April 20, 2009

Legislators get uncomfortable view of unfunded capital needs

State legislators on Friday got a firsthand -- and uncomfortable -- look at just some of the myriad public transit capital projects that need funding for fixing.

The uncomfortable part came in an un-air-conditioned ride on a Pace bus from a Cicero Metra station to a Loop CTA El platform, according to a Daily Herald report. Oh, the irony of it all.

The idea was for the RTA to give state legislators a firsthand look at crumbling infrastructure and vehicles in disrepair on all three area transit systems. The hope is that legislators will finally pass a long-term capital spending bill -- something we haven't had since 2004.

Gov. Pat Quinn would fund a $25 billion bill through an income tax hike. About $10 billion would be earmarked for transit. But some Democratic lawmakers prefer to raise the gas tax, and funnel more of those proceeds to transit, and less to highway spending. Such blasphemy, say the Downstaters!

There are many ideas to fund this pressing need. All we need now is the political will and leadership to get it done before May 31. After that, a supermajority of 60% of legislators must approve any spending plan.

April 17, 2009

CTA pub crawl Saturday; weekend service changes

The BeerAdvocate is sponsoring its 4th Annual CTA Pub Crawl at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Local Option. The beery jaunt is focused on the North Side around DePaul, Wrigley and Andersonville. Check the map here.

CTA Tattler hope to pull off its own pub crawl sometime in May. Stay tuned for details. But it definitely will feature a combo of Red, Brown and Blue line rides connected by buses on Bus Tracker. Gotta love modern technology guiding your drinking.

O'Hare Blue Line overnight single tracking. The CTA warns that "due to work on the northbound track, a single track will be in effect for Blue Line trains affecting boarding at the Grand, Chicago and Division stations from 10 p.m. Friday, April 17 until 4 a.m. Monday, April 20." And, trains will operate at 15 minute intervals throughout the weekend. As they say, allow extra travel time.

Weekend service changes. Check out the planned service changes for the weekend here. There's plenty of track maintenance work on the rails, and some bus reroutes dues to the Wrigley Start Early Run.

April 16, 2009

CTA knocks a homer with Addison digital info screens

Addison digital screens Timing is everything.

The CTA late last week installed digital information screens at the Red Line Addison station -- just in time for the Cubs opening day, rain-soaked win over the Colorado Rockies.

The 52-inch monitors provide next train arrival information and serve up ads. And because of the latter, they don't cost the CTA a dime. In fact, the transit agency expects to earn almost $101 million over 10 years in the deal announced last year with Titan Outdoor.

This is just one more installation in its pilot test of the screens. And testing is a good thing. I've heard comments from readers and seen for myself that the arrival times may be off in some cases. For instance, during the morning rush there was a 10-minute interval between trains -- which seems rather high when intervals are supposed to be 3-4 minutes. Another reader noted:

"The monitor said the next train to 95th was due in nine (!!!) minutes. However, the train arrived within four minutes, and the signs still displayed the arrival time as four minutes as the train's doors opened. Clearly they've got some timing/accuracy kinks to work out. Still, it was great to see them up and running."

Agreed. Great to see further expansion of the pilot. Get the kinks worked out and keep it up! And with the hated Cardinals coming to town this weekend, the droves of St. Louis fans will now know when the train to their hotels will arrive.

(Photo by Ben)

April 15, 2009

Good and bad early financial news; fleet performance improvement

Here are some further tidbits and notes shared at the April CTA board meeting last week:

Early budget surplus, good. Chief Financial Officer Karen Walker reported that the CTA showed a $12.9 million surplus for the first two months of the year, due to lower operating expenses and higher farebox revenue than expected. As we noted last week, overall ridership was up 5.8 million rides for the first three month of the year compared to the same period in 2008.

Early CTA cash balance, bad. But the bad news is the CTA's cash position was much weaker early in 2009 compared to the same time in 2008. Total cash balances were $116 million lower in February compared to February 2008. The biggest difference was the RTA and state of Illinois combined owed the CTA almost $94 million more this year than last year.

Rail and bus performance improvements. New CTA President Richard Rodriguez showcased some improvements in rail and bus performance. From his remarks:

"Door defects on rail cars are always our biggest concern during the winter months. Preventative measures such as installing door brushes and changing the sensitive edges were completed to improve the reliability of the fleet. This resulted in a reduction in repeater defects and a 15% increase in the mean miles between reported rail defects.

"With the introduction of new more reliable buses, additional buses were available for service and there was an increase in mean miles between service disruptions from 2,413 in January to 3,875 in February. This, in connection, with the temporary deactivation of older articulated buses, resulted in better performance in February."

More pretty Powerpoint depictions of the above are found here.

