« Recycled transit cards make handy little notebooks | Main | More fuel savings with new buses; part-time drivers needed »

Coffee with Ron Saturday; what would you ask him?

I mentioned earlier that CTA President Ron Huberman called me a couple of weeks ago. He invited me to his "Transforming the CTA" speech to the City Club of Chicago.

But he also asked me to arrange a coffee meeting with CTA Tattler fans so he could tell us about some things the CTA is planning, and so he can listen to regular commuters about their concerns and problems. So that's happening this Saturday. Read this space next week for reports on how it went.

If you could chat with Ron Huberman over coffee, what would you tell him? What ideas would you share? What issues would you raise? Tell me and I'll tell him.

After the Alert: Small Red Line fire: The first CTA Alert came via SMS from leisurehound at 8:41 am Wednesday: "Red line south interrupted at Clark/division. Red line leaving Fullerton now going on elevated instead of subway."

The CTA chimed in about 25 minutes later: "Normal service has resumed on the Red Line subway after a small fire on the tracks. There was a 15 minute delay."

We'll be asking Ron Saturday his plans for expanding this instant communication sources with riders.

Comments

Well, I'd probably say a couple of things. First off, the elimination of the Blue Line slow zone between Division and Clark/Lake had an immediate positive effect on my commute, which was fantastic, and I'm still really impressed by how well the Blue Line is running since then. It's not fantastic, but it's a million times better than it was -- and it seems that it's all due to Huberman's initiative, so I owe him (and all the many CTA employees who fixed the track) a huge thank you.

Then -- and I think this idea was actually floated here on the Tattler, maybe a year or so ago -- I wonder if there could be some sort of CTA cleaning crew volunteerism. Without saying anything negative about everything they are working to improve, so many stops are still plain filthy. I would be more than happy to kill a Saturday or two (or show up at 2AM on a weekend, so I could sleep in after) if it meant I boarded the train at a stop where the walls weren't charcoal grey with dirt and the track gutters clogged with litter in standing water. I know there are safety and liability concerns, but if they drafted a waiver and shut down the third rail, I'll bring my workboots and rubber gloves.

I'd be curious to know if there are any plans to add a Pink Line stop at the United Center. I have no idea about the feasibility of such an idea, but I can't help but think every time I'm taking the #20 under the tracks on my way to the United Center how nice it would be for everyone if there was an "L" train that stopped at the arena. They stop at Wrigley and US Cellular, why not the UC?

Ask him this:

If they are going to remove the blue line express, why not add a small new station where the 2 lines intersect?

There is a small area of land where the two cross just under Paulina that has more open land than the UIC Medical Stop

It was refreshing to see the CTA President diplomatically dispatch a rude customer.

I want to share with Huberman how important I think that the GPS bus tracking data is made available to the public in an open format. Not only will it show that the CTA is committed to openness with their customers, but it opens avenues of cost savings by making possible the development of open-source software agile enough to meet customer demands, all at a cost of zero dollars to the CTA. Other people agree with the idea.

My question for Mr. Huberman would be as follows:
Why are there so many stops along many of the bus routes in the city. For example the 22 Clark bus stops at Division, Elm,Maple, Delaware,Chestnut, and Chicago. If the CTA eliminated even a few stops such as Chestnut/Delaware the ride would be much faster and efficient. Furthermore the buses would save on gas by not having to stop and start as much. People can walk a few blocks to get to a stop for the sake of more efficient service. Another example is the 151 service South of Lasalle/North ave. Does the bus really have to stop at every corner along this corridor. This would be an easy way to provide better service and lower costs. Also is the coffee meting between you and Mr. Huberman open to tattler fans as you mentioned above.

First of all, since this meeting is for CTA Tattler "fans", are we able to attend the coffee with Ron Huberman, too?

Otherwise, I'd be interested to know if they have considered using one of the newly constructed northbound tracks at Fullerton and Belmont as a southbound (Red Line) track during the morning rush hour instead of going to a single southbound track.

Since most people go to work around the same time (between 7:15 and 8:00), yet don't always return home right at 5:00, the morning rush is more concentrated and will be much more of a pain for a single track.

Southbound morning trains are packed as it is, while Northbound morning rush trains are virtually empty by the time they get to the north side.

It just seems like the best solution is to use a dual southbound track from 7-9am and then go to a single southbound track the rest of the day.

If there's effective signage, this shouldn't be confusing for commuters.

Can't agree enough on the GPS bus tracking. living near the #20 (currently the only route with GPS) has really changed the way I use the bus. When will we have this rolled out to other routes?

I would like to know what the plans are for the future of the Mystery Shopper program. Will it turn into something more substantial where respondents who are interested in being part of positive change might be asked to take a larger role? Has any thought been given to establishing a board of rider advisers to meet regularly with CTA to give substantive feedback on service and planning?

First let me say I am impressed by this coffee-meeting thing in and of itself. And thanks for offering to convey our questions.

I am curious about the subject of improvement of CTA employees' attitudes toward customers. We catch glimpses that things have been set in motion in this area. Would Mr. Huberman like to share some of his thinking and strategies with us?

It seems to me that in a public system that is required to serve everyone with no exceptions--even the worst-behaved barbarians and most clueless idiots--it is easy for employees to fall into the trap of regarding everyone as a potential enemy or inconvenience. Sometimes we feel like undeserved blame is put on all of us, like attendants talking down to us when the user-unfriendly fare card machines don't vend properly, or we get gratuitous lectures accusing us of not knowing how to board a train even though we didn't ask for it to be too full. How do you help employees remember not to treat everyone as the lowest common denominator?

