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Despite low turnout at hearing, CTA riders trash the board and the budget

I've seen some contentious CTA public hearings. Last night's was almost a walk in the park compared to last year's Doomsday hearings.

But that doesn't mean people aren't pissed about the pending fare hike. And many other things, including stinky buses, the Block 37 fiasco and buses with broken lifts.

About 100 CTA customers gave Ron Huberman and the entire CTA board many earfuls. (Or is it "earsful"?)  Many questioned the collective competency of those sitting at the front of the room. "This (fare increase) is just incompetency," said a representative of Citizens Taking Action. "This is just typical CTA crap. Either do your job or resign. You people disgust me. I'm done." All-righty then.

Our own KevinB suggested a way to save $1 million -- dump the $850,000 Jones Lang real estate contract, and fire the chief marketing officer making almost $200,000. Kevin kindly even offered up a new idea for the CTA gift store: "The Block 37 Black Hole Bank -- you put money in it and it disappears down a black hole."

Some folks questioned the projected huge increase in fuel costs, since the price of gas is now falling. Others argued for keeping the 10% bonus on Chicago Card fill-up with $20.

Lawrence Msall of the Civic Federation provided a lone voice of approval of the fare increase; "It's reasonable and responsible because it maintains service." And the CTA "shows responsibility" by cutting more than 600 jobs.

Msall also opined that there's "no reasonable explanation for giving free rides to seniors." He urged the CTA to "push back" against the Legislature and "target free rides to those who aren't able to pay."

The room with about 150 seats was maybe 65% full. A "spillover room" stood at the ready, but went unused. Greg Longhini, the board secretary, said he only got about 50 comments in advance of the meeting, compared with well over 500 last year.

But folks, even if the room were full and 200 commenters opposed the budget, I'm fairly certain we'll see the board OK the budget on Nov. 12.


"No reasonable explanation for giving free rides to seniors?"

How about this: it's incentive to keep seniors from driving, which is a safety benefit for all.

I actually support the real-estate project. Transit systems in Japan are among the few in the world that are in the black because they develop property near stations and funnel the leasing income back into the transit system.

This isn't the only thing the CTA should do to increase revenue, but it should be part of a broader strategy to create new revenue generators. Advertising, real estate, naming rights, whatever.

Now, I don't know if Jones LaSalle is the best firm to work with on developing the CTA's property, but I would think letting the CTA do this on its own would probably be a disaster.

@ wc

Your argument is premised on the logical fallacy of an undistributed middle.

I'm not against having an outside firm doing the marketing, I'm against paying them 4.5 million over the next 5 years up front. Most firms right now would do anything to get the business, even if it meant working on a commission basis....you market and rent/lease/sell the property and you get a commission. There's no upfront costs to the CTA and then there's the newly created almost $200K a year job to "manage" the managers. That's a boondoggle if I've ever seen one. They'd have better odds going to Vegas and putting the $800K on one spin of the roulette wheel.

Besides, the CTA should be wary of admitting that they are too incompetent to do their own work, it sets a bad example. The next thing you know no ones job will be safe as most of them couldn't get a job in the real world if their life depended on it (remember the guy who misspelled "Belmont" on maps. I'll bet he's still working there after they decided that incompetence wasn't enough reason to get fired at the CTA.


"Many questioned the collective competency of those sitting at the front of the room. 'This (fare increase) is just incompetency,' said a representative of Citizens Taking Action. 'This is just typical CTA crap. Either do your job or resign. You people disgust me. I'm done.'"

Which points up the dilemma. Of course the CTA board is incompetent. Section 19 of the Metropolitan Transportation Act provides:

"The governing and administrative body of the Authority shall be a board consisting of seven members, to be known as Chicago Transit Board. Members of the Board shall be residents of the metropolitan area and persons of recognized business ability."

It is questionable whether that has been the criterion for any recent appointment. At least Carole Brown works for Lehman Brothers, but, as demonstrated, she exercises no oversight authority over the CTA (and apparently no one exercised oversight over Lehman Brothers, either), and all she can provide is blather over such issues as Block 37.

However, since this came from Citizens Taking Action, nobody listens to the professional gadflies, either. I suppose Jon Hilkevitch will next report that Adam Kerman was there to protest the Brown Line project.

[But folks, even if the room were full and 200 commenters opposed the budget, I'm fairly certain we'll see the board OK the budget on Nov. 12.]

Well, with all due respect to KevinB, if you've accurately reflected the quality of the comments opposing the budget, there's no reason for the board not to OK it.

Heads should roll for the Block 37 washout, but that would necessarily mean our wretched mayor assume accountability, which is laughable.

Indefinitely shuttering a busy downtown rail station and transfer point at a cost of $120+ million for an unrealized pipe dream of minimal future benefit boggles the mind, even for a corrupt and bloated administration like Daley's.

I think that sometimes we lose sight of the notion that the CTA chief, and board are no more than Daley-appointed marionettes. He's a helicopter parent, wielding oligarchy-like control over mass transit while deprioritizing it in favor of less critical but more splashy ventures, like rampant residential development, Millenium Park, and the Olympics, to name but a few.

