April 06, 2009

Bus stop changes aimed at providing faster travel times

The CTA recently has been adding, moving or eliminating various bus stops, with the expressed goal of providing faster travel times or adding service. I think these are laudable goals and important to note, since many of us here have complained about too many bus stops, or stops located on the wrong side of an intersection.

This week's Weekday Service Changesincludes bus stop relocation for four routes: the #21 Cermak, #22 Clark, #52 Kedzie/California, and #65 Grand. Stop relocations and eliminations are planned for the #24 Wentworth. Last week, there were relocations and eliminations for the #11 Lincoln, and a relocation for the #66 Chicago.

These and other changes, plus the Bus Tracker expansion, show a real commitment by the CTA to making service and on-time improvements for its bus fleets. Bravo!

No hybrid bus tour for Olympic committee? Ben Bradley at ABC7 notes on his blog that the International Olympic Committee's Evaluation Commission took their tour Sunday of proposed Olympic Games locations on a private chartered coach -- not the hybrid CTA bus as originally planned. There was no immediate reason why.

Also Mayor Daley bagged the first part of the tour. I'm sure he would have preferred the CTA bus.

April 03, 2009

News updates: "Nicest" motorman; lower 2008 deficit; single RTA fare card?

Shocker: The Trib published a CTA story Tuesday, and it didn't appear in the RedEye! That's probably because it was too long, and too well-written to be effectively edited. But commenters here noted the piece about the Nicest Train Operator in Chicago, and our Google News feed picked it up. But if you didn't see it, it's worth a read.

I've writtenabout this motorman and others in the past. There are many great CTA workers out there.

Just Wellington to go.The Paulina Brown Line station opens today. That now means that 88 out 144 CTA rail stations are accessible. Wellington will be open by the end of summer, which would make it the final station to open after work was complete at 16 Brown Line stations during the $530 million rehab project.

A rarity: no weekend rail service changes. But there are a few buses being rerouted. And the No. 10 Museum of Science and Industry bus hours are extended for spring break. Details here.

CTA, RTA agree on lower 2008 deficit.Yes folks, there's been a meeting of the minds, or at least of the respective CTA and RTA accountants: The two transit service agencies now agree the 2008 deficit is $56.1 million -- almost $31 million lower than the original $87 million figure that CTA had first noted. A low interest loan may be used to pay down the deficit, reportsthe Chi-Town Daily News. The CTA will unveil a plan at next Wednesday's board about how it plans to deal with the projected $155 million 2009 deficit.

A step closer to single fare card. The RTA Thursday laid out a blueprint to get the CTA, Metra and Pace transit systems to a single, coordinated fare collection system. Read the Trib story for the encouraging news.

April 02, 2009

Jumping out of the stimulus gate: Dearborn subway work to create 400 jobs

About 400 people will find jobs fixing slow zones after work begins in the Dearborn subway this month. Those jobs are being paid for by $56.6 million in federal stimulus funds under a contract approved at the March CTA board meeting.

Kiewit-Reyes was awarded the contract to renew approximately 36,000 feet of track in the Blue Line Dearborn subway tunnel. Last fall, the CTA eliminated slow zones in the Red Line subway tunnel and on the north end of the Blue Line O'Hare branch.

The most recent slow zone map shows that the Dearborn subway has the highest portion of slow zones on the Blue Line at 14.1%. Overall, 7.3% of CTA track is in a slow zone -- just under 100,000 linear feet of track. In the summer of 2007, when the CTA began aggressive slow zone repairs, more than 22% of track was in a slow zone.

The Dearborn subway work will be primarily weekend work, with single tracking during the work period, said a CTA spokesperson. More detail should be released soon.

April 01, 2009

Gay bashing continues on CTA; more state capital $$ needed

On a recent morning Red Line commute, a dad dragged his 6-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter on the train at Bryn Mawr and found three adjacent empty seats. His daughter was right behind him, yakking away, while the son played a handheld game.

The daughter was looking all around when a advertisement caught her attention: "Ooohhhh, Daddyl Look! those two men are kissing!" She was referring to the new "How are you healthy?" ad campaign by LifeLube. Her dad quickly changed the subject, avoiding a learning moment.

And apparently he's not the only one squeamish about the ads. As the Chi-Town Daily News reports, some folks have been defacing the ads by covering them with tape or cutting out the words gay, healthy and sexy with scissors.

I've been reporting about gay hatred on the CTA since 2005. So much for the age of enlightenment.

Woeful state pledge for capital dollars. The Illinois Public Interest Research Interest Group wants us all to know that Gov. Quinn's plan to invest $1.5 billion statewide on transit capital needs is woefully inadequate.