I'd really appreciate it if you pointed out that at least some of the Red Line North Side renovations are a staggering failure (the Bryn Mawr "improvements" that were ostensibly "completed by December 2007" left the station in worse shape than before) and ask if and when they might genuinely be completed.

I use Bryn Mawr more or less daily so I'm most familiar with those issues (what were slow leaks from the ceiling of the southernmost stairway during rainstorms are now gushers, for instance; I've seen as many as five buckets that passengers have to dodge on those stairs) but I've also seen little improvement at Berwyn and Thorndale. The Bryn Mawr platform canopy was finally replaced, but considering it seems identical to the old one -- which was so small it offered protection only if the rain or snow was falling straight down, which it doesn't -- whatever leaks might have been eliminated, we're still getting soaked in the rain; at least a canopy that extended far enough to protect us as we board and alight from trains would have been nice.

If he has a satisfactory answer for that, an appropriate followup might be the timing of the desperately needed reconstruction of the viaduct along that stretch.

Thanks, Kevin (and Ron).

first of all, i'd be interested if we get to come, too! (see above question from other commenter.)

if not, due to logistics, i also agree with the idea of a rider advisor(er?) board. i've been asking for this for years. we are most familiar with the system and suggest really good changes and point out some of the biggest problems with the system. and can do so in a constructive way ... not just bitch and moan. face it, for all the struggles we have, i think most of us here really love the CTA and need it to run efficiently for our day-to-day lives in our fine city. we could have our own meetings and then come to ron or to the CTA board with our suggestions, proposals, ideas and thoughts and be of real use and be really heard -- instead of trying to get three minutes in at some chaotic town hall meeting.

also ... ditto on the employees. i'm curious what kind of training they receive. i'm a grid nerd and a CTA nerd, so i know a lot about the system and what goes where. but shouldn't that be part of the job of a CTA employee? i've been on buses and in train stations when tourists and people who are new to the city (?) ask how to get somewhere and the employee either 1. doesn't know, 2. seems not to care, or 3. the answer they give is super generic and would take the person much longer than if they take the route i suggest. it seems like the employees should have some basic idea of what routes go where and what systems link up with what.

lastly, i would really like an honest explanation/discussion about this 'superstation.' what on earth is it? why was it proposed/done in the first place? how much is it REALLY costing the CTA and taxpayers? how behind schedule is it? why did we need it, given that the red and blue lines were *already* connected at jackson and washington? didn't this just take away a stop and a connector and make things much more complicated and add unnecessary money and time and waste to things? how exactly is this improving ANYTHING? i've tried over and over again from things i've read to make it make sense in my mind, and i just. can't. do. it. i'd like real answers about this.

phew.

First off, I'd like to thank Ron for the improvements. Things ARE getting better. Stations and trains are getting cleaner (even though it's piecemeal, it's still great to see SOME trains that are clean), and train and bus operators are becoming more courteous and informative. Also, kudos on the Mystery Shopper program. I'm most impressed with how Ron is interested in customer feedback. It makes me feel invested in and part of the system that I use every day.

One issue that bothers me is that I constantly see busses going through red lights - often from a dead stop after letting passengers on. (This happens frequently at Foster and Clark, with the 22 Clark and the 92 Foster). I've seen little old ladies and children alike almost get pummeled by busses while they're trying to cross. I've almost been hit myself. This is so dangerous, it scares me. Busses need to observe traffic laws.

Firstly, I would thank Ron for his efforts in two areas: bus bunching, and the Brown Line. I share his pet peeve about bus bunching, and as a Brown Line rider, I appreciate his making the Brown Line project go a little faster and smoother than originally planned/feared.

I agree with those who mentioned GPS as a priority. I would gladly wait an extra 20 minutes at a friend's apartment or at work rather than rush to the bus only to wait there, in the bitter cold, for those same 20 minutes. With GPS, I know this will be possible.

I would also like it if there were a way to get bus or train schedules from my cell phone, even if it is just a schedule and not anything real-time. The travel information phone number posted at bus stops is pretty useless when you're waiting for a bus at 10pm and suddenly think, "hmm, when is the last scheduled run of this bus - 11pm? 9pm? I should stop waiting here if the answer is 9pm." I can't figure out a way to get that information from my cell phone.

And finally, I am glad that the Skokie Swift will be running on weekends again. Are the plans to expand/extend the Skokie Swift ever going to be realized? Having it go to Old Orchard, as has been discussed for decades, would be absolutely great. Even just having a stop at Oakton would be great. Is any of this under consideration?

Heck, might as well just print out this thread and give it to him as a supplement to your meeting. ;-)

Please add my fervent thanks to the chorus already written. The slow zone elimination in the Clark/Division area sped up my commute considerably, and that makes me very happy. One of the signs that made me very encouraged was when, at my own Red Line stop of Argyle, I saw a big poster telling riders they were finally going to fix the roof (which, albeit, they've not yet done, although about five coats of new paint have been slapped down in two or three weeks). It was encouraging to see that. Frankly, I've gone from detesting the CTA and expecting a collapse, to actually having hope that we might one day have a top-of-the-line system, and it's pretty much due to Huberman's evident strong concern for open and frank communication with his riders, solicitation of their ideas and of the ideas of "railfans" who have studied the system, and a very sensible and populist setting of priorities. I'm tempted to send Daley a thank-you card for Huberman's appointment to the position.

