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Weigh in on CTA issues at Chicago Wonk

The folks over at Chicago Wonk offer a daily poll on Chicago/state/national policy issues for readers to vote on Yes or No.

The next day, those who sign up get an email with the poll results.

Today's question regards whether the "CTA [should] continue to pursue its current expansion plans despite an increase in rider dissatisfaction with existing service?"

To me this is a tough question because system growth can't continue without investment in capital projects. On the other hand, I think CTA management has been focused TOO much on capital projects at the expense of day-to-day maintenance.

What do you think? Click here to take the poll.


Sweet site!

Sweet site!

I take CTA busses all the time, and use the Blue Line to get to school on the weekends, but mostly I take the Metra Electric. Metra has a monthly (?) newsletter it distributes on its trains- January's issue talks about Metra's budgetary problems, and how they're shifting capital dollars to be used for maintenance. Every time we complain about CTA spending hundreds of millions on upgrades when the existing infrastructure is crumbling, we get the same excuse- capital dollars can't be used to do maintenance. So why can Metra do it, but not CTA? Things that make ya go "hmmm."

Sten, you're talking about capital projects, not maintenance. Metra's talking about "operating maintenance" like sweeping trains and things like that. Fixing crumbling stations is a capital cost.

I believe the widespread incompetence of the C.T.A. is intentional.Even when they do things right,it comes out wrong.Constant failure will hasten the privatization of the C.T.A.The good paying union jobs and hefty pensions will all be gone.Insiders can get really fat sweetheart contracts[ more so than now] in a private entity that isn't under as much public scrutiny.

The Chicago Wonk is looking for suggestions on what issues should be covered in the future.Some of the presidential candidates [Clinton and Kucinich]are seeking blog posts on their websites.Take some time and write an agenda that the candidates can't refuse.

The "no" seemed better phrased. I can't see letting the high passenger count North Side main lines becoming unrideable, while putting money into low ridership potential extensions, which CTA can't afford to maintain or provide extra crews to operate. The only "new start" that appears to meet an existing need would be the Red Line from 95th to about 115th, assuming that there is a right of way through Roseland as opposed to putting it in the Calumet Expressway, near nothing. However, CTA "fast tracks" the studies on the Circle Line and Airport Express (the latter study indicating that there would be 18 riders per train), while ignoring the north side Red and Blue lines. How is the Airport Express supposed to work when it is stuck behind a local train that, in any event, must make all stops, and, now we learn, is limited to 15 m.p.h.?

Also, the new starts in the current transportation bill are a bit of a political fraud--there is the money for the studies but not to implement them. It is a consultant's relief act.

that's right, jackonthebus, let's be against anything that doesn't directly benefit the people that are already served by the CTA. who cares about anyone else that would actually have a feasible link to the el system through expansion? it's better to figure out a way to cram more trains onto the exact same tracks that have been there for 100 years.

expansion is a much better goal than complete renovation of the existing lines. obviously, work is needed on the current lines. but expansion will benefit the system much, much more than keeping the same lines and just making them "new". i know you guys will be disappointed if they don't completely rebuild your station, but as much as you complain, the system already works pretty well...just needs a little update.

first of all, i think regular maintenance of the current infrastructure is of top priority. no one is helped or benefits if the current system doesn't work.

secondly, i think we need to clarify what 'expansion' means. i'm for expanding the red line, for instance. or creating new/expanded lines that serve different parts of the city that aren't currently being serviced, or need more service.

however ... 'expanding' service by building some crazy ass "superstation" (whatever that means) or hyping up an express airport line (leave earlier, duh.), is not where i want the CTA to spend the little money they get and constantly complain they have none of. that's a waste of money and time when there's so much more to be done. *that's* the kind of expansion i think is for shit.

Joe Blow, I understand how you got your name.

My view is simply that of a taxpayer, who believes that the priority should be to serve the most passengers efficiently. Other than the Red Line south proposal, none of the other New Starts does. Let's analyze them:

*Skokie Swift to Old Orchard. Closest to where I live, but now CTA can barely support two bus routes there, and Pace cut its. Certainly not the type of ridership potential that justifies $180 million of taxpayer money.

*Ford City. Other than the shopping mall and Daley College, and a few industrial sites, what's there that isn't being served by 54B, 379, 382, 383, and 384? Does CTA want to build a rapid transit line just to save Pace platform hours?

*Circle Line: Just da Mare's and Frank's vision to try to impress the Olympic Committee, and how does it work if people can't use the Red and Blue Lines to get to it because they have fallen apart, and Metra doesn't build the connecting stations or establish intermodal transfer privileges?

*Airport Express: As previously mentioned, to serve 18 riders per train, according to PB Consult.