From PIRG's press release:

Touted as a $5 billion investment in statewide transit needs over five years, the proposal actually provides only $1.5 billion in new state money over five years. Adjusted for inflation, this is half the investment made in 1999 by Illinois FIRST, the last state capital plan. The proposal will not even cover the basic maintenance and repair needs of metropolitan Chicago’s transit network, a much-needed $1 billion-a-year investment.

“When you consider the state hasn’t provided a dime of transit capital funding for five years, it’s not a surprise to discover commuters struggling with broken down buses and slow train service,” said Brian Imus, director, Illinois PIRG (Public Interest Research Group). “Unfortunately the capital plan proposed in Springfield isn’t enough to even keep the current infrastructure in its current condition, much less make the investment needed to meet growing demand.”

In Northeastern Illinois alone, Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace have identified an unmet need in capital funding of $10 billion over the next five years to enhance and expand the network.

I certainly agree. We need more, Gov. Quinn!

March 31, 2009

Small progress unveiled in Grand Red Line rehab; check for expiring Chicago Cards

Grand station 033009 #1 A glimmer of hope shined through the dank, dark platforms at the Grand and State Red Line station, which has been undergoing renovation since April of last year: the unearthing of a small section of the new tile wall.

At the north end of both platforms, bright new wall tiles popped out from behind the gray plywood wall constructed earlier to shield the tie wall installation. (Thanks to Jason for sharing these photos.)

Grand station 033009 #2 The $67 million CDOT project is slated for completion in early 2010. Construction activity is expected to move to the north side of the State and Grand intesection sometime in April.

Fare card expiring? If you bought your Chicago Card/Card Plus, the CTA urges you to get a replacement card pronto.

Almost 5,000 regular Chicago Cards are set expire between April 6 and July 29, while more than 50,000 Chicago Card Plus cards will expire this year -- most of them in July. Chicago Card Plus customers will get an email 45 days prior to expiration. But Chicago Card users have check their expiration date themselves. Here's how:

  • Check online.
  • Scan your card at the passenger information units in most CTA rail stations.
  • Call 1-888-YOUR-CTA (1-888-968-7282), Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. – 8 p.m.
  • Or visit the CTA Sales Center at 567 W. Lake St., Monday through Friday 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m..

Read this press release for more information on how to transfer the balance on your Chicago Card

March 30, 2009

Outtakes from Howard station opening on Saturday

Saturday was the "official" ribbon-cutting to mark the completion of the Howard Street station, a rehab of roughly $60 million. The usual dignitaries were present, including Mayor Richard Daley, CTA President Richard Rodriguez, Board Chairwoman Carole Brown, 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, State Sen. Heather Steans, City County Clerk David Orr and 49th Ward Democratic Committeeman David Fagus.

Howard opening 2 Daley stressed that anytime he meets with Brown and Rodriguez, he reminds them that the CTA "has to be clean, it has to be safe, it has to be on time and it has to be friendly -- because that's what drives customer satisfaction." Brown confirmed that: "He wasn't really making that up -- he brings that up all the time." Good to know.

Daley also lamented that the state has passed no capital spending bill, which means "we have been denied federal money in matching grants. We have to be at the table -- we've given up so much in the last six years."

Amid the accolades from the assembled crowd for a job well done on the station renovation, there were some funny moments.

In mentioning that the Red, Yellow and Purple lines converge at Howard, Daley added with dry Irish wit: "I wonder who made up those names. I'd like to find out. Those are some unique names." He noted there were bike racks In listing some of the station amenities. "I like those."

A little later, Ald. Moore wondered facetiously during his introduction of the CTA board chairwoman whether the Brown Line were named after her. Everyone laughed, and then Brown said, "I hope I don't look old enough to have the Brown Line named after me."

Brown also said the CTA is "committed to eradicating slow zones." Later, she added: "I promise we'll try to be good stewards of (funding) dollars."

President Rodriguez reiterated the theme for the day: the need for more capital dollars. “Modernizing the station and making it accessible to customers with disabilities helps to meet the transit needs of CTA customers who ride the system today and for many years to come, and when additional capital funding is identified we will be able to continue these types of improvements," he said.

Before the event I briefly introduced myself to Rodriguez. I'm hoping he continues the informal chats with everyday riders and readers of CTA Tattler that we started with former President Ron Huberman.

Finally, State Sen. Steans told me as we were leaving that the state legislature is trying to pass a quick capital bill for this construction season, and then tackle a bill for the longer term. In general, she said she hopes to see the funding ratio of road to transit projects drop from 3-to-1 to 2-to-1.

