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More questions answered: Some CTA job cut details; customer service dissatisfaction

Here are more questions from my series where you ask CTA the questions and I try and get some answers. And please, don't forget to vote today.

I wonder if there was ever any intent to re-extend the East 63rd branch of the Green Line back to Stony Island. Seems like if they're hoping to be putting the Olympics down thattaway it would be nice to link up with Metra there, and such a relatively easily accomplished link too. (From Sabrina.)

Not at this time. Large-scale projects, like extending a route, require a multi-year process and significant capital funding, including securing federal funds.

Of the 80 jobs being cut, how many of them are management (and especially executive) versus how many are people who actually work for a living? (From Rusty.)

CTA plans to eliminate more than 80 administrative positions before the end of the year through a combination of layoffs and cutting vacant positions. Of the 43 jobs eliminated in September, nine were management.

Is there a plan to replace the State/Lake loop station, that thing is dangerous. Same question about the stations along Wabash, you could go from 3 to 2 easily. Those things are beyond dilapidated. (From Paul.)

This is a project that has been discussed by the CTA if capital funds become available.

CTA has a Citizens Advisory Board, but individuals are appointed rather than allowed to apply for membership. . . . New York, Washington, Philadelphia, even Pittsburgh all have some form of riders' advisory board. In each case, these boards have a formal application process, operating structure, mission statements and by-laws. What are the chances that CTA might implement a truly representative riders' advisory board to solicit public input? CTA has an obvious problem with public perception and this might help a tiny little bit. (From Martha.)

As well as being customers, the Citizens Advisory Board (CAB) members are regional leaders in government, transportation policy, business development, and community affairs dedicated to transit and CTA’s mission of providing safe, clean, on-time, courteous and efficient public transit for the region.

The Transit Board, CTA staff, and the CAB discuss legislative affairs (including CAB members advocating on behalf of CTA in Springfield regarding operations and capital funding), day-to-day operations (including monitoring the slow-zone mitigation projects, bus bunching, the planned purchase of new rail cars and other service improvements), and more long-term strategic concerns (such as business improvements and customer service changes).

There are additional ways riders can communicate with the CTA. This includes, but is not limited to, the agency’s monthly Board meetings, public hearings, the Mystery Shopper Program and the Chairman's Blog, "Ask Carole".

Not questions, but an expression in frustration and futility: next to Comcast, the CTA is the definition of deplorable, get-nowhere customer "service." They have apathetic attitudes and a do-nothing mindset. Any time I have ever called or emailed for information or to complain, I have been challenged to come up with a solution for my problem - "what do you want me to do about it?" - even though I've given my thoughts on a solution - "I want you to discipline the bus driver who looked straight at a group of people at his stop and gunned it over the bridge without stopping." . . . Clearly, this shows that *I* know how I would resolve my issue, and they don't know how to do it themselves. (From Erin.)

We apologize for any inconvenience you experienced while communicating with CTA customer service representatives. The CTA strives to provide excellent customer service. However, if a customer experiences treatment that they feel is inappropriate or not helpful, they should ask to be connected to a manager or supervisor.

CTA is committed to improving agency standards and customer feedback is key to that effort.   

Comments

Oh cmon

That's pretty much the answer I was expecting, which has a lot to do with why I posed the question. I wanted to see how he'd answer it. Nobody's ever going to get a closer look at the sausage making.

Pretty pathetic, huh? What did you expect? Why doesn't someone ask them about the new departments created and staffed on backs of the layoffs? I also hear there'll be an influx of City hacks that the Authority will have to acommodate with jobs. So...more braindrain as they take in the rejects from Daley and put out the staff.

Martha,

Your question was the one that was answered in the lease respectable fashion. They told you to get bent in nicer and more numerous words. Ahhh, gotta love a good PR dept.

I meant respectful.

Hmm, and what are you suppposed to do if you get blown off by e-mail?

The entire customer service department should be abolished. Their mission and culture is to insulate anyone at the CTA who can actually do something from hearing about problems and ideas. I also have gone to them with very specific and realistic suggestions, and "no, we don't want to do that, we want things to stay just as they are", they explained. I'm sure Ron is well aware of this. Now he should have the guts to shut down that entire department and replace it with a new system enabling true communication with passengers about their needs.