I'd add my voice to those above who encourage release of transit schedule and data in publicly accessible and open source format, so that people can write (FREE) software. I'd point him towards, as an example, the BART widget, which people in California absolutely swear by and love to death. URL: http://www.apple.com/downloads/dashboard/transportation/bartwidget.html. That wasn't written by BART, it didn't cost BART one thin dime; some programmer wrote it, got enough enthusiastic feedback, and it grew from there. But he couldn't have done it had he not had an interface with the data.

The point is that I don't imagine Huberman's a computer geek, and so he may not realize that people will take the ball and run with it and come up with cool and neat little doodads and widgets and websites and mashups and so on if they have an outflow of data from the CTA to work with. It's the "open source community," and they love to take the ball and run with such things. To date, they haven't, because the CTA hasn't made that outflow of information available to the public for mashup/use. If he can get that outflow going, I think he'll see that the CTA will actually benefit from these programmers' essentially free work. (Hey, a great example: chicagocrime.org and what it did with Chicago crime data that didn't cost the Police Department one thin dime.)

To summarize: you can get a *big* heck of a lot of benefit for no other costs than those incidental to making that flow of information available to the public.

Four very small, but nonetheless important, other things:

(1) On some subway systems (I'm fairly sure London, and maybe DC too), there are reminders to "walk on the left, stand on the right" on escalators. Might not be the worst idea (I'm thinking particularly of the Lake exit).

(2) Ummmm ... how do I put this delicately? In a city known for its deep-dish pizzas and hot dogs, Chicagoans' hindquarters are not, on the average, skinny. Was this taken into account with the seats in the new subway cars? :)

(3) My employer -- and I think perhaps many other Chicago employers -- will "credit" an employee with late time incurred as a result of a Metra/CTA holdup. However, although they accept the late slip, the security guards don't provide them and it can sometimes be hard to track an employee down. Could the CTA also funnel its CTA_HQ text messages onto some website publicly accessible? (As it stands, you have to sign up for the UPOC text messaging group in order to view them.)

(4) Cell phone jammers on all CTA subway cars and buses? ;-) [Hey, a guy can hope.]

What I want to ask are these: When is the CTA going to get bus pre-emption of traffic lights?
The #1 location for this is the eastbound 155 as it turns north on Sheridan from Devon. It then has to sit for several minutes, even longer in rush hours, at the Sheridan cut-off waiting for that traffic to pass. What an appalling waste of time.
Also, the bus stop for the 155, 151 & the 147 at the Loyola station are a ridiculous distance from the L stop.
Move the bus stop to just north of the L tracks, where there are currently parking meters & combine the Arthur/Sheridan stop with the Loyola/Sheridan stop & then the bus will stop directly across the street from the Loyola station.
In addition, reopen the stairs on the east side of Sheridan & have a two-way exit for all & an entrance for smart card users.

I also want the CTA to go back to the old names for the L lines.
I hate the color names, they tell people nothing about where the L goes. You can keep using the colors on the map for clarity.

You also need to get new people in the design department for rebuilding L stations. The new Sedgwick is a perfect example as there was plenty of room to build a single center island platform & move the trains to the unused [since 1963] outer tracks. A single platform is cheaper to operate over the next century.

?: When will the northside red line get some love? I could care less about Brown line station improvements or blue line slow zone fixes.

Seems to me that the most popular line (red) keeps getting the short end of the stick.

oh, one more thing. i'm thrilled that the weekend work has made the red line underground back to its old self, running fast, kicking ass and taking names. good times. it's good and loud and fast, just the way i like it. yee-haw!

I'd like to echo Jocelyn's skepticism about the Block 37 project and add the Circle Line to that. Why is CTA's biggest priority expanding service in well-served areas? The Red, Orange, and Yellow Line extensions and the Mid-City Transitway would extend the reach of the system far more than the airport express and Circle Line. They would all provide more bang for the buck, yet expansion projects in already well-served areas are given priority. I'd like Huberman to explain the reasoning behind CTA's capital expansion plans.

This is a great idea, first of all. I appreciate that Mr. Huberman has been more transparent and available. If you need "fans" to attend, sign me up.

I would like to ask him what are the CTA's priorities now that the budget has been cut by $200 million. How will the CTA manage and repair the existing infrastructure? Where will the CTA find additional money to close the gap? Something will have to give: what will it be?

And, I want to express frustration with the Pink Line. On multiple occassions, the Pink Line either doesn't run into the Loop (I believe this happened 3 times this winter), or it is very late. I have been told by customer service that this is due to an aging system. What will the CTA do to prevent this from happening in the future, especially given the budget crisis?

What is the CTA doing to increase communication? Can a system similar to DC be installed to let customers know when the next train will arrive? If not, measures are being put in place to ensure that the CTA is communicating to riders about delays? For example, the Pink Line was over 20 minutes late this morning. It would have been great if someone could provide the people standing on the platform an update on when the next train will arrive, and why there is a delay.

What do you hope to get from the Mystery Shopper Progam that you cannot get from customers providing feedback via phone or e-mail? How much will this program cost the CTA, and is the benefit really worth the cost?

Also, now that seniors ride free, I would like to know how that is going, and if there are any better estimates of what this will cost taxpayers. I know there were different figures floating around, but has a more concrete figure been established? Has ridership increased as a result?


