Local transit authorities Tracy Swartz and Greg Borzo celebrate the CTA


Note Greg’s CTA map necktie. See more photos from the event.

Tuesday night I dropped by a meet-up for Active Transportation Alliance’s Riders for Better Transit campaign featuring Chicago writers Greg Borzo and Tracy Swartz at the Blue Frog, 22 E. Hubbard. Greg wrote the book The Chicago “L,” a very thorough history with lots of great archival photos. Greg also wrote the book Where to Bike Chicago, and contributed a chapter to the new anthology On Bicycles by Momentum magazine cofounder Amy Walker. Tracy writes the CTA-centric weekly column “Going Public” for RedEye. Since April 2009 she’s been riding a different CTA bus line every week, and in December she completed the last route, an impressive accomplishment.

Continue reading Local transit authorities Tracy Swartz and Greg Borzo celebrate the CTA

There is no typical CTA rider


Javier Perez, trustee of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241, speaks while Gregory P. Longhini, Assistant Secretary of the Board, moderates. 

I’m writing this article just two hours after getting home from the Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) second budget hearing. It was held from 6 to 8 PM at its headquarters, 567 W Lake Street. The hearing is where you gain a good understanding of how changes in the way the organization charges for or provides service will affect people.

It’s also where you learn that there is no “average” Chicago transit user. Passengers who use CTA have extremely diverse needs, geographic origins and destinations, jobs, incomes, and beliefs about who should run public transit service and how it should be run.

Not a single person disagreed that it is a necessity to have a “good” transit service in Chicagoland – many speakers stressed the importance of having transit in the region. They showed up because they want the CTA to maintain its current service and even expand service. They showed up because the CTA is important to them. Continue reading There is no typical CTA rider

It’s fare increase time again at Metra


“It’s become a Chicagoland tradition that every year around this time, transit riders cross their fingers and hope they won’t be hit with service cuts and fare increases. Unfortunately, it looks like the tradition will continue this year.” -Lee Crandell to the Metra board on October 14, 2011. 

Lee Crandell is right, but the tradition is not something Metra, or any other Chicagoland transit agency, has much control over.

Metra staff has proposed fare increases to the board who have accepted the proposal and will submit them to public hearings in November (schedule at the end). The staff first proposed fare increases to the board on September 16, 2011. They proposed a revised fare increase at the October 14, 2011, meeting, at which Crandell spoke. The alternative to fare increase was one of two service reduction options.

Continue reading It’s fare increase time again at Metra

Riders for Better Transit comments to Metra board


This supports the article It’s fare increase time again at Metra.

Lee Crandell, a manager for the Riders for Better Transit campaign at the Active Transportation Alliance, spoke at both the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and Metra board meetings this month. He published his comments to the CTA board and I’m posting his comments to the Metra board below (they’re nearly identical).

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Lee Crandell and I manage the Riders for Better Transit initiative at the Active Transportation Alliance. We have 6,800 members across the Chicago region who support our mission to improve conditions for biking, walking and public transportation.

It’s become a Chicagoland tradition that every year around this time, transit riders cross their fingers and hope they won’t be hit with service cuts and fare increases. Unfortunately, it looks like the tradition will continue this year.

There are no winners when our transit agencies are forced to make these tough decisions. As you already know, the consequences of fare increases and service cuts would be far-reaching, impacting our mobility, our economy, our quality of life, our environment, the congestion on our streets. The impact on our daily lives would be very real, making everyday activities more difficult for people from all walks of life—from a child trying to get to school, a worker getting to their job, and a grandmother trying to visit her grandchildren.

As a world-class region, we deserve better. Our transit service should be improving and expanding, not slipping backwards.

Criticizing Metra in this situation is a normal reaction—and certainly on behalf of the riders we represent, we urge you to explore every possible efficiency to prevent fare hikes or service cuts—but ultimately, it’s our elected leaders who hold the purse strings and decide whether our transit agencies will have enough funding to make ends meet. Transit is significantly under-funded because our elected leaders at the local, state and federal levels have put it on the back-burner. And that means we, as transit riders and as voters, also bear some burden of responsibility. Riders for Better Transit will be asking our elected leaders to end the cycle of service cuts and fare increases by increasing investment in transit.

I’m here today to tell you that transit riders are ready to speak up, and we hope you will join us.

Please ask our elected leaders: how are you supposed to fulfill your duties as a Metra board member if they don’t adequately fund transit for our region?

Thank you.

Photo is of an outbound Metra Milwaukee Division North line leaving Glenview, Illinois. Photo by Eric Pancer.

Would residents of northeastern Illinois tax themselves for transit?


Mayor Emanuel shaking hands at the 95th Street station, the current terminal on the Red Line Dan Ryan branch. Photo by slow911.

Rahm Emanuel said he would help the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) find whatever money possible to fund an extension of the Red Line’s Dan Ryan branch to 130th Street. That project will have four new stations (view map); the construction will most likely be majority paid for by the federal  government (the capital costs). But the federal government won’t pay for the CTA’s new costs from operating the extension. Or any operating costs (note 1). The CTA and Mayor Emanuel are also pursuing bus rapid transit (BRT), a faster moving bus route. Continue reading Would residents of northeastern Illinois tax themselves for transit?

How I answered the Riders for Better Transit Survey


A Chicago Transit Authority bus in 1968 on Irving Park Road. The bus has since been replaced. 

Would you like to see transit in our region improved? Help us win transit improvements that matter to riders. Please tell us what issues are most important to you. Take the Active Transportation Alliance survey by October 5 and be entered in a raffle for a $100 Visa gift card.

For question 9, “Please *rank* the following transit priorities in order of importance,” I ranked them in the following order:

  1. Speeding up transit travel. I think this, along with frequent service, are the best two ways to increase ridership. People don’t want to wait for the bus or train to come, and they don’t want to be on that bus or train for long. To speed up buses, there’s one strategy we can implement that will have the highest effect: reduce the number of non-bus vehicles on the road, starting with what we have the most of, singly occupied automobiles.
  2. Adding new transit routes. If this means installing bus rapid transit (BRT), or some semblance of that, I want it. I also think the Red Line to 130th Street is a good idea. I also like Metra’s plan for the STAR Line.
  3. Increasing the frequency of service. See #1 above.
  4. Extending the hours of service. I think the hours are mostly pretty good, but the frequency at off-peak hours should be increased.
  5. Other. I think the way bicycles are stored on trains (both CTA and Metra) should be improved. Read how.
  6. Keeping fares low. I think they’re pretty low to begin with. I’d like the Chicago Card/Plus bonus to come back. I think this will encourage more adoption of the stored-value RFID cards and that adoption will stick around when universal fare and media system comes around in 2015. Metra fares seem high, though.
  7. Improving safety. Isn’t the CTA pretty safe? You’re definitely safer riding a bus or train than bicycling, walking, or driving/riding in an automobile.

For question 12, “Please tell us about the most pleasant or helpful experience you’ve had while riding public transportation.”, I answered,

When it starts raining or when my bicycle cannot be ridden, I always appreciate being able to take it on a CTA bus or train to the bike shop or to home.

For question 13, “If you had one message for your transit agency or elected officials for public transportation in Chicagoland, what would it be?”, I submitted,

Dissolve the RTA and create a new agency that replaces all three service boards.

With a single agency managing all transit in Chicagoland, duplicative efforts would be (theoretically) eliminated. For examples to follow, see Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York (MTA). They operate buses and trains (both rapid transit and regional rail) in 12 counties in New York (including all 5 boroughs) and two counties in Connecticut, as well as seven toll bridges and two tunnels.