down and helped me stack the ties off to the side. It was such an event for the neighborhood that at least 200 people on the street watched us..they thought the train derailed. My were they suprised when we pulled into the station.
6) Training. I remember how my my trainer was at the Forest Park yard. I was learning the door controls on the 6000 blinker doors. I accidentally shut the door on his arm. He was FURIOUS to say the least...his point...pregnant woman stuck in door..what would happen to her? This lesson stuck with me from that point on.
7) Saftey. All rail personnel are trained on safety. How to evacuate the train in any situation or position(subway/elevated/in station/out of station).
8) Communication. Being a conductor really helped me hone my communication skills. More importantly, 1000 people depended upon me to keep them informed. If our train was late or stuck, it was my job to inform them...even if I didn't know why myself. I mentioned in a prior blog that one time when going into the Dearborn Subway, all T Trips were enabled. Ron had to stop at every signal, take out his stick, and manually reset the signal so we could pass by it. I stopped by the cab after the second signal as I looked out and saw red all the way down. Ron told me that the signals were all messed up...but he did NOT want to ask control to go on ATC bypass when descending down to Division as he felt that was uncomfortable. I communicated to my train public the problem and explained to them that were were following safety protocol due to problems with signals. It calmed the train. I informed my public that we would assess the situation and determine if this was just for the descent or if this would be true following Division. I don't have a schematic, but both State and Milwaukee descending is on separate block system. Once we pulled into Division, we checked with Control. Can't recall if we ran express or not as everyone else was behind us...but we were able to cruise downtown without other problems. I later received a commendation from the Ohare supt. due to keeping the public informed.
7a) Transit Police. Certain shifts and trains, Transit Police would sometimes ride the train. Many times, I would have to point out certain problems for the police to address. This is easier for a conductor to perform versus the public. If you are intimidated by someone and don't want to be followed home or worse, you as a member of the public may refrain from saying anything to the police. For me...it was a matter of the right non verbal facial expression and eye contact to prevent a situation from occurring or getting out of hand.
7b) Guardian Angels. They usually appeared on the Dearborn Subway. While it was nice to have them patrolling the subway, it took a while to learn how to coordinate the train operation and their operations to keep the train moving efficiently.
8) Other motormen/conductors. Yes, some people DON"T CARE AT ALL about their jobs. The people who trained me and who I worked with by and large care very much about the public, their saftety and riding experience.
9) Keep your eyes open. I can't count the times I kept my eyes on potential thugs, street gangs, and the like. It seemed like being in the military without a gun. We did have the transfer recorders, transfer punch, radio, flashlight, and access to the sleetscraper worst case.
10) Don't show fear. Number one lesson I learned. Don't show any fear in your voice, your walk, or your eyes. Again, thugs with violin cases boarded the trains. When my window was open to check that no one was being pulled by a door or stuck, I had so many close calls. Bricks thrown at the window, gang members attempting to hit me in the face. I was warned by one conductor on the south side, if someone comes to talk to you, make them get on your train or send them to the ticket agent's office. My friend was actually pulled out of his window and a stret gang attempted to beat him up. Then all of a sudden...all was quiet...and the motorman couldn't understand why his sleepscraper was making so much noise and why the gang got so quiet :)

And CTA management thinks that one man locked in a cab can do all of these things AND watch for people who may fall on the tracks, get pushed, kids, suicide targets, railroad ties, cars, you name it, and keep track of what's going behind his or her back? Perhaps CTA management needs to give the motor operators the night and day off and find out what really happens on the trains. Conductors were here long before Homeland Security was created.

Budgets? HA! Why don't they pull some money out of the suburban water revenue budget? Jardine filtration plant by Navy Pier serves the western suburbs too. Of course, there is the AIRPORT revenues from takeoffs/landings, parking, sales tax, gas to name a few. Of couse, that may mean a few people people who work an hour or two a day may lose their 8 hour pay and paycheck. Oi Vay!

I have more stories to share at a later time. My point to you as a rider and as a taxpayer...your life and the lives of those around you deserve more than a lifeless camera. A camera will NOT carry you..so true. A camera will not deter crime. A camera will NOT call the police or call for medical help. And a camera will not tell you how to get off a subway train without power.

Call your representatives and alermen. Call the CTA Customer Assistance Center at 312-664-7200. Tell them you want the conductors back now or Metra, your local cab driver, or your gas tank will get more of your travel business. Call your favorate local radio talk show host.

