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Photo of a Blue Line train at UIC-Halsted. This train has the oldest cars in the system, noticeable with their “butterfly doors” that are inaccessible to people using wheelchairs, or customers with bicycles. Photo by David Wilson.

In this edition of Grid Bits, five transit stories, and an update on President Obama’s State of the Union address last night. First, the transit news.

(1) CTA overtime

The Chicago Transit Authority uses an employee’s overtime work to calculate their pension amount, and analysis from the Chicago Tribune finds that the CTA reports overtime in an odd way:

The agency has put its 2010 overtime costs at $19.8 million.

A Tribune analysis, however, found more than $29 million in overtime.

So a bus driver or train operator who works eight overtime hours receives 12 additional hours of pay, but only four of those hours are considered overtime — or “premium pay” as the CTA calls it.

Via CTA Tattler and ChicagoTribune.

(2) Problems with CTA’s 5000-series cars

The new train cars debuted on the Pink Line in November last year but were pulled from service December 15th because of a wheel problem. Production and acceptance of new cars was halted. Then came news that Bombardier, the train’s manufacturer, laid off 100 employees at the Plattsburgh, NY, factory that makes the cars.

52 cars are undergoing X-rays and chemical composition tests at the Bombardier factory, and at the supplier (which has not been named). The rail workers union president, Robert Kelly, offered to have CTA employees inspect and fix the trains. The problem still has not been found and the CTA is not committing to a timetable when the trains will return to Chicago and to service.

Via CTA Tattler, North Country Public Radio, and Chicago Tribune.

(3) RTA replaces thousands of fare media for seniors

When it came time to issue new fare cards to senior citizens who pay reduced fares, the RTA went with magnetic stripe fare media, instead of a sturdy, contactless card like the Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus. But as many people know, the quality of the flexible magnetic stripe card is questionable.

Meanwhile, the RTA has spent about $23,600, or $2.35 per permit, to replace the bad cards that are only four months old or less, officials said.

RTA officials said they have had to replace 3 percent of the cards. Seniors who have faulty cards can call the RTA at 312-913-3110 or go to the RTA customer service center at 165 N. Jefferson St., Chicago.

The stock of contactless cards is low and neither the RTA nor the CTA want to order new cards because open fare media is coming in two years and will probably make any stock obsolete. Via Chicago Tribune.

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A Metra train pushes through in the snow storm last Friday. Photo by BlueFairlane. 

(4) Metra changes its on-time performance formula a second time

After a Tribune analysis last year, and a new policy of transparency, Metra changed the way it tracked its trains’ on-time performance. But now Metra has changed it again: previously the commuter rail operator excluded delays because of track construction in considering if a train was late. If a train arrives within 5 minutes of its scheduled time, it is “on time”.

The on-time performance is posted on Metra’s website, but delayed by at least one month. The reports are posted in PDF tables, making them very inaccessible to anyone who would like to analyze the records for patterns. Via Chicago Tribune.

(5) New Metra fares in effect February 1; Link-Up prices increased

New Metra fares (and fare rules), which I reported on in October, take effect on February 1. Monthly passes with the new fare are already for sale. See the new fares in this PDF table.

The CTA raised the price of the Metra Link-Up Sticker by $6 to $45 a month from $39. The Link-Up Sticker is available only to Metra monthly pass holders. It can be used for unlimited travel on the CTA from 6 to 9:30 AM and 3:30 to 7 PM weekdays, and on Pace at any time.

State of the Union address

Yonah Freemark, who writes The Transport Politic, discusses President Obama’s missing motivation to spend on infrastructure projects, but also of updates in the passing of a long-term surface transportation bill in Congress:

While the Administration has in some ways radically reformed the way Washington goes about selecting capital improvements, bringing a new emphasis on livability and underdeveloped modes like high-speed rail, there was little indication in the speech of an effort to expand such policy choices.

There is so far no long-term solution to the continued inability of fuel tax revenues to cover the growing national need for upgraded or expanded mobility infrastructure. But if it were to pass, a new multi-year transportation bill would be the most significant single piece of legislation passed by the Congress in 2012.

The prospect of agreement between the two parties on this issue, however, seems far-fetched. That is, if we are to assume that the goal is to complete a new and improved spending bill, rather than simply further extensions of the existing legislation. The House could consider this month a bill that would fund new highways and transit for several more years by expanding domestic production of heavily carbon-emitting fossil fuels, a terrible plan that would produce few new revenues and encourage more ecological destruction.

The Transport Politic, via Streetsblog Network.

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  • http://twitter.com/aka60643 AKA60643

    After a Tribune analysis last year, and a new policy of transparency,
    Metra changed the way it tracked its trains’ on-time performance.

    It’s about freakin’ time!  They’ve been claiming ridiculously high on-time rates, which have not matched my experience as a passenger, at least not on the Rock Island or UP-North lines. 

    For about a year, I was regularly taking UP-North run #360 (evening southbound run), and it was always ALWAYS at least 3-5 minutes late in reaching Evanston and at least that late in reaching Ogilvie.  I was trying to connect with a southbound Rock Island run that left LaSalle St. station 20 minutes after the UP-North run’s scheduled arrival at Ogilvie.  If the first train was on time, making the connection was reasonable.  If it was 5 minutes late, it got challenging.  At 10 minutes late, my choices were a couple blocks of running, combined with a fast scary cab ride from hell and another block of running, or getting all the way across the Loop to take the red line, then wait at 95th St. for a bus (an option that  invariably took 30-45+ minutes longer than the Rock Island).  In that year, UP-N #360 was on time ONCE on a night when I rode it.

    For several months, I needed to make a similar trip using the UP-NW instead of UP-N and was relieved that UP-NW’s on-time performance was significantly better, so I almost always made the Rock Island connection without extraordinary measures.

    Metra does not seem to consider that people may need to make connections, whether it’s to CTA, Pace, another Metra line or Amtrak.  I see plenty of people using Metra to connect to Amtrak, or Metra to CTA’s orange or blue lines to reach Midway or O’Hare.

    Whether one’s trip is for work, a concert, dinner with friends, visiting or caring for an ill family member, or any other reason, all of those trips matter.  Construction, signal maintenance and other usage and infrastructure issues should be managed in such a way that service is reliable on ALL lines, whether at rush hour or off peak.  I hope that the atrociously large fare increase that’s about to hit us will enable Metra to attain a truly excellent level of on-time performance again.  They’ve got some work to do.

    [climbing off my soapbox now....]

  • Kingdufus

    My experience with UP-North was that for every mile it traveled it got one minute later.

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

      How great would it be if Metra didn’t have to compete with freight trains and Amtrak and if it ran DMUs instead of locomotives. These would go a long way in maintaining a high on-time performance.

  • Dennis McClendon

    Since the 2200s never run in a train by themselves, why are their blinker doors an issue?  Every train has at least four accessible cars.

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

      You are standing on the platform with your bike, and the train car that pulls up in front of you is this one, so you scramble to the next non-2200. I’ve seen people with bicycles get on these cars (it’s not very clear that one shouldn’t board it with a bicycle), and then get off at the next station to switch cars after realizing they’re hard to maneuver in.