*Ogden Trolley: A boondoggle to impress Lipinski the First. Lipinski the Second doesn't care.

Note that ideas such as the Cicero Ave-75th rapid transit line are not on CTA's horizon.

So Joe, what expansions are you talking about, and who on CTA supports them?

Joe Blow Slow

Jeez. That's not a loaded question or anything, right? lol

It's easy to think that the problems with maintenance are because resources might be invested elsewhere.

But the number of track crews isn't contingent on whether or not they're planning. And planning is necessary, otherwise we fall even further behind. Just imagine if 20 years from now we still had the same system we have today--how incomplete would the system seem then in comparison?

Further, the people who are running the railroad aren't also the people who are doing planning. There are different people, in different departments, who work on planning initiatives. This is separate from rail maintenance.

Granted, there are permanent positions in planning, but those are necessary, regardless of what projects they're working on. And one can't say that it seems like they're not investing enough in infrastructure but too much in planning without qualifying it, which is what everyone does. You can't feel facts.

Resigning to stagancy to save a few bucks to increase maintenance on a system that isn't complete would be a serious mistake.

The solution is to fix the budget problems in the legislature, without damaging the ability for Chicago's transit system to grow.


You might consider thinking more about these projects:

Yellow: Skokie is investing in those expansions, and it's being studied because there's a great deal of ridership potential (especially if those trains are routed through to the Loop).

Orange: Again, it comes down to ridership potential. They're not talking about simply serving the mall (which would bring much higher ridership than those who use CTA and Pace to get there). The big deal would seem to me to be the potential for a massive park-and-ride facility, which people would use. Midway is cramped and there isn't a lot of room. Also, to get through all that traffic at Ford City to get to Midway to use an expensive pay parking lot--many likely just drive. The Ford City extension would be a huge boon for commuter ridership.

Circle: How on earth could Circle be a ploy to impress the Olympic Committee? The Circle Line was proposed several YEARS before Chicago even started thinking about the Olympics. Or do you think there has always been a secret plot? lol Circle shows, again, huge ridership potential, and would reduce travel times, burden on downtown parts of the system, and better connect CTA and Metra, as well as a number of highly-populated neighborhoods. Even if you don't think it should be a high priority, I don't think one can reasonably say it's a bad idea.

Airport Express: 18 people per train, huh? You make that sound like a flop. If we, ourselves, do an estimate, let's think about an average 18 people per train, 2 trains each way, 4 times per hour, 20 hours per day, at a rate of $10/hour. That's $28,000/day in revenue. And that comes out to like $10,000,000 per year. Now, this apparently is an underestimate, as PB came back with $18,100,000 estimated revenue per year, and, after operating and maintenance costs, still $6,900,000 in earnings yearly. And so this is bad how?

Ogden I don't know much about.

And Mid-City, the Cicero-and-something routing you mention, I believe is up to the City of Chicago what they want to do... I don't think it's up to CTA. It seems to me to be more of a CDOT thing that they might just try to turn into a truckway for all we know. I could be wrong, but I remember hearing that somewhere.

Tony, consider these two things:
1. How does the Airport Express even get the ridership PB projects if it has to trail a local train speed restricted to 15 mph? Is not associating with the type of people described in the Tattler worth paying $10 to be stuck in a tin can for over an hour, when the local is no slower for $2? Apparently, not even Carole Brown believes that.
2. How does the Yellow Line get through routed to the Loop if the Red Line has fallen apart? Or get additional ridership if you have to transfer to a decrepit Red Line at Howard?

It seems like fixing the Red and Blue Lines is a priority before any of the two projects mentioned above becomes feasible.

I would also like to see the ridership projections before $1 billion for the Circle Line Ashland-North Ave subway is said to be feasible.

1) Why on earth would you think they would institute a premium service without first having finished the work that's going on today? CTA should be able to plan for the future and do so operating with the belief that they won't always be under-funded too. It's so incredibly important to Chicago that one has to think some day CTA might actually be given enough money to function fully.

2) You apparently are unaware that Howard is undergoing a renovation too, and will be replaced with a new station within the next few years. And, again, Red Line fallen apart?

It seems like you're not understanding that they're moving forward at full speed to upgrade the rails, limited only by poor funding that hopefully will see some fixes starting this year. Having a planning department working on projects down the road doesn't distract from that, and I don't believe CTA should be operating under the assumption that the public will never come through and fund it properly. Otherwise, we might as well all give up now and buy cars.

Tony: About the Red Line (north main) falling apart, why don't you read the article in Crain's, including the picture of the Hollywood Ave. overpass. See the Tattler of 01/23/07:


Also, see the last couple of Ask Carole threads. The north side Red Line riders weren't too happy, and that was before the 3 track, 40% northbound reduction of service was announced.