Thanks!
Erika

I'd like to know if its possible to implement a system in trains stations that tells you when the next train is coming. I guess this could be an expansion of the bus GPS system but for trains. Standing for 1/2 at a station not knowing when the train is showing up is frustrating. Many systems in other cities do this and it's really helpful to know how long the wait is.

I would love to know if there have been any meetings yet between the mayor's office and the CTA/RTA regarding what first steps would be taken should Chicago win the Olympics next year. I wouldn't put this kind of pre-planning beyond Mayor Daley, who has wanted to bring the Olympics to Chicago as long as he's been mayor, and has had that goal at the back of his mind with many of the major decisions he's made: the "express" trains to the airports, closing Meigs field, lake front park expansions,O'Hare expansion, etc. I imagine a huge infusion of cash would suddenly be found for infrastructure improvements.

Unfortunately, those would probably mostly go to the downtown area - I can easily see them prioritizing the renovation of the oldest elevated and underground loop stations before doing anything else. I DON'T see attention being paid to the red line any time soon, which is a shame, as well-used as it is. While eliminating slow zones will make the O'Hare branch of the Blue line extremely ride-able again (well, to be fair the stations in Wicker Park could use a face lift), red line passengers will still be dealing with crumbling, flooding/dripping, urine-soaked stations, and unreliable service frequencies even on good days. I read recently that most of the far northern red line stations (save Loyola, Granville and Howard currently under construction), have not been renovated since before World War II. The Jarvis stop has not seen a renovation since 1901! And what really baffles me is that since 1990, the pink, green, now brown, and the SOUTH side of the red line have all seen complete station and/or track overhauls and renovations.

Since major capital plans take 10-15 years from conception to completion, I'm baffled why the process of securing funding and logistics for a red line renovation hasn't started yet. Instead, what is in the works is a red line extension south - which is needed, so that's good - and the circle line. While the circle line seems like a good idea, I haven't heard anyone talk about how the fact that the circle line is going to share the State Street subway with the red line means that the CTA is going to have to run FEWER red line trains once the circle is up and running. And with ridership on the red line only increasing on the north and south side each year, why hasn't anyone addressed that with the circle line in place, riders going north of North Ave. and south of Rossevelt Road are going to have fewer trains to take.

To be fair, I AM inpressed with what progress the CTA has made in the past couple years - and I can't wait to see what GPS can do for bus bunching. It's just really hard to be a red line rider sometimes.

on a different note--what's with all the bus stops that have been moved to the far sides of the intersections? I know I've seen comments about it being for better traffic management, but you've got to be kidding!
During rush hour, when the bus bunching is the worst due to traffic, it can make a bad situation worse, especially on streets with more than 2 lines on it. I've seen terrible tie-ups at the Lincoln-Halsted-Fullerton intersection, which is bad enough without the buses (& I count 4 during the pm rush--8, 11, 74, 173). When there are 2 NB buses on Halsted, one blocks Fullerton beautifully. There are other places, but that's the most recent example I've seen.
Not to mention the drivers who expect a bus to stop on the near side of the intersection & then can't get back into traffic, and again, block an intersection.
Though I will admit that at least a sign was put up for the 8's new stop--there weren't signs when the 77's Ashland stop was moved, and the one when the 80's Harlem stop was moved disappeared pretty quick.

And speaking of the 80--may I suggest a rough schedule be posted at Harlem Irving Plaza? During the pm rush, I don't see any 80s stop in there, but rather continue to Cumberland, and the X80s do pull in. People will stand there & wait & wait (especially seniors) for the 80 & see nothing but the X80 & 78. The weekends improved tho--too bad it wasn't while I worked there, but you can't have everything.

Those are fairly minor things, I know.

Communication still needs to be improved between driver & passenger. Bus drivers should have a decent idea of where their routes cross the respective L lines, and be willing to admit to being new on route when they are & don't know. Recently I saw a man on the NB 11 standing up by the driver, who finally (at Belmont) asked him where was he going again. He wanted the Red line--which we crossed at Fullerton! She insisted she was going to cross the Red line again--not true--and told him to sit until we got there. I'd've told him to get off at Addison or Irving Park & transfer down, but I couldn't get a word in. I think she was confusing the Brown & Red lines, or was setting him up for a lot more travelling by going south on Brown from Western to Belmont.

I'd like to also echo requests for an open API for Bus Tracker. As others have said, this would spawn a huge opportunity for apps to improve the usefulness of Bus Tracker at zero cost to CTA.

(1)When are you running for mayor?

(2) Ok, how about president of the County Board, then?

I'm mostly curious if there is somewhere I could go to find more information about the different jobs at the cta and what experience might be necessary. From a rail operator to the power controller and in between. Personally I like the idea of working to better the city's transit.

Also, what are Ron's ideas for cleaning up the CTA's image.Like other have said, better ways to improve customer behavior. If they respect the company and what it provides even the slightest they might not piss all over it (literally). Better enforcement of guidelines to everyone. Promote real train operator service announcements in appropriate (to a degree).

Last of as always is cleanliness. Although its improved quite since its been in years, there are a few simple areas still be overlooked. Most of all its lighting, and their covers especially in the subway. As well as the track level trash. This is amplified in stations that have been rehabbed in the last 10 years but are already starting to look dingy. What are some of his ideas on keeping even the new stations looking new and sprucing up the old ones.

I know money is always tight, but I think Ron and the entire workforce is heading in a noticeable right direction. Thanks Kevin, the tattler coffee crew and Ron.