By the way, "any inconvenience" is a weasel form of apology, for it implies there may not have really been any.

I still never gotten my question answered. How many more questions are left? Kevin?

I'll restate mine here:

"I'd like to know what plans Ron has after some of the current initiatives complete either this year or early next (like the Brown lines reopened, 3 tracking completed, Bus Tracker installed on all buses, slow zones much more reduced). What will be the focus after that? Will it be expansion of some of the lines (as proposed), more bus lanes or something else altogether? I think Ron has done a great job so far in improving the CTA, so I'm curious to hear what else is in store."

http://www.dpcaltd.com/projects/individual/state_lake.html

I personally would prefer they treat the remaining loop stations like they did Quincy and Ashland, preserve them while making them functional in a modern world. They *could* be very attractive and functional. I think this proposal is a little too attention-grabby.

As far as the stations are concerned, it's the CTAs "all or nothing approach" to station renovation.

never mind that upgrading would be much cheaper and get the same result even though it might not be as "pretty" and "artistic" as a whole brand new station like howard (you know, the one that started leaking 3 weeks after it opened and still hasn't been fixed yet). Never mind that it would give much needed ADA access to places that will probably never ever get it due to "insufficient capital issues". So, rather than make stations more functional and accessible, we'll just wait until we can go "whole hog".

Thats one of my basic pet peeves with the CTA (besides wasting money, poor service, no accountability, etc, etc, etc.).


I'm pretty sure that they could justify the use of almost any kind of funds to provide/improve ADA and other functional improvements, but that is just not the CTA mindset.

KevinB


The nature of responses are back to the PR department standard. All the necessary PR buzzwords were there (such as the hackneyed "dedicated to transit and CTA’s mission of providing safe, clean, on-time, courteous and efficient public transit for the region"). Thanks, Ms. Gregory and cohorts, you are performing a "valuable service."

In particular, those to Martha and Erin show that despite the lip service, CTA doesn't want to act on customer feedback. Note that the Citizen Advisory Board has basically been defined as a lobbying arm. Carole also thought Ask Carole would enlist all of us to lobby for CTA, too. Of course, if there were a democratically elected riders' board in Chicago, the machine would find a way to co-opt or ignore that, too.

I really like that mockup of the State and Lake station. Where did that come from and is this an actual design being looked at? What are the details on it?

The explanation on the Green Line question is a non sequitur. Everyone already knows that big projects require planning and funding - the question was whether they're considering it, which obviously has to precede planning and funding.

Rebuilding the Green Line to the Metra tracks probably makes sense from the perspective of the system as a whole, especially if transfers between Metra and CTA ever become possible. But all the new homeowners along 63rd (part of the push to gentrify Woodlawn) would probably cry holy hell. With the commercial strip gone, it might be too late to rebuild that section.

chris, what mockup?

Tread,

http://www.dpcaltd.com/projects/individual/state_lake.html

This link was posted above by BWChicago.

"CTA is committed to improving agency standards and customer feedback is key to that effort."

I feel like Hal is running the CTA and we're just trying to get the pod bay door open.

What was the answer to the second question? What's the point of asking questions if we just get PR BS and can't ask followups? When people say that CTA and Huberman are arrogant, this is why. Tell your boy Ron to get some slightly better Flacks (I hear the Mayor can recommend some nice pricey ones). For this garbage they should use unpaid interns.

http://www.suntimes.com/news/politics/1258379,CST-NWS-spin04.article

This discussion of actually creating an advisatory body composed of people randomely plucked off the street is unbelievably naive and absurd. I explained why that is the case when Martha originally asked about it: http://www.ctatattler.com/2008/09/what-would-you/comments/page/2/#comments (it is towards the end of the page, as I'm sure people have noticed it is impossible to link right now to a specific comment that is not on page one of a thread) Those people whining about the fact that the CTA is not implemented this are being really petty. The CTA has recently done more to allow customers to provide input than I have seen virtually any government entity do. How many times have you seen the president of a government agency or division invite anyone who wants to come to a "coffee" where everyone is free to ask any question? What other board officials currently have a blog where you can ask them direct questions? And there are numerous other ways of communicating with CTA leadership. What more do you want that would somwhow be achieved by a formal advisatory body composed of random people? I don't understand this. Do you actually think anything productive would occur at a meeting such as that which doesn't occur somewhere now? The answer given to Martha was very respectful. Anyone suggesting otherwise is being a jerk.

