I arrived in Chicago in 2006 to attend the University of Illinois at Chicago for a sociology and urban planning degree. I visited home in Batavia, Illinois, quite often. I took route 60-Blue Island/26th from campus to Northwestern Station to catch the Union Pacific-West line to Geneva. I distinctly remember how decrepit these buses were (this route seemed to have the oldest ones in the fleet, 4400-series TMC RTS). They lumbered; they were dark inside; they had stairs to climb aboard; passengers who wanted or needed to use the ramp had to spend several minutes waiting for the ramp to deploy and then be elevated.* I don’t know how much was just old design, no upgrades being made, or broken down equipment.
That was at a time of major service cuts, fare hikes, and deliberations about new legislation determining how to fund the Regional Transportation Authority and the three service boards it oversees (Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, and Pace).
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.”