I'd really like to see a dramatic re-thinking of buses in this city. Most of the buses run all the way north-south or east-west making stops just about every block.

Except when they don't. The 55 and X55 buses sometimes stop at St. Louis Av or Ashland and sometimes they go to Midway. St. Louis is 75% of the way to Midway, why bother stopping?! Kind of hard to plan a trip to Midway when you have to add a half hour for the "which bus will show up" lottery. Very weird when EXPRESS buses don't go the entire way to their regular terminus, in this case a major airport with a train line.

The 55 bus is just one example, the 80 bus is the same way as are, I am sure, others. The signs at stops are difficult to comprehend, and, I believe sometimes contradict the schedules online. What constitutes AM/PM rush hours, etc.?

Very little express service except to far northern and southern lakefront.

I'd like to see a feeder system (one bus every 3-5 minutes at every stop) in which each feeder bus concentrates on taking 1 or 2 neighborhoods to the nearest 1 or 2 train lines. Then replace the existing long runs with express or quasi-express service - stops every 0.25-0.5 miles and guarantee that the buses go to a predictable terminus.

I think this would go a long way toward making the CTA a more reliable a-to-b method of travel (thus increasing ridership) by increasing predictability of service.

Combine this with stop lights that know about approaching buses and you would do a lot more with the same capital.

One really cool thing I would like to see with bus stops would be something like this:

- each stop gets an ID printed on the sign
- you send a text message to 976CTA (or whatever) with that ID #.
- it sends back to you the expected arrival times of the next two buses (preferably based on real-time data)

Or a system where you could register online for a particular stop and it would text message you every day at a time you designate and it would give you the same information.

There are a lot of fidgety people out there who would use the CTA if only they knew how long they would have to wait, rather than watching the pot waiting for water to boil.

Oh, since no one has mentioned it:

Transfers to Metra!

This would change the face of transit to the southside and much of the outreaches of Chicago.

All it would take is hand held card scanners for the Metra folks. They could keep their fancy pants ticket guys.

Neil, The Jarvis station was first used in 1910 along with all the other stations from Lawrence to Linden.
So how could it have been built in 1901?

I'm a fan. When and where is the coffee?

Why in the reroute for the Washington Ave buses did they decided to go down Wacker so the have to make a left turn across an intersection where the traffic is coming up from lower Wacker trying to go straight? They could have sent the buses up Clinton (there is a stop at the Metra station there) so they could go down Monroe straight and it would have been faster and safer.

Sorry - I meant to type 1921, but 1901 happened instead. Either way, though, really...

And I second the call for Metra transfers!

I third the call for Metra transfers. That would be ingenious!

Well, the most important thing to remember, for everyone who's complaining about the state of the stations along the north branch of the Red Line, is that the south side rules, and the north side drools. :-) Kidding, kidding... (Kinda. The Green Line really is totally sweet if you're heading south, though.) Seriously, though, I can see the point that it seems like the Red Line is getting no love. While the Brown Line is getting swanky new 8-car length accomodating platforms and the Blue Line is getting new track that isn't falling apart, one of the best features of the Wilson stop is placing bets with yourself as to whether or not bitter winter winds will pry up loose planks from the abandoned east platform. It would be really nice if any expectations could be announced as for when we could see some Red Line serious renovations -- maybe once the Brown Line stuff is done and the O'Hare planned renovations are complete (both of those will be done by the end of this year, no?), planning can begin for work there? It really is pretty sketchy up there in places.

As for the suggestions of a UC Pink Line stop... maybe I'm in the minority, but I'm just not seeing it. Sure, it's great for games, but for ordinary commuters, the Ashland/Lake stop is not all that much farther (three blocks?), plus it serves both Pink and Green. So I don't see a new Madison/Paulina station pulling in all that much new revenue apart from game times, and it would be very expensive to create. If the trains served the stop at all times, it's so close to the existing Ashland/Lake stop, and if the trains only served the stop on game days it would be a waste of money. Like I said, maybe I'm in the minority, but I just don't see the clear win of constructing such a station.

And, last, I had occasion to use the Grand stop on the Blue Line last night, and man! Those riders who use that stop regularly are *so lucky*! It was so well-lit with those flood lamps shining on the platform. Who do I have to plead with to get some lights at Division? I don't want the weird blue light strips, whatever those are for, but those flood lamps rule.

At the new stations like Chicago and Sedgwick, shelters that had roofs to them are being replaced with shelters with no roofs - why was this decision made? I'm assuming there is some graffiti or damage caused reasoning.

Its just too bad only the Tattler fanboys get to have coffee with Ron. If I went I'd probably be the only one who wasn't fawning all over him.

Sorry Kevin, but your bias was well apparent during the funding crisis. I think that if the legislators actually thought that Ron was making more than a token effort to cutting costs, then they would have been much more receptive to funding the CTA. AS it is, they still spend way to much money on things they shouldn't and not enough on things they should (like proper drainage at most of the underground stations, ADA compliance at ALL underground stations, etc). The first thing they could do in my book is start cutting some of the administrative staff at the CTA headquarters since they moan that personnel are the main costs. I also wonder how much money a year they spend on all those glossy color brochures and printing in general.

I've met Ron before after one of the speeches he was giving about funding and although I think he has the best of intentions, we all know what road is paved with those. He promised that someone from his office would get back to me...they called once, said would gather all the issues I had sent in and then would get back to me...thats 6 months ago. ...How much more time should I give them before I expect a call back??????


