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Amusing comparisons: CTA beats Metra by miles

I am greatly amused that the Tribune's Page 1 story on Monday took Metra to task for being stuck in the 20th century -- and in many cases used the CTA as an example of how a transit agency should be run. Some of that amusement comes from the fact that many Metra riders look at the CTA with such great disdain.

Here were some areas of comparisons:

  • Use of paper tickets.

Metra conductors still sell and check paper tickets, though regulars can buy monthly and weekly ride passes and 10-ride tickets. The CTA employs smart cards and makes rail customers buy transit cards. It stopped selling paper transfers years ago, and riders can only pay cash directly on buses. There are no train conductors, other than the motorman.

  • Credit cards.

Metra only allows riders to pay with cash or check. The CTA accepts credit and debit cards, and recently added special vending machines accepting both cards. It also allows the smart cards to be tied to debit and credit cards.

  • GPS tracking.

Metra uses GPS systems to track trains, and puts service alerts on its Web site. It's slated to put a train tracker on its Web site later this year. The CTA has Bus Tracker on more than half its buses, and is rolling out ad-sponsored big screen technology at rail stations this year.

  • Web site.

"The Metra Web site looks like an old paper [railroad] schedule posted on the Web," one transit expert told the Trib. The CTA debuted a much-improved Web site in December. It includes RSS feeds for status alerts continues to add new services, such as Bus Tracker route service alerts.

Finally, the story mentions Metra seat hogs, lack free wireless access, the demise of the bar cars and fewer on-board bathrooms.

Well, no one ever said the CTA was perfect!


Ya know, all of this could be eliminated if RTA would institute a universal transit debit card for all service boards. It would save the carriers money and be convenient for customers. Metra could keep their unions happy by equipping the conductors with RFID readers that would register fares. They could still punch in digits and take cash from those who prefer to transact that way. RonH was talking about instituting transit debit cards at CTA to replace the CCP before he got wisked away to CPS.

What can you "really" expect from the Trib? LOL..unless your ticket was electronically sent to you on your blackberry as you boarded the train, and displayed by a beam of sorts on the window next to you, so I wouldn't have to "bother" you for your ticket! I was out on freight FOREVER and my friends who had worked regular passenger jobs told me flat out..MAN the hours are great (set hours) but stay out on the road, because the people will eat you up! Now 99.9% of my riders are some of the most wonderful men and women in this world..it's funny because you become spoiled by the friendliness of most riders, then comes the difficult people! When your train is running late they act as if you planned on doing this to them a year in advance..or the numerous drunks who take Metra because they aren't allowed to drive any longer, or the people who I have to chase down for their ticket and when you ask them for it, some think your being "racist" or out of line..As a Metra conductor your a Doctor, Counselor, Paramedic and a cop all on one trip! As far as paper tickets and us having to collect fares, In a world were (I believe) manners are gone, people rarely talk to one another out of the blue, our interactions with the passengers adds to the entire train ride expieriance. SURE there are many times were I can barely feel my right hand because of the amount of cash fares I am punching, but as I collect and walk away I am left with a feeling that another person was added to my "friends-list" to use a myspace term! FORGIVE me if I rambled on and I didn't use spell check, my last train was full of "Tribune Columnists"...LOLOL!

Thanks for your comments, Conductor, I enjoyed reading about your experiences and hearing your viewpoint. I used to take Metra regularly when I worked downtown--I love the trains, guess part of me will always want to work on the railroad, but I didn't envy you guys your jobs at the height of rush hour!

I, too, appreciated the conductor's post. I love trains and wouldn't want that job for all the proverbial tea. I'll bet he wishes he'd stayed on freight. I feel worse for Metra conductors off-peak. Regular commuters know how the system works and, besides cell-yelling and seat-hogging, generally behave themselves. Weekend riders take a long time to board, have to buy tickets on board and sometimes engage in activities more typical of the Red Line crowd.

In December I took my son downtown on his first train ride. We got on in Geneva and my conductor was a student. I know this because I am a regular (somewhat) rider on Metra's west line. The train was packed! I was asking him how he liked it and he commented on how differant it was from freight service and smiled..He worked that car and dealt with the people like he had been there for much longer than he was...We got to Berkley (I believe) and two foul mouthed drunks got on and were standing by me and my son..numerous other children and were just dropping the F-word like there was no tomorrow!! This Conductor..I will never forget his name..SP Cushing..Politely asked them to watch their language and just as he walked away they said to him "F-YOU NEW GUY"..well this student conductor looked to be in pretty good shape and probably could have thrown them both out the nearest window, but LIKE A PRO..he waved for his other train person to come to him and then proceeded to say "Gentleman your next stop will not be Chicago today"... and they escorted them off the train without incident at the next stop.. when he returned to collect some tickets in our car..He apolagized to the people that were around these two butt-heads and there were countless mothers and fathers thanking him!! These are the kind of train people that are out there. Just last week I rode home to Geneva and asked one of the conductors if they knew a Conductor Cushing and he replied yes and that he had been laid off in December...I was actually upset, he of all the conductors I have seen past and present was somebody that even in one trips time made you feel safe and like he genuinely cared...I hope he makes it back soon..we need more conductors like him.

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