I have a bit more time now. When I have a spare moment, I will quote the travel times from when A/B service was in effect. I have copies of the old supervisor schedules for all of the train lines(pre-orange).

This information was brought to you courtesy of your Friendly Neighborhood Transit Man.

WOW! Transnsitman, thank you for your support!

Transitman has several good points. But they all boil down to: quality control. Both in the people they hire and keep, and the training they provide.

If they want to spend money, THATS what it should be spent on.

I once read a story, in the trib I think, that as the Administration costs for the CTA rise, the level of quality and service has systematically gone down. Once again, the CTA is proving itself to be a top heavy organization. Perhaps another audit of how funds are spent, by someone on the outside, is in order.

To be sure, at this juncture, I don't think putting another person on the train, in the current climate will help. I think with the current lack of training and overall non concern for the customer base, its just another person on the payroll. The underlying issues MUST be dealt with.

Just my $0.02. Much thanks, though, go to transitman for giving us another perspective. =)

You're so full of shit. CTA's administrative staff is half the size it was 15 years ago, with CTA service levels higher than they were. Some bad decisions have been made at the upper levels of CTA, but please remember that CTA is filled with people who's life is transit.

And for the record, I think Frank K makes something on the order of $175K per year, which is NOTHING considering he's at the top of an 11,000 person organization. Why don't you check what most Presidents, Executive Directors, and CEO's make at large companies.

CTA's downfall has been in its public face and its politics, because the real answer to the problem is to stop pathetically underfunding our system. Everything transitman said is spot on, and none of it can be fixed without more money.

These kind of problems are all over the city and state. The camera thing can also be related to the CPD who are extremely short on patrol officers, and the boys on top do not want to hire more because money is being spent on things like cameras that do nothing but shuffle the crime around and create a big brother society. How about some fiscal responsibility in Chicago and Illinois for a change.

VivaLFuego said..."You're so full of shit."

Nice response.

However, as with all people who seize upon one thing said, in order to make a minor point of little consequence, you missed the larger issue.

Technology will not solve a problem that has a root cause of human beings. Adding more human beings will simply add to the problem. Better use of the existing resources is what is needed here. If I give you 15 million dollars, and you piss it away, do I give you another 15 million dollars? No. I don't.

If the CTA wants to do something, then perhaps they could stop trying to find gadgets to do a job that people should be doing, and train those people *better*. Even if you add a camera, its useless, if someone isint watching it. Or isint trained properly to manage it.

And..next time you want to troll, perhaps you could add a little maturity, and at least be a *creative* troll. Really, make it *interesting*. =)

Has anyone seen the movie - "The Taking of Pelham 123"? How hard do you think it would be for a SUICIDAL SCUMBAG to take over a CTA TRAIN ? Especially when the motorman, the ONLY CTA EMPLOYEE on the train, has to leave his locked cab to REPEATEDLY fix the doors or anything else for that matter. If that EVER happens, and I PRAY IT DOES'NT, watch the finger pointing, and cries of "What Happened?" The lawsuits will undoubtedly eat up a fair amount of what the CTA "SAVES" by not having Conductors. The Conductors will allow Motormen to be in the LOCKED CAB- WHERE THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO BE!!!. BECAUSE WE ALL KNOW-- "IT COULD'NT HAPPEN HERE"........and I HAVE! been saying this since 2000.

What a bunch of irrational nutjobs. Since conductors have been phased out, has there been a single incident where injuries or deaths can be PROVEN to be exclusively attributable to a lack of conductors, where better training and methods being in place wouldn't have made at least as much difference? Moreover, why is it that every other rapid transit system in the world that I know of only requires a single operator (Some don't require ANY!)? Is Chicago so much more hazardous or are CTA employees half as competent? Anyone can come up with a string of anecdotes to prove just about anything. That doesn't mean the point is valid when applying it as a systemwide policy that will cost tens of millions of dollars, depleting funds that could be used for other safety measures and infrastructure. You bunch of phobes need to take something for your nervous disorders and stop trying to project your fear and paranoia on everyone else.

to "xanax":

Errr, most NYC trains have both a conductor/train operator, except for late night and weekends.

When I was in London, there were staff all over the place -- during delays and station closures, staff would clearly communicate to passengers in person and direct people on where to go. None of these tasks were up to the train operator.