Its all about results. You can say that you are opposed to "bus bunching" but where the rubber meets the road is where the proof is.

I agree that the Northbound tracks should be used for Southbound Rush hour traffic...Its a smart idea that would really make mine and many others lives easier. Its horrible even without the 3-track on a daily basis for about the last 6 months....full trains before they even get to addison, and the red line manager who told me that they leave addison every 3 1/2 minutes must be smoking some really really good stuff. I've talked to this guy before and he really just doesn't care about the rider experience and he's supposed to be one of those managers who's held accountable for service and complaints. Is there any sort of quality assurance to make sure he is actually doing his job getting back to the customers and addressing their problems or is Ron just trusting that he is..I think thats a big part of the problem...no accountability.

I also that he should look into doing the same thing for full trains that they do for full buses. If a train is packed and no one can get on, then what is the use of even stopping at a station? If you give the proper announcements and go express it would save alot of time I think.

Also, as I've mentioned before...the CTA tattler can come up with a way to have a decent alerts system and in 5 years of trying, the CTA can't even duplicate that with all the IT and monetary resources at its disposal.

My question is still when does Ron have to produce? He's almost coming up to a year and bus bunching, 3 track, block 37, rude operators, little or no accountability, still exist and even thrive under his watch. The staffing at the admin offices is out of control and costs just keep escalating and meanwhile we see all these notices about all the money they are spending and again, when do we see some results.

It just galled me with all the real problems that need to be adressed, the big news was Ron throwing off a rude rider. The BIG news would have been if a REGULAR CTA employee actually did the same....however, that would be in the realm of Science Fiction...

Again, the Pension reductions and other things are big newsworthy items, but every year, I have to ask myself, how many times do you have to paint one station? We are on the 2nd or third time for Addison and this has been the same exact way for 5 years I've been riding the red line. Last year, it was painted 6 times!

So, Ron, the people you need to talk to are not the fanboys, but the people with legitimate, real issues with the state of the CTA. If you can address our issues, then you can go a long way to making our commute a pleasant, fast, efficient one like it should be.


Kevin, feel free to give Ron my email address...I don't think he will use it, but I guess I'm an eternal optimist.

KevinB

Dee, I'm really glad you mentioned the bizarre decision to move bus stops around. The CTA never mentioned it on its site, I never saw anything in the papers about it (and both do cover the CTA fairly well), and there were never even any signs posted anywhere to tell people where the stops had moved to. And I agree that the "traffic management" doesn't hold; lots of bus drivers cut through red lights to get to those moved stops, which then blocks cars trying to make a right turn.

If nothing else, and it wouldn't be much help out on the road, the CTA's site should show on its PDF system maps where bus stops are in each direction, and the trip planner should explain where each bus stop is located in its directions. (Not in the clickthrough for walking directions at the beginning and end of each trip, but right there in the results.)

But that still wouldn't make up for the poor job the CTA did completing it.

"If a train is packed and no one can get on, then what is the use of even stopping at a station?"

Uhhh, you know - letting people off?

well, since most if not all of them are headed downtown, you can make an announcement and here few if any people that need to get off could get off and catch the next train...seems pretty obvious to me...much like they do when a bus is full during rush hour...


Kevin

Two comments that echo those already voiced: First, kudos to Ron Huberman for engaging the rider community in this way, and for his "can do" approach in what must be a huge entrenched bureacracy at CTA.

Second, I believe there were some news articles last year about a "universal" fare card system between CTA, Pace and Metra. Not universal fare structure, but just the card system itself. This would be HUGE in every part of the city.

Hey, Kevin B:

Just because some of us who read and contribute to this blog are willing to acknowledge improvements on rail lines and bus routes doesn’t make us fan boys (or girls). It makes us observers of our environments. Has everything that needs improvement been fixed? No, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. I regularly ride five rail lines and at least five bus routes. Even the “Dirty Red” has improved in cleanliness and efficiency (although to a much lesser extent, I’ll admit, than the Blue or Brown). The headway on the bus I take to and from work has improved dramatically in the last six to eight weeks. I swear I almost got whiplash on the Blue between Division and Clark last week.

Your comment that, “if the legislators actually thought that Ron was making more than a token effort to cutting costs, then they would have been much more receptive to funding the CTA” is specious. The entire RTA, including Metra and Pace, benefited from SB 572. The reason the legislation took so long to pass had a lot more to do with political alliances and pettiness among legislators than line items on CTA’s budget. Why no negative assessment of Steve Schlickman’s or Jim Reilly’s performance on the long road to signed legislation?

Wasn’t Frank Kreusi’s prickly personality one of the main reasons he was removed? The unions wouldn’t negotiate with him and the legislators were tired of his arrogance. I realize Kreusi-bashing was elevated to a high art and some of it was probably undeserved, but the drastic difference in management styles puts in perspective some of what you assume to be fawning over Ron Huberman. Along came someone who was willing to look critically at operations and make adjustments that customers would notice immediately. I’ll never forget my first ride on a newly detailed Red last July. Perhaps I was blinded by the glare from the floor sealant, but I thought a greater level of cleanliness was a good thing and not just PR to distract riders from other performance issues.

On the on-time performance and cleanliness front: I take the Metra UP North Line at least once a week; twenty years ago, I took it everyday. These trains used to be so clean that the disinfectant smell was overwhelming and you could set your watch by train arrivals and departures. The trains are now dirtier and delays of over five minutes occur regularly. Yet, I don’t feel the need to criticize the heads of Metra or the Union Pacific. Why? Because I’m fairly certain these changes are the result of funding issues, not management incompetence.