Here's the rub - until we elect a more progressive and transit-oriented mayor, the CTA will remain what it's always been - an afterthought. Sure, there's been nominal improvement in some areas, but that's been more the result of isolated events that generate a cascade of bad publicity, or government mandates.

No new rail lines, aging & inefficient buses, crumbling stations, deteriorated tracks, poor systemic communication, a woefully underfunded pension system, a bloated payroll, and failure to readily research and adopt new revenue streams. While there has been improvement in some of these areas, it's only been of very recent vintage. The common theme here? All of these issues have been created, ignored, or exacerbated under the Daley regime.

Thanks for allowing me to vent.

Tecki, But you don't know the CTA's RE portfolio. They don't own large properties adjacent to stations, the retail storefronts next to the north side Red Line stations are probably the largest properties CTA has and they are in horrible disrepair and it doesn't take an $800,000 year consultant to fix the properties, spend the $800,000 on construction to fix the properties. So there is the $180,000 Chief Revenue Officer and a new $100,000+ GM of the section put in place to oversee Jones Lang LaSalle. Super. Call me back in a year and tell me of the great revenue increase. But if there isn't an icrease, no press conference. Like the big press conference to talk about $500,000 of savings through the CTA/Chicago Public Schools smart card program. THe program is cancelled and we never hear another word about it. Reform, you can have it.

We need radical change. And the first step is for Chicago to be denied the Olympics -- I think it's the only way the politicians will wake up. Losing to another bid on account of transportation will get their attention, and that means we have to hope that it's to Tokyo or Madrid.

As for how to actually fix the problem, I believe the time has come for privatization by franchise of CTA operations. A couple of things privatization will NOT do. It won't save money (unless the politicians try to worm their way out of providing a subsidy, in which case we'll all be in trouble). And it won't directly address infrastructure. A couple of things privatization will do; it will bring cleaner, better quality service with more efficient use of staff and far better customer service. Companies such as First Group, Serco, Arriva, Virgin Group and many others provide better quality transportation service than our public transit agencies.

The other step is for broad reform of CTA funding. The sales tax needs to apply to services as well as goods, so that it does not keep losing value as more and more goods shopping is done out of state. Applied to services it could also be set to a lower percentage rate. And there needs to be a standing, dedicated fund for capital spending. After the capital debacle of the Blagojevich years, I believe the state needs to be forced into dedicated capital funding for all our transportation assets.

First off, no city in the world that hasn't already hosted the Olympics in recent history has the transportation infrastructure in place to get people to and from the venues, especially those that haven't been built yet. This whole idea that we're going to lose the Olympics because the CTA sucks doesn't even come close to reality.

But what should have happened is the bid should have included not just a plan for the venues, but a plan for a transportation infrastructure to be built for the Olympics.

And whatever needs to be built for the Olympics has little relation to what the CTA needs to serve it's constituency that is around now, and will be around after the Olympics are done.

Privatizing the CTA only makes any sense at all when you consider that it's been so politicized that the president of the CTA has no experience in either public transportation, or running an organization the size and complexity of the CTA.

Even so, I'd be 100% against privitization if it involved transfering any assets to a private company. I also would not be in favor of privitization if the purpose was to create savings by cutting the pay of the men and women who do the actual work. The changes are needed in upper-management.

Now if you want to see how something like that works, take a trip north to Milwaukee. The Milwaukee & Suburban Transport Company was taken-over by Milwaukee County in 1975. The county owns all the buildings, all the buses, all the physcial assets. They contrated-out the management of the company, and the management company inherited the workforce, along with all applicable contracts.

But even if the service were privitized, and someone who knows what they're doing was put at the helm, there's still a problem getting the money needed to run the service. In Milwaukee's case, the management company they hired was actually the management team of the private company that couldn't make a profit. Why? Because the county could only provide a limited subsidy to a private company, but could provide what was needed to keep the service running if it were government owned, even if they had private, professional managers (rather than politician like Chicago) running the system.

That's not to say Milwaukee had all the answers. They neglected to set-up any long-term funding specifically for the transit system, so each year the transit system battles other county departments for operating money out of the general fund, and service has suffered because of that.

Incidentally, for over 30 years, only one management company ever bid on operating the system. You can rattle off a list of companies you'd *like* to see run the CTA, but chances are none of them *want* to run the CTA.

Do you think that maybe CTA has to raise fares and lay employees off due to the fact they gave 100's of managers a $20,000 a year raise and promotions when they got their $300,000,000 earlier this year ? CTA and the Mayor at it again !!!

Rusty said:
"Incidentally, for over 30 years, only one management company ever bid on operating the system. You can rattle off a list of companies you'd *like* to see run the CTA, but chances are none of them *want* to run the CTA."

Basically, the companies are limited to such as First Group, Veolia, and MV. However, this being Chicago, you can bet that their lobbyists (and backroom dealers) would be on the scene, pronto.

There are other examples of private operators of transit authority systems, such as Las Vegas and Phoenix. I didn't know that Milwaukee was in that group.

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