April 14, 2009

New routes for Bus Tracker named; Cricket users now are subway cellers

We reported last week that the CTA was adding 19 more routes to Bus Tracker next Monday, April 20. Yesterday the CTA released the route names and numbers. They are:

  • #2 Hyde Park Express
  • #108 Halsted/95th
  • #N5 South Shore Night Bus
  • #112 Vincennes/111th
  • #30 South Chicago
  • #123 Illinois Center/Union Express
  • #53AL South Pulaski Limited
  • #124 Navy Pier
  • #64 Foster/Canfield
  • #95E 93rd/95th
  • #135 Clarendon/LaSalle Express
  • #136 Sheridan/LaSalle Express
  • #95W West 95th
  • #143 Stockton/Michigan Express
  • #100 Jeffery Manor Express
  • #144 Marine/Michigan Express
  • #103 West 103rd
  • #155 Devon
  • #106 East 103rd

The press release with the announcement noted increased customer satisfaction for CTA service as more routes go live on Bus Tracker:

"Results of a recent survey show that as customers become more familiar with Bus Tracker and its features, they have expressed increased satisfaction with CTA service and feel that the reliability of bus service has also improved.

"Customers consider information provided through Bus Tracker a valuable resource when traveling the system.  One survey observation shows a 30 percent increase in satisfaction along the #8 Halsted route and that a customers’ perceived wait time between #8 Halsted buses has decreased by 27 percent when compared to a year ago."

Cricket Wireless devices now work in subways. Users with Cricket wireless devices now join U.S. Cellular and Verizon customers in annoying others getting service in CTA subway tunnels.

The agreement will earn the CTA almost $2.7 million over 10 years, so I guess I shouldn't get all grumpy about more phone use on mass transit. I'm fine with texting, emailing and surfing the 'net underground. But what gets me is the screaming into the phone that passengers must do to be heard over the screeching of El cars.

April 13, 2009

"Voices of Transit" ring loud and clear with authority

I've been remiss (for a year now) in not sharing with you a fascinating report by the Illinois Public Research Interest Group Education Fund called Voices of Transit. It was one of those things that I squirreled away to post later, but never got to it. No matter. It's still pertinent.

The report was issued last April not long after legislators had raised a couple of taxes to "solve" the transit funding crisis. It reminds us that "the most compelling reason to value transit has all too often been overlooked – the expertise from riders and residents themselves who rely on transit. Voices of Transit is a compilation of interviews from those that depend on Northeastern Illinois transit. The stories compiled document perspectives from riders in their own words; perspectives that statistics can’t provide.
Here are some of the common themes from the report:

  • Frustration with the cost of owning a car.

  • Frustration with the transit agencies.
  • Recognition that transit determines access to jobs.
  • Agreement that both politicians and riders are responsible for improving transit.

Read the interviews here.

The conclusion PIRG suggests should be obvious, and it is one that CTA Tattler strives to do with every post: increase community participation:

Steps should be taken at all levels to better elicit feedback and ideas from transit users. ‘The customer is always right’ is a motto that should apply to transit service as well.

Planners, politicians, and decision makers should never forget for whose ultimate use and benefit public transport is developed. Every effort should be made to involve the voices, ideas, and concerns of citizen users of transit. Residents of local communities have the most to gain or lose from transit planning and funding decisions. It is incumbent on our leaders to always keep this in mind and to go to them when questions arise. As a result of community participation and involvement we can expect better decisions that reflect the needs and values of the community.

April 10, 2009

Many happy returns: Lost on the 151 and found by driver

Here's a note of good cheer from Tamara to kick off the weekend:

The CTA REALLY helped me out, and Lord knows they get plenty of grief when things goes wrong on a daily basis:

This morning I was on my way to work on the 151 bus. Ten minutes after I got off, I realized my wallet was not in my purse - it had likely fallen out when I was rummaging for chapstick. After pausing to kick myself, I called the CTA's main line and within 30 seconds was talking with the lost and found department. They connected me to Jim at the bus garage, who took my information and paged all drivers on the 151 route.

I really didn't expect to see my wallet again, or my credit cards, driver's license or the several gift cards and cash inside. Yet, less than three hours later, Virgina from the Kedzie garage called to tell me that driver Ms. D. Dodd found my wallet, untouched right underneath my seat. Everything - every dollar - was still inside.

The CTA (especially Jim, Virginia and Ms. Dodd) was organized, courteous, honest and professional. They acted quickly and followed up promptly. The buses may often run late, the trains may break down, but today I am extremely grateful for the CTA.

To a pleasant Good Friday commute. Here's to a pleasant commute today and a great weekend. With fewer people working today -- Good Friday on the Christian calendar -- and Chicago and other schools on spring break, I'm thinking we should have a smooth, fast commute. And you might even get a seat.

Watch out for the helicopter lift! The #4 Cottage Grove and #60 Blue Island/26th will undergo a termporary reroute from 8 till 11 am Saturday. The CTA explains why in a very short weekend service alert:

"Buses are rerouted due to a helicopter lift at 200 E. Randolph."

