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Photo by Mark Susina.

[This piece originally ran in Time Out Chicago magazine.]

Q: When CTA bus drivers commit traffic violations, like driving through a red light, are they ever ticketed? I can’t recall seeing a policeman pull a bus driver over, so I imagine tickets just get sent directly to the CTA, right? And in those cases, do the drivers have to pay the tickets themselves, or are they otherwise penalized? How many tickets before they get canned? Is it a three-strikes policy or something?

A: Police do ticket bus operators, but this is “rare, especially considering the number of miles CTA buses travel each day,” agency spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski says. Bus drivers are responsible for paying fines associated with a traffic stop, and receiving a ticket on duty is considered a CTA safety violation. “Operators can be dismissed if they have accrued up to four safety violations within a two-year period,” Hosinski says. “However, a serious safety violation could result in immediate termination.”

But if a red-light camera records a bus blowing a stoplight, the agency pays the fine, Hosinski says. Though she wouldn’t say how much the CTA shelled out on red-light tickets recently, in 2008, the agency reportedly paid 1,194 fines at $100 a pop — $119,400. The policy of the agency picking up the red-light tickets was instituted due to pressure from the bus drivers union, and Hosinski says it streamlined the process of disciplining the drivers, since operators previously had the choice to either pay the fee themselves or contest the ticket in court, which delayed the CTA disciplinary process.

Charles Paidock of the CTA watchdog group Citizens Taking Action argues the rule is fair. “There’s pressure on the drivers to maintain schedules.” he says. “And things are going to happen in the process of operating a vehicle on city streets.”

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  • AdamHerstein

    Isn’t the $119,400 in taxpayer money just going back to the city? It’s not like the CTA is frivolously wasting taxpayer money on tickets. The money is just being transferred from one public entity to another. I am glad to see that they are not exempt from traffic violations, though.

  • C L

    I am glad that the CTA does not charge drivers for red light violations. They have a much greater chance to get them since they are driving all day, and that’s because of their jobs. Sometimes, a bus is trying to get back into traffic but nobody will let the bus in for several minutes, and the driver finally breaks gets over as the light turns red — I understand why they keep going. Driving a bus often involves forcing everyone around to just wait while this huge vehicle gets through, makes a tight turn, etc. It’s not really dangerous because everyone sees and expects it.

    • AdamHerstein

      Sounds like a perfect scenario for BRT. :-)

      • C L

        Agreed!

      • nonya

        Even more so, a perfect scenario for far side bus stops.

  • xam

    busses running red lights are dangerous and it shouldn’t happen at all!

  • Shaun

    The bus drivers should pay their tickets. The more I learn about unions in the transit industry the more I distrust them.

  • http://www.bikewalklincolnpark.com/ Michelle Stenzel

    So I’ll preface my statement by saying that just as most bicyclists stop for red lights (people only remember those who blow through), MOST bus drivers stop for red lights. However, I’ve seen a disturbing number of bus drivers who decline to stop when they approach a yellow light, and choose to blow through solid reds at high speeds. The newest hotness seems to be to blast the horn while they’re approaching the red light intent on plowing through, in order to give a “warning” to the pedestrians already stepping into the crosswalk with the walk signal. This behavior is outrageously dangerous and absolutely should be ticketed, and should require bus driver refresher training. I’ve also noticed that drivers of private vehicles are now copying this behavior of blasting the horn and plowing through a red. I guess if they see professional city bus drivers doing it, they interpret that to be acceptable norms in Chicago.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      I, too, have noticed the horn blowing to preface a red light running. In addition to “warning” people (not sure if it’s received as a warning, though), it draws attention to the bus operator. Take note of their bus number, the route, the time, and location. But if you get the run number (only displayed at the front of the bus: when you look at the bus front head on, it’s in the lower left corner). You can email this to feedback@transitchicago.com or call 1-888-YOUR-CTA.

    • C L

      That’s disturbing — they definitely shouldn’t be running red lights on purpose. I sympathize when they just barely don’t make it, which results in a camera ticket, but not with this behavior.

      Also, I honestly notice and feel surprised when I see a cyclist stop at a red light and wait out the entire light. It’s so rare that it catches my attention. I know there are arguments for and against this, but I don’t think the perception is just people only remembering those who run lights. Maybe it’s because I live in a neighborhood that has a few arteries and not much east/west traffic crossing them, so cyclists feel there is rarely traffic to watch out for.

  • http://twitter.com/teknophelia teknophelia

    So I may be completely misundersting something I briefly took in from some media source (can’t remember) but I was under the impression that there was a signaling system which notified bus drivers it was safe to go on a red light…. like I said I may have completely misunderstood as it rationlized to me why so many buses were blowing lights. anyone even vaguely familiar with this? I should probably just stop being lazy and research a bit. I’ll be back

    Edit: found something more about express lanes and longer greens but nothing yet.
    http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-09-18/news/chi-ctas-new-express-bus-service-jeffrey-jump-20120918_1_bus-rapid-transit-bus-service-cta-estimates

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      There’s something called transit signal priority that gives a bus its own signal at lights. It’s a white signal that has a horizontal (stop) or vertical bar (go). When the signal is vertical and the traffic light is still red, it may appear that the bus is running a red light. This is a common feature in BRT systems.