Even in Minneapolis, the Hiawatha light rail line had transit police who popped in and out of the cars, checking for tickets and keeping an eye out.

I felt safer in those three cities than here.

In Chicago, if someone lights up a cigarette in a car, or is having an escalating fight, or is scratching graffiti, I have to switch cars, because there's no one to complain to. I am NOT going to push that blue light button and talk to the operator, because he/she can't possibly "have my back."

I'll only push that button if it's a medical emergency.

But in NYC, London and Minneapolis, I could easily talk to a staff member/transit officer, and stick by them for the rest of the trip.

I think the CTA needs an outside consulting agency (with a good track record) to come in and clean house.

Wow, the trolling on this comment thread is really something.

Must have struck a nerve somewhere. So many straw man arguments, you would think it was a scarecrow convention. I love watching trolls make silly irrational arguments based on false analogy fallacies. It's reminiscent of seeing the bully kid cry with a bloody nose in "A Christmas Story".

To balderdash: come on now, a European comparison is hardly fair. =) But you are right...London, hell, the UK in general have rail *down pat*. Not perfect, mind you. But they do it with a bit more competence.

That's true. Quality. The CTA lost many quality people when conductor role was consolated with the motorman role. Now, this was a long term goal at the CTA...to get rid of both conductors and ticket agents.

One of the reasons was that both handled cash. There were ways that some conductors had developed to ring up fares but use a different ringer. Some ticket agents would not properly record full fares and ring up reduced or another category.

Of course, these techniques were chump change. 77th and Vincences had an area for counting all cash collected on buses and the like. The financial controls at the place were terrible. Money was laying all over the place. CBS or Channel 7 I remember ran a story on it at least once.

The CTA spent tons of money on those fare card machines. They replaced ticket agents with station security guards to monitor the machines so they do not walk alway magically.

Yes, a third party independent auditor needs to come in an conduct an intensive audit of fare collection, capital expenditures, contracts(fuel, repairs, maintenance). Additionally, the CTA needs to hire train maids. I can't imagine the international cartoons that will appear world wide about the filth and rats in the subway tunnels, the lack of solid art in the stations, and the lousy service should Chicago host the Olympics. At least LA knows how to look good with using the equivilent of borax shots and makeup.

It would be a good start...but not an end all.

CTA management needs to ride the trains again. I don't think the move to Racine has helped. I wonder how many drive cars to Racine or what's left of the office at the Mart?

Some food for thought. At some point, some troops will be coming home due to non renewals from the Middle East. Those veterans will need jobs. How about letting them keep their machine guns and the like and run the trains? Bring back the conductors..change the uniforms so they look more like Rambo..and pity the fool who messes with them. Replace some of the management..the non performer political hacks with Armed Forces field commanders from both Iraq wars...and tell them to take no prisoners(just customers :) ).

Transit Man


How about we take it one step further and have the troops run security for the trains, machine guns and all?

Sounds all good to me.

I'm moving into the city and gonna run for alderman..... $90,000/year and you don't have to do crap except throw out ideas with no backing or proof behind it? That's the kind of job I want. Let me know your ideas now..I'll but the bill in right behind the foie gras.

Umm... while it's true that a camera can't carry someone, it's also true that a conductor can't carry 400 people. Nor can the existing motorman carry the other 400 people on a train. Would we be safer with 10 conductors and motormen? Yes. But then the trip would cost ten times as much in labor costs, which is most of CTA's budget. Ever hear of cost-benefit analysis, folks?


Well, the troops could be dropped in the reserves and with your approach, could keep up their skills. Plenty of opportunities for target practice.

MU or multiple unit control lets a motorman control all motors from one console. Same with conductor's station. 10 sounds like good planning for the Olympics.

Cost? Have you seen your Crook County property tax bill? The $ amount of money the city collects for water and Airport revenues? Other taxes on transit and freight trains? Don't be fooled. The money is there...especially now with a greater Loop tax based. 900K for a condo at 310 South Michigan(Metropoliton Towers at the Park). Penthouse suites now available for the upper bracket. And the CTA management says the money isn't there? Ha!

I used to like to take the metra but the trains are late and the conductors are rude. I just had a knee operation and one of the conductors flipped the seat and slammed it into my knee, he did not even apologize. He was pissed and in a rush, he wanted all the seats facing the same direction so he did not have to do it after the train stopped. What service. I think it would be better to get rid of all conductors if this is the case. They should just sell and collect tickets before you board.

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