Well, I think it is safe to say that Huberman will probably not be answering people's submitted questions again. Not with the way people are being comepletely disrespecful about the answers. Especially when, as we see with LTM, people are complaining about answers that I would never have guessed anybody could think of something to find fault with.

Wow, the mockup of State/Lake is fantastic! I really like the other views including the one inside the station.(although the train set used will probably be retired by then) (BTW, click on 1-6 to get the other views)

The bus reroute map for tonight can be found here:

http://www.transitchicago.com/news/newspostdescs/109541ElectRallyMap.pdf

Comment:
OMG! The 36 is supposed to make a left turn from WB Congress to SB Wells tonight? Turning left in front of traffic coming in from the end of an expressway has got to be the most dangerous route a bus could take.
I hope CTA changes the turn around for 36 "on-the-fly" tonight BEFORE an accident occurs.

Well, while I'm thankful my question/comment was responded to, it is pretty much the standard blow-off response I would normally expect, barring any extreme rudeness.

CC and Jack, you hit the nail on the head.

MK, I always try to be respectful with both my questions and my answers/feedback, but really? I feel like the CTA disrespects ME every time I get what passes for customer service from them. They can give as good as they can get.

>>>
Well, I think it is safe to say that Huberman will probably not be answering people's submitted questions again.
<<<

I think it's safe to say *he* didn't answer them this time, either!

(I could have also shifted the emphisis to "answer". The responses to most of the questions are standard PR spin: Neither the voice of Ron, nor real answers.)

Lucky for us Huberman seems to be much more willing to entertain divergent viewpoints than you are, MK. After all, he actively sought out the naysayers for Coffee #2. I don't think you need to be so concerned about his feelings being hurt by our alleged disrespect. He engaged Kevin not once but twice to bring Tattler readers together, the second time after several high profile rail snafus that brought CTA a lot of negative publicity. He's a big boy and knows what he's getting himself into and I agree with Rusty that he probably didn't answer the questions himself. He allowed half-assed answers to represent the agency he leads, but that's another issue and one that was addressed with the last round of "answers." We have a right to expect substantive answers, MK, and disagree on what constitutes substance. If you don't like that, we have a right to disagree with you just as you have aggressively asserted your right to disagree with others.

When someone characterizes others' questions and discussion as "whining", that's a clue that he or she is unable to refute the actual substance of the discussion and may safely be ignored.

This all kind of proves my contention that we do in fact have some kind of backchannel into the CTA and we are not just griping to each other. I have also stated before that Ron seems to give his people a chance to do a proper job on their own, and when they fail, he eventually comes up with a different way to get it done. I'm suggesting that with customer service, their time ought to be up right about now.

Letting the PR flacks dish up the usual BS in response to our questions is probably not the end of the line on getting our concerns attended to. We were just given an opportunity to publicly poke all kinds of holes in it, weren't we? Besides, not all questions received non-answers. At least one of them in an earlier batch was to the effect that "the XYZ department is looking into it." One may presume they were pointedly asked by the boss to do so and may be expected to give him an answer. At any rate, I certainly feel like my specific concern got on the radar.

"This all kind of proves my contention that we do in fact have some kind of backchannel into the CTA and we are not just griping to each other."

I never said otherwise. And there is nothing wrong with complaining about legitimate things. I have done so several times in the past. I think I even called Huberman "stupid" based on his public statements that Chicago Card usage will not dramatically decrease after there no longer is a financial incentive to use them. But if people whine and moan about trivial and absurd things it detracts from legitimate gripes that people have here. And it would help convince the CTA leadership that the readers of this blog are not worth listening too. And that would be ashame since I think there are at least as many worthwhile ideas on this blog as there are bizarre ones. In some of the earlier posts there were answers which I thought were too vague. But I don't know what people expect with these four questions. One is about something that is increadibly naive, another was clearly answered as far as it could have, a third question was asked in a personel and nonspecific manner, and the fourth was not even a question.

Those clever New Yorkers who run the Straphangers Campaign gave out fortune cookies at October's MTA board meeting when the board considered yet another round of fare hikes. The NY Times provided a sample of the fortunes:

“Raising transit fares will wreak havoc on your love life.”