I think your assertion that Kevin the Moderator (sounds like an action figure) is overly biased towards Huberman is unfair. You are certainly entitled to your opinion, but so is he, especially since it’s his blog. If he is biased, perhaps it's because he's notices some of the same improvements other have. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit to thinking Ron’s hot. What I’m much more impressed with, however, is that I don’t have to freeze my ass off as much waiting for my bus. Of course, if he wants to cuddle with me at the bus stop to keep me warm…

Part of the problem for the last several years and the reason for audits and such was the very fact that partly legislators did not trust that the CTA was using its money effectively.

To this day, I don't think this is changed much. It seems the "penny wise, pound foolish" saying is still the mantra at the CTA.

AS far as the bias, again, my opinion, backed by many, many postings about the bad, bad legislators...and the good, good Huberman. I can hear the cheers now.."Ron, Ron, he's our man, if he can't do it, no one can"

I'll admit our legislators are crap. They did a very poor job of doing their job. I hope every one of them gets booted out on their butt for the behavior that that they exhibited. However, the one thing that they did hit on the head was that they didn't trust they the CTA was spending the money they wisely. It's the one and only thing I agree with the legislators on.

However, as I've posted before, I still think there is an extreme amount of waste and inefficiency in the CTA. Stuff that Frank knew about and let happen. Stuff that Ron knows about and lets continue.

I'm all for anything that makes the train and rail operations better. I'm not for make work jobs at the CTA headquarters. I'm not for thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars of wasted money for pretty color brochures. I'm not for anything else that wastes even one cent of money that can be used making our transit system better. Whether its paint the same station over and over and over again or keeping employees and managers who don't do their job, its a waste and this is the man in the position to be a real catalyst for change, rather than Mayor Daleys lapdog. I'll make a prediction here that if Chicago does not get the olympics then I'll bet Rons days are numbers and we'll have a Frank K. lookalike installed faster than you can say "Rio"....

I can hear it now, he's only been in it a little while.

Lets use another example (I used it in another thread) of another very public, very screwed up organization...the Chicago Police Department. The new head has been in the job a couple months. He's made some far and wide ranging promotions/demotions/firings/hirings that have put the entire organization on notice and that things are going to change. Is it perfect? Nope. Does it solve every problem? Nope. Is it a very public, very effective way to get your point across and to be a catalyst for real change? You betcha!

So, Ron, be a catalyst for real change rather than lip service to change.

KevinB

GPS tracking on all CTA vehicles, and make that information open to the public. I'm sure the open source software community would eat that up.

you know what KevinB,

i firmly believe that if you were in the same position, you would be all talk too. No matter what experience in management you have or what plans you have for improvements, you have to admit that being in charge of an organization such as the CTA is something that no one can truly understand unless you are on the inside.
Please give me an example of a restructuring plan that DID NOT take more that one year to implement...please. i want you to list them. every restructuring plan i have seen for corporations and other large organizations allow 2-5 years to make significant changes.

i'm sure that the luster on Huberman will wear off. but the fact is you never gave Huberman a chance to begin with. because he hasn't had experience in transit, i remember you wrote him off as being unqualified for this position. others on this board are having an attitude of "lets see what he can do" you, on the other hand, are waiting for him to be a failure so that you will be able to say you were right all along.

as for your other points, wasting money on PAINT? color brochures? are you kidding me? these are needed in todays world where things are required to draw attention and look pleasant. I have NEVER seen a person complain when their station is undergoing a new paint job. why not complain about the monogramed garbage bags or the holiday train? are you about to complain about the slow zone work or the bus purchase or the Bus Tracker implementation?

one doesn't have to be a fanboy to acknowledge improvements that have taken place. there have been significant improvements that have enhanced the customer experience while riding the trains and buses. So what if some of them are PR moves...the whole point is to serve their customer base, and these moves have done just that.

"However, as I've posted before, I still think there is an extreme amount of waste and inefficiency in the CTA."

OK, let me go read your eight paragraphs to find out what examples of waste and inefficiency you mention.

Holy crap. You spend almost no time listing examples of what you are yelling and screaming about. You just seem to think that complaining loudly over nothing in particular is somehow useful. Here is all that you mention:

1 You complain about "pretty color brochures". Unbelievable. What would you rather have? Ugly black-and-white brochures? You do understand that this would make the CTA look like a run-down third-world system, right? And you understand that when things look run-down they repel customers, right. So it would be extreamly naive to think the CTA would be "saving money" by printing ugly black-and-white brochures. Do you think that cruise ships, hotels, airlines, and every other business should try to save money by producing ugly brochures instead of "pretty color brochures"?

2.You state the CTA "paints the same station over-and-over again". That's funny. I have very rarely seen them paint any stations. I'm sure that when they do it is because they need to be painted. And are you aware of how cheap it is to paint something of that size. Probably less than most people make in a day. Painting a station is not even a blip on the CTA's budget. And obviously when a station is not maintained well it repels customers, just like run-down ugly brochures.

3. You say "I'm not for make work jobs at CTA headquarters" without giving examples or evidence that these jobs currently exist. Do you have any? It means absolutely nothing to me (and I think, or at least hope, most people) when you assert something without providing evidence. We do know that Huberman has reduced the amount of administraters. It would not surprise me if there were still too many but I would need to see some evidence.

