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.
(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.
(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.
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
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.