“In a tough economy, it is wise to invest in transit.”

“Good luck in the new year: more aid from the state and city.”

Fortune cookies could be a fabulous untapped resource for communicating with CTA. Just imagine:

"Red Line trains are always late."

"Block 37. Sad, empty hole."

"Bus 6500 is plagued with an odd smell."

"Why did you use the word elastic? It seemed glib."

"I Love Bus Tracker. More routes, please."

I'm abandoning the advisory board idea and plowing my energy into fortune cookies.

TWO [The Woodlawn Organization] has long wanted the L gone from over 63rd St.
What should have been done during the reconstruction, if the money could have been gotten, was to drop the east branch into a tunnel south of Garfield, go under Washington Park, a stop at 59th & Cottage Grove, continue under the Midway with another stop at Woodlawn & end at the Museum of Science & Industry, which is the largest tourist attraction here without direct L service.
Tunneling under the park for almost the entire length would have been relatively cheap compared to tunneling under the street.

Now cue the gray line fools to chime in with their never-to-be-built-idiocy!

Regarding extending Green Line service to
Stony Island again one must ask themselves
why it wasn't done when that portion was
rebuilt. Why was it abruptly " stubbed " at
Cottage Grove. Could it be that two influential preachers didn't want that ugly
old structure passing near a certain brand-
new church at 63rd and Dorchester ?
And they certainly didn't want all that noise
disturbing their services. It is a matter of
public be dammed. C'mon Ron tell the truth
and shame the devil.

You're cracking me up, Martha. I have bookmarks at work to companies that provide custom fortune cookies...

I seriously doubt that the MoS&I would be enough of a traffic generator to justify even a relatively lower-cost tunnel through the park. And the park is better off for not losing all the trees that would be lost in the construction of a tunnel.

Yes, the Green Line, in a theoretical world, would be better off going all the way to Stoney Island, and the job should have been done as a part of the Green Line reconstruction. But in the real world, without neighborhood support, and in the face of politically-connected oposition, it never was to happen, and likely never will be to happen -- at least not in any of our lifetimes.

Of course "Ron" could have left it at, "Not at this time." It seems odd that he'd continue on by saying, "Large-scale projects, like extending a route, require a multi-year process and significant capital funding, including securing federal funds," as if we didn't know that would be the next step *after* considering such a plan. Why even babble-on with a bunch of PR-speak that's actually irrelevent if "Not at this time" is the real answer.

But this is what happens when you hand-off the responsiblity for answering the question to some intern in the PR office.

Yeah, it's nice that he met with real people from this blog twice. And yeah, it's a very generous offer to continue that dialog beyond the meeting, answering questions that Kevin passes on. But if he wasn't going to answer the questions himself, the right thing to do would have been to offer-up a direct contact in the PR office rather than offer-up himself apparently pretending that these answers are really his own.

I'm sorry, but the days of signing your name to your employee's work may have been considered normal 40 years ago, but the winds of business ethics have changed, and you don't just sign your name to your employee's report and say it's your own in this day and age.

I don't so much mind the PR spin and puffery as I mind taking it a step further and claiming it as his own words.

Or if I'm wrong, and these really are his own words, then that's a bit of a problem, too.

MSI gets over 2 million visitors a year.
That's more than enough to justify extending the Green Line to it.
In addition, the University of Chicago & Hospitals would also generate several hundred thousand riders per year.
Wake up Rusty, there's a whole city outside of Da Loop!

The MSI may get 2 million visitors a year, but how many of them would take an extended Green Line? Many of the visitors are busloads of children on field trips. Also, the place has a huge parking structure. While I don't doubt that some people would take a train if it was available, I just don't see it as being that great of a number.

MSI has a huge parking structure because it doesn't have an L station!
It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Loop also has huge parking structures, so should we end rail service there?
Only one bus goes right to the museum, the 55 Garfield. During the summer the #10 goes there from downtown, but its schedule is a joke & it's aimed at the tourists.
The museum also has a ton of employees who also have to drive.

But if you keep characterizing other people's statements as "whining" and "moaning" and "stupid" or about "trivial" things just because you don't agree, they will not be interested in what you have to say. What's legitimate or worthwhile or important is a matter of opinion. So respect others if you want to be respected.