I applaud that thinking.

March 27, 2009

Carole's budget fix: reduce pension funding, get RTA loan, make internal cuts, shift stimulus funds

CTA Board Chairwoman Carole Brown hopes to avoid service cuts and fare increases with a smorgasborg plan that "faces a very tough sales job in Springfield," Greg Hinz reports on his Crain's Chicago Business blog:

"Under the proposal from CTA Board Chairwoman Carole Brown, about half of the projected $155-million hole in the CTA's $1.3 billion annual budget would be filled by using federal economic-stimulus funds. Some of that money would be switched from capital to maintenance, a switch allowed under federal law, and some is anticipated savings as the agency reaps the benefits of new buses, track work and other projects that stimulus funds are providing.

 "Another $18 million would come from internal savings, with about $30 million borrowed from the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), which has talked about temporary loans to the CTA, Pace and Metra to tide them through a deep recession.

"But the key to the plan is $40 million Ms. Brown would like to save by reducing mandatory CTA contributions to its pension fund."

Crain's reports the House Speaker Mike Madigan and Mass Transit Committee Chairwoman were less than thrilled about the ideas, especially after all the wrangling to get a pension deal (page 3) in place early in 2008.

The RTA "generally supports the proposal," which Brown said she will present at the April 7 CTA board meeting.

So, ummm, good luck with that!

Paulina Brown Line station reopens April 3. Yeah!

Weekend service changes. Find them here. Sign up here to get them in email alerts.

March 26, 2009

Some clever bus ad wrap ideas for the CTA

Since the CTA signed a deal with Titan Worldwide to sell advertising space on trains, buses, platforms and now digital advertising, I think Titan's been doing a good job with some innovative campaigns.

But it can always do better. And Toxel.com has some great ideas from around the globe. (Thanks to Bob for the tip.)

For instance, the CTA, like this Holland bus company, needs to keep tellng its riders to keep buses (and trains) clean:


Laid-off job-seekers in this rough economy may need this reminder:


And here's a harsh reminder that you will never win a battle against a bus:


Finally, proof that you can put an ad just about anywhere:


March 25, 2009

Women El riders read more books than men

Women are four times more likely to read a book on their El ride than men.

That stunning conclusion is the result of a highly UNscientific study I've conducted over the last few months. It's based solely on what I observed during my daily Red Line commute. Must be right then, eh? (Hey! No nasty-grams from market research specialists!)

Since December, I've been recording what books people have been reading, and 17 out of 21 El readers were female. Of those 17 women, 13 were in their 20s or 30s, based on my "best guess." (You should see me guess weights at the State Fair.)

So, what's up with that guys? Is the RedEye really that interesting that books just bore you so? (As for me, I'm way too busy craning my neck to write down the titles of books to actually read one. I give my all for you!)

Below is the list of the books I noticed and who was reading them. I didn't get all the author names, and frankly I didn't have the time to double-check spellings, etc. Sorry. But check out these books. Other El riders have. And come on guys -- let's get reading!

A Catered Christmas - woman in her 20s
Nineteen Minutes, Jodi Picoult - woman in her 30s
The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebolt - woman, mid-20s
The Anubis Gates, Tim Powers- woman, mid-30s
Ladies Reading Library - 50ish woman
Loving Frank, Nancy Horan - 40ish woman
Outliers - guy in his late 20s
Voodoo Heart - woman in mid-20s
Interpreter of Maladies - woman in mid-20s
Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame, Charles Bukowski - woman in her early 20s
Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris - woman, mid 20s
Semiconductor Device Fundamentals - sleepy hipster teen, female
The Awakening and Other Selected Stories, Kate Chopin - woman in her late 20s
Mystery novels (by Stuart Woods) - two different guys in their late 30s
The Girlfriends' Guide to Pregnancy - 30ish woman
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency - woman in her late 20s
Prior Bad Acts, Tami Hoag - woman in her 50s
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - woman in her early 30s
The Amazing Adventure of Kavalier And Clay - woman in her late 30s
The Book and the Sisterhood, Iris Murdoch - woman in her early 30s
The Woman, TC Boyle - man in his mid-50s

March 24, 2009

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!



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


CTA I-Go smart card earns Chicago Fast Cities nod


CTA avoids fare hikes by using capital funds to balance budget


Weekend woes: Blue Line shut from Grand to Western


Wringing extra life from a dying Chicago Card/Plus


Celling that makes you cringe; hockey Overheard


Newest Bus Tracker features: email and text alerts


Bus Tracker rollout: Fini


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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