With the way the Brown Line is being handled, including the impact on the Red Line and just writing off the slow zones north of Belmont to "unfunded needs," nobody has faith that CTA will address those issues first, or can handle expansion and needed renovation at the same time.

Tony, you might also want to read today's Crain's:
especially the paragraph:
"Mayor Richard M. Daley's office reports that he would like the General Assembly to give transit more money this session. But Mr. Daley recently has spoken only about boosting funds for schools, not transit. Moreover, the mayor has made it clear he opposes tying new funds to a shift of power from the CTA to the RTA, sources report. The mayor's opposition could cause political problems, because some transit experts and suburban leaders argue that only a strengthened RTA can fully monitor spending and set regional priorities."

So what do city residents want: the Mayor keeping his political power (I remember a previous conversation on the Tattler with "Truth," who claimed that the 1983 RTA Act was a racist stab at Harold Washington) or a regional consensus on transit funding?

Jack, I agree the politicians need to be making this a priority. It's unfortunate, in my opinion, that more isn't being done to fix this problem.

I will say I see a need for a regional solution. CTA serves Chicago and 40 suburbs. In suburban Cook County, 61% of all transit trips are taken on CTA (that's all Cook County suburbs included, and no Chicago), according to numbers from 2004.

Chicago picking up the slack itself wouldn't make sense, since CTA is a regional transportation provider, not just a city provider. So I see a regional solution that comes through RTA, one that works for all three agencies, as the real fix here.

Also, the 40% number I believe refers to overall combined service through the work area during a specific part of rush. No one line would see 40% cut and, with Red being the one with the most demand, one can imagine Red will get some amount of priority.

"So I see a regional solution that comes through RTA, one that works for all three agencies, as the real fix here."
Better tell the Mayor.
"Also, the 40% number I believe refers to overall combined service through the work area during a specific part of rush."
Isn't that when most people working the day shift have to use transit?

The answer to everyone's question, 'What's wrong with CTA', is answered in black and white.
The fare increases have NOTHING to do with maintaining & running the hardware.

"As of January 1, 2206, the CTA pension plan is underfunded by $2.3 billion. The Plan has assets of just under $1.2 billion and liabilities of $3.5 billion, for a 34.4 percent funded ration."

"Beginning in 2009, Senate Bill (SB) 1977 requires the CTA and its employees to start funding its employee plan monthly with amounts sufficient to achieve a 90 percent funded ratio by the end of 2058."

"The 2008 and 2009 estimated operating expenses are $1.216 BILLION and $1.342 BILLION, respectively. The significant increases in 2008 and 2009 are due to an anticipated increase in retiree healthcare and pension funding during the plan period. Other contributing factors to the increases in operating expenses are due to rising wages, benefits and higher energy costs."

So, there you have it. All of these threats due to 'rising cost of fuel' and any other reason are unfounded.
Fuel costs:
5% of CTA's 2007 Proposed budget.
5% of CTA's 2006 Forcast budget.
4.6% of CTA's 2006 budget.
4.5% of CTA's 2005 Actual budget.

Labor costs AKA SALARIES:
75% of CTA's 2007 Proposed budget.
71% of CTA's 2006 Forcast budget.
72% of CTA's 2006 budget.
70% of CTA's 2005 Actual budget.

Though the law requires that CTA funds its own pension plan, Kruesi is trying very hard to force us, and Public Funding* resources, to fund the plan. Perhaps this is why CTA cannot get more funding! Public Funding is not buying Kruesi's threats.

*Public Funding consists of IDOT Grant, Capital Offset, RTA, Additional Public Funding.

I have some other questions:
Why does CTA's operations budget account for 75% of it's total budget?
"Labor expenses, which constitute three-fourths of CTA TOTAL expenses, include the cost of wages, health care, dental, pension, workers compensation and payroll taxes for social security, or FICA."
Read further down on page 53 of the 2007 Budget report. I don't know about you but at my job our healthcare costs went up last year. CTA was able to negotiate LOWER costs!

Pg. 49 Employee costs: $1,133,151
"CTA has approximately 4,200 full time equiv. bus operators & 1,300 rail operators".

See page 128 "Operating Statistics - System". Per the union contract, Top Operator rate was $25.33 per hour in 2006. The rate per hour was:
$24.47 in 2005
$23.70 in 2004
$23.01 in 2003

Salaries of the workers responsible for the July 2006 Blue Line derailment. See Tribune 'CTA fires 5 in train accident' article written by Jon Hilkevitch
-Track Inspector
Duties: walk 6-mile section of track 2 times a week. Make repairs 3 times a week.
Salary: $32,545 - $40,682
-Track Engineer/Supervising Mgr. $64,000/year
-Mgr. Train Maintance $82,346/year

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