Man UCC for some one that characterizes the grey line as a crack pot scheme you really think without any kind of capital funding the cta is going to suggest digging a tunnel under Washington park? How does it make any more sense than a grey line proposal? It sounds to me like the same idea but more expense? Are there any pluses for this that make it better than a grey line?

>>>
The MSI may get 2 million visitors a year, but how many of them would take an extended Green Line?
<<<

I'm sure that's a rhetorical question. Very few tourists/visitors take the Blue Line to O'Hare or the Orange Line to Midway. The number that would take the Green Line to MSI would, for the most part, be a subset of those small numbers.

As for the number of employees at MSI, I seriously doubt that even if every single one of them took the subway to work every single day that there'd be enough riders to justify a subway.

This idea that tourists and visitors to the city want to ride on public transit is way out of proportion to reality. If you want to entice tourists to mass transit, you have to offer them their own, segregated transit. They're here to observe, not to participate in everyday life.

Scarring a park forever to build a subway station that will essentially be deserted most of the day does not make sense.

A stop near a museum on a line traveling past it can make sense. A stop near a museum that also serves a higher purpose, such as a huge commuter parking lot and regional transit center can make sense. A stop near a museum that's near some other real traffic generators can make sense, too. But building a subway to a museum doesn't make sense. There isn't a museum in the world that alone generates enough traffic enough hours of the day to justify anything like that.

I simply find it amazing that anyone thinks a subway to MSI makes any sense at all. What's next? Replacing the 96-Lunt with a subway? There's a better chance that a subway there would generate more traffic than one through the park to MSI would.

No, replace the 96 Lunt bus with the 96 Pratt bus.
I asked you once before Rusty why the bus runs on Lunt instead of Pratt & you ignored the question.
I actually know why, do you?

So extending the Skokie Line to Old Orchard is also stupid as it will only be used a few hours a day.

If Old Orchard was a shopping center surounded by park and lake, it wouldn't make sense. But Old Orchard is more than just the shopping center. It's a regional center with offices, a courthouse, all kinds of commercial and employment, surounded by residential areas, and is already a nexus for some bus routes. It's a far different situation than MSI.

It's all about density. And there's a lot of that going on around here.

And frankly, I don't care why the 96 is on Lunt instead of Pratt. It's essentially irrelevant to anyone except people living on or near Pratt or Lunt.

So now Rusty who claims to know it all, doesn't know why the 96 runs on Lunt, not on Pratt.

I'll get back to that, but first let's go back to the L on E. 63rd. St. & Rusty speaking out of both sides of his mouth at the same time.

Previously, Rusty claimed that the reason the L wasn't rebuilt from Cottage Grove east to the original terminus at Stony Island was that there's a new church that doesn't want to be disturbed by the noise of the L.
Rusty leaves out the fact that the bridge over the IC tracks was not repairable & there wasn't any money at the time to fix it, so the L was first cut off at Dorchester, then Cottage Grove.
So from that, I must assume that Rusty is in favor of rebuilding the L to Stony Island.
Except that Rusty insists there aren't enough people to justify moving that branch to a subway that ends at the Museum of Science & Industry.
But the museum gets well over 2 million visitors a year, at least 1 million of those aren't school children, but private citizens who are forced to drive there because there isn't any good transportation to there. The #6 bus stops over a block away & taking the L to Garfield 7 then transferring to the 55 bus is a pain in the ass.
Plus Rusty doesn't consider that the U of Chicago & its gigantic hospital complex don't generate riders.
But the original reason for the terminus at 63rd & Stony island was the 1893 fair, that was the main entrance.
The fair is long gone & what's there now, but a park & Hyde Park HS, which certainly would never bring in a lot of riders.

So Rusty infers that he wants the L extended to a place that no one goes to, but doesn't want a subway where millions go to.
With Rusty's thinking we have a mystery, wrapped in a dilemma, boxed up in a puzzle!

Now as to why the 96 runs on Lunt instead of Pratt.
From the time Pratt was built until 1979, Pratt was exactly 16 feet wide, I repeat, exactly 16 feet wide from Seeley to Western. The south side of the street was the Edgewater Golf Club.
The sale of the club in mid 1970s resulted in two aldermen going to federal prison & the eventual sale of the club to the state as Lawrence Warren State Park.
The state immediately ceded the north 24-30 feet to the city to widen Pratt to its current width.