So your post, as usual, is a lot of complaining but no real substance.

I detailed my visit with my mother to CTA headquarters to fix her Chicago card for like the sixth time in two months a while back. With specifics.

1 person at card table in main lobby.

2 people at reception desk on second floor.

3 more people at card tables in front of entrance to windows where you actually do any business.

out of the 5 windows where you actually could do business, 2 of those manned with one for "employee transactions".

so, lets take that and do the math. If they make on the avg $35K a year, by the time you add benies and retirement, vacation and free transit (if I remember right), then you are talking about $50K a year and then multily that times 4 or 5 that you could get by without, then thats a quarter of a million dollars a year ($250,000) that you've saved to get rid of people sitting at card tables.

Thats just what I could see. Imagine what you don't see. Are all those people at card tables essential to "rail and train operations"? I couldn't make this stuff up.

Last couple CTA meetings I went to...lots of minions and administrative aides wandering around...are they absolutely necessary to rail and train ops or to "enhance and puff up the ego of the people at the headquarters"?

Then we have the writer who couldn't spell Belmont. The IT folks who can't set up something as highly complex and technological as the CTA alerts....

Painting the same station SIX times in one season. That was last year. We are already at TWO on the Addison station red line this year and it isn't even baseball season yet. Just imagine what else those people could be doing. Maybe cleaning out drains at stations that overflow because they aren't being cleaned...picking up trash, cleaning rail cars, etc, etc.

Brochures: Multicolor brochures are expensive. They print them at the drop of a hat. not to mention all the money, propaganda, fliers etc to get out the word on the "doomsday"...If you can impart the same information with a black&white flier, then do it. Clean, reliable, efficient, transportation would do more to make a favorable impression with riders than fancy brochures.

Loads of employees just standing around at stations probably supposed to be doing work, helping people. You know the ones, who sleep, eat, chat, ignore customers while they are supposed to be working.

I could go on more, but I'm sure that others could chime in as well. You said black and white brochures make the "CTA look like a third world transportation system".

Well, wake up and smell the coffee. Our own alderman have compared it to "a third world transportation system"...hate to tell you that a bunch of expensive color brochures aren't going to change that perception...only clean, reliable, efficient, transportation will do that...

Kevin

It sounds like this coffee is sort of like the "Citizens Advisory Board" -- it's not actually for people who read this blog to attend, but rather some handpicked bunch.

Sounds like Ron has figured out that a good way to get better coverage is to get cozy with the press!

Tell Ron he’s doing a great job. A lot of Chicagoans believe in what he does, despite the many issues still to be fixed.
Adding to all the improvements already mentioned, I would also like to point out that CTA seems to have made progress with their income from ads recently. I see much more of them in the buses and on the L than a few months ago.

Some more ideas and remarks:
Has CTA ever think about special express buses to commercial locations, subsidised or fully paid by these places? I think, for example, about buses to Woodfield Mall or Six Flags. Only 3 to 5 stops at central locations in Chicago, and then a smooth drive on the expressway. Think about the opportunities for, e.g., the big shops at Woodfield. They could offer flyers and coupons on the bus, make commercials on screens like the ones on the Pace buses, all this with a bunch of people bored and more than eager to go through their stuff. Wouldn’t it be cool to have such a new service when it costs the CTA very little or even make a profit?
This idea is actually working already with free buses to the casinos in Indiana and even New Buffalo in Michigan, where commercial bus operators got into business instead. There was a big article on it in the Tribune just yesterday.
Sometimes, I also ride the Pace routes down Cicero from Midway. These buses have a strange stop at the Ford shopping center. The buses leave Cicero, drive across the parking lot, and stop right at the building’s entrance. I bet (or at last hope) Pace gets some extra money from the shopping center for doing so. Maybe this would also be a business model for certain routes within Chicago, despite the trips being a little slower.

Also, CTA should press harder to get more people using their system. I especially think about all the tourists in summer, along with the business guys on trade fairs and conferences. Day passes must be more available from the hotels and at the stations. A friend visited me lately and had a lot of difficulties even to find the vending machine for time passes at O’Hare (yes, the singular is correct here). And in the city, you currently only get these passes at certain groceries, currency exchanges, and very few other places nobody knows. CTA loses so much of these potential customers to the cabs, the rental car companies (for the mandatory shopping at the malls in the burbs), the overpriced bus shuttles to the airport, and to the silly trolley system. Also, did CTA ever think about a few vending machines at mass attractions for the “impulse ticket buyers” who end up with a cab otherwise?

Finally, the trip planner still has a lot of bugs. Most importantly, Metra and L must be selectable separately. Simply search for a trip from the Loop to WalMart at North Ave, for example. The result is completely useless, especially for a CTA core customer with a 30-days-pass.
Also, I would like to see pull down menus, an interactive map, or at least a systematic naming for the L stations. After more than half a year, I still haven’t figured out how to search for the Belmond Red/Brown Line station. And why can’t I specify if I’m a fast, normal, or slow walker? This sometimes has a big impact on the best route or realistic connections.

I would ask Ron why they gave all the CTA Managers raises and promotions after they threatened to shut down CTA unless they got money from the state. Now that they got the money they downsized maintenance, created 40 new manager jobs at $78,000 a year, and handed out over 100 promotions.

The comments to this entry are closed.

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
https://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451c39e69e200e55139b76b8833

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Coffee with Ron Saturday; what would you ask him?:

Share news tips

Elsewhere