April 09, 2009

NABI bus update; CTA wins international "most improved" award

Last month I got an update from the CTA on the NABl bus inspections, but didn't have a chance to post it.

A CTA spokesperson said engineering consultants who are experts in bus structures "have done an initial inspection and are now doing an analysis and evaluation based on modeling predictions of where and when issues could occur. They are preparing a report for us with their analysis and recommendations. Until we have that and make decisions on next steps, the NABI buses will remain out of service."

The good news is that the CTA has existing orders already under way for New Flyer hybrid articulated buses and regular 40-foot buses. "Every week more of those buses are delivered to us so we are able to get those buses into service and lessen the impact," said the spokesperson.

WBBM also covered this story recently this week.

CTA "most improved" transit agency. Congrats to our very own CTA for winning the coveted "Most Improved Metro" award March 31 at the second annual Metro Awards in London. The CTA press release notes that the awards "recognize the leaders, innovators, creative talents and pioneers in the global Metro Rail industry."

The CTA notes its achievements:

"CTA achieved a 4.1 percent increase in rail ridership in 2008 compared to 2007. For 2008, the rail system recorded a total of 198.2 million rides – an increase of 7.9 million rides over the previous year. The agency also significantly reduced slow zones in 2008.

"Safety improvements made last year were recognized, including upgrades to subway emergency exits. Upgrades included brighter lighting, high visibility signs, improved stairways and an instructional video to help prepare customers for evacuation procedures in case of an emergency.

"CTA's application also highlighted improvements made in customer communications."

I agree they've made lots of improvements. Just before Christmas I wrote about the Welcome gifts the CTA gave us this year.

April 08, 2009

CTA closing funding gap; fare hikes, service cuts may be avoided

A combination of unanticipated federal and state funding and internal CTA cuts may help the agency avoid service cuts and fare hikes this year, the Tribune is reporting:

"We are making progress,'' said CTA chairman Carole Brown, who only a month ago warned that a looming budget crisis could lead to cuts in service.

Since then, the Regional Transportation Authority agreed to cover a $56.1 million public-funding shortage for 2008.

In addition, the CTA is receiving $241 million in federal economic stimulus funds that can be used for projects resulting in savings through more efficient operations. Fare hikes implemented in January are projected to bring in an additional $39 million.

The CTA is still almost $54 million in the hole for 2009. Top brass will present its plan to close the remaining funding gap at the May meeting.

President Richard Rodriguez also shared these news bits in his report at the Tuesday board meeting:

58 hybrid buses on order. Yesterday the CTA inked a $49 million contract to buy 58 more hybrid, articulated buses, using federal stimulus dollars.Next up for stimulus spending are bus and rail car overhauls.

Ridership continues to increase. Overall ridership was up 5.8 million rides for the first three month of the year compared to the same period in 2008.

19 more routes on Bus Tracker April 20. Another 19 routes will be added to the Bus Tracker system on April 20. Details on which routes were not announced in the report. About 84% -- 129 out of 153 bus routes -- will be on Tracker by then.

April 07, 2009

Pleasant surprise: State funds $496 million in CTA capital projects this year

Press conferences called for Friday and Saturday generally are used to bury bad news. But this past weekend transit users across the Chicago area got great news: the state Legislature passed a $900 million capital spending bill for mass transit this year. Almost half a billion dollars will fund CTA projects.

Before the Legislature left for its spring break, it approved the first part -- for 2009 -- of what we hope is a larger capital spending budget. The dollars come from the state road fund.

A spokesperson said the CTA will use about $496 million in state funding for the following projects:

  • Purchase of new hybrid buses -- $172.8 million.
  • Mid-life overhaul of existing buses -- $86.8 million.
  • Bus garage rehabs -- $27.5 million.
  • Rehabilitate rail stations -- $22.5 million.
  • Red Line substations -- $48 million.
  • Brown Line substations -- $25.5 million.
  • Red Line track replacement -- $113 million.

Metra will use about $291 million for new rail cars. Pace will spend about $68 million only new vans, buses and other items. And $45 was put aside for paratransit.

Previously

05/20/09

"This is only a test!" Emergency exercise to shut Washington Blue Line stop, nearby bus routes

05/19/09

CTA I-Go smart card earns Chicago Fast Cities nod

05/18/09

CTA avoids fare hikes by using capital funds to balance budget

05/15/09

Weekend woes: Blue Line shut from Grand to Western

05/14/09

Wringing extra life from a dying Chicago Card/Plus

05/13/09

Celling that makes you cringe; hockey Overheard

05/12/09

Newest Bus Tracker features: email and text alerts

05/12/09

Bus Tracker rollout: Fini

05/11/09

CTA responds to Blue Line slow zone questions

05/ 8/09

Escalator work to shut Harrison entrance for months; other weekend work

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