Now Rusty, how wide are CTA buses?
Answer, they were 108 inches wide in the 1970s, I think they still are. It required a waiver from the federal government to operate buses over 96 inches in width then & only Chicago & NYC got such waivers.

Now do some simple math: 108 inches=9 feet; 9 + 9 = 18 feet, or too wide for two buses to pass on a 16 foot wide street.

And that's why the buses ran on Lunt, instead of Pratt, but why the CTA didn't immediately move the 96 to Pratt in 1979 when the street was widened is a mystery.

And that's why Rusty is a lot like Cliff Claven, he claims to know-it-all, but really doesn't & when he is stumped as in this case, he says: "And frankly, I don't care why the 96 is on Lunt instead of Pratt. It's essentially irrelevant to anyone except people living on or near Pratt or Lunt."

This is a question for UCC only because I don't really feel like starting another round of bullying. If you think the Museum of Science and Industry is so underserved, wouldn't increasing service on the Metra Electric and raising its profile make the most sense? What is wrong with that idea? This is a serious question, and it does not require insults be included in the answer.

Increasing service on the Metra Electric won't do anything because it's too far from the museum.
You might think that quarter mile isn't far, but with kids it is.
Or old people.
Only Europeans will walk that far.

Seriously? It's like two blocks away. So you want to spend upwards of a billion dollars to save some tourists the hassle of walking two blocks.

If you can provide some evidence that tourists are unwilling to walk two blocks, please do so. My guess is that they make those kind of decisions by looking at a map in guide book, and on that kind of a map the Metra Electric stop looks extremely close to the museum (because it is!). Have you ever been to DC? Tourists walk around with kids for miles to see all the sights.

Just raise the profile of the Metra Electric (my preferred method would be to add it to CTA maps as an El line) and make it run regularly. Problem solved.

1. I've never claimed to know everything, although I'm flattered you thought that I should have.

2. I never said the end of the line was never rebuilt because of a church not wanting the noise. I said that there was no community support, and that community activists were opposed to replacing it. (Thus it really didn't matter what the expense would be. It just wasn't going to happen.)

3. I don't insist that the El should be extended back to Stoney Island. At the time the Green Line was rebuilt, it would have made sense to do so, but I would have also (at that time) been in favor of a transit center type terminal at Stoney Island with both parking, but especially a decent off-street transfer point for CTA riders headed south from that point. (Something I didn't even bring up now because it is no longer practical.)

Also, vehicles operated on streets and highways in the US are allowed to be 102 inches wide, which is the width of the standard transit bus used in every city.

NYC at one time had a 96 inch restriction, and there are scattered places through-out the country that have width restrictions, too. (For example, under the Lake St El where the restirction is 96 inches.)

Chicago and NYC are the only two transit agencies that I know of that bought 96 inch wide buses, and CTA only used them on the old route 16 on Lake St. (One of the predicessors of NYC's MTA did sell some used 96 inch buses to Milwaukee in the mid-'60s, and there were probably other times used NYC or CTA buses ended up on streets in other cities, but since post-WWII, transit buses have been a standard 102 inches, which is also the standard width of big trucks and semi tractors.)

You're still ignoring the Pratt/Lunt 96 problem/question which you apparently didn't know the answer for & which is yet another example the CTA's bureaucratic incompetence.
Mainly that they won't update bus routes when the physical conditions of the route changes.

Another example is the 53 Pulaski route which has ended at Peterson on the north end so that the streetcars didn't have to pass over the grade crossing of the C&NW's Mayfair Cutoff near Granville & Pulaski [A quarter-mile north].
But the Mayfair Cutoff was abandoned years ago & the CTA never bothered to try an extension & neither trolley buses or motor buses had to follow the regulations of having the conductor walk the streetcar over the grade crossing. They just have to stop, open the front door & look for a train & then proceed.

First of all while eacj one of you have valid points. the CTA really has no concern with anyone or anything other than "apearences." I have been an employee with the agency for more than 14 years now and have seen a lot of things change, some for better but mostly for the worse. Recently we've had operators and other literally lose their homes cares and apartments, because of inhumane and selfish rules which inturn let's CTA get out of paying sick benefits to its employees. So if you want or get a straight answer from Ron Huberman, Carole Brown or any one else there, Let the employees know so we can be informed too.

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