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CTA Leaders Vow To Fix Unreliable Service With More Hiring, Improved Train And Bus Tracking

CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. said the agency is "aggressively" working to hire train and bus operators. Meanwhile, frustrated riders are starting their own system to keep track of "ghost" buses and trains.

An O’Hare bound CTA Blue Line train stops at Cumberland as it rides on April 25, 2022.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — CTA leaders said they are “aggressively” working to improve CTA service and restore Chicagoans’ faith in the city’s public transit system amid growing complaints over late trains and missing buses.

At a board meeting Wednesday and in a Tribune column published this week, CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. acknowledged transit service has dipped to “unacceptable” levels during the pandemic.

Trains and buses are perpetually delayed, often leaving riders stranded or stuck on a platform or a bus stop for 30 minutes or longer. The problem recently sparked calls for a City Council hearing.

“I hear what our customers are saying, and I also understand that the level of service we’re providing right now is not meeting the standard that the CTA sets for itself,” Carter said at Wednesday’s board meeting.

RELATED: As Complaints Of Late Trains And Missing Buses Mount, City Officials Call For Hearing On ‘Deteriorated’ CTA Service

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
A CTA Red Line rain arrives at the Belmont CTA station on April 7, 2022.

Carter said the CTA has a “comprehensive plan” to improve service, and it will tackle persistent issues, including staffing shortages and unreliable train and bus trackers. The plan will be released next month, he said.

“We will fix this. We will make improvements,” Carter said. “We will also be transparent to our customers in what we’re doing, and we will seek feedback from our customers about how we can continue to improve our service.”

The CTA experienced a sharp drop in ridership at the start of the pandemic when the stay at home order took effect and many Chicagoans abruptly stopped commuting to work.

The public transit system went from serving 1.4 million riders per day to a low of 225,000 riders per day, Carter said. The CTA ran far fewer trains and buses as a result, even as agency leaders denied any service was cut.

Ridership has bounced back since the early days of the pandemic: Now, the CTA is serving about 800,000 riders per day. But the ridership rebound has “shone a light on new challenges,” Carter said.

Carter said the CTA has been hit hard by a nationwide staffing shortage. To combat this, the agency is “aggressively” working to hire more train and bus operators, he said. A crop of CTA workers are being trained and will be heading into service soon, Carter said.

“The job market has changed significantly during the pandemic, steadily becoming more competitive even as short tenure workers leave relatively new jobs in favor of newer opportunities. The CTA has felt the effects of this phenomenon, especially in the ranks of our bus and train operators,” Carter said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
CTA President Dorval R. Carter, Jr. attends a press conference on May 20, 2022.

Another issue impacting the quality of service is undependable train and bus trackers, Carter said. The CTA is upgrading its digital trackers on train platforms and on the bus app to “provide clarity on scheduled vs. real time service,” according to the agency’s website.

“The trackers use a combination of real-time and schedule information, and we are exploring new and better ways to utilize data — and to visually present it — to make it more customer-friendly and, more importantly, more useful for riders,” Carter wrote in the Tribune.

In making fixes, the CTA’s overall goal is to restore service back to pre-pandemic levels and to ensure Chicagoans can rely on the public transit system to get them where they need to go, Carter said.

“I understand that … to financially meet our needs, our ridership has to come back. Our ridership will not come back if service is not reliable and it’s something they can understand and depend on,” Carter said.

The CTA is rolling out a plan as residents across the city — and elected officials — complain of poor service.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
A CTA Green Line train rides over 63rd Street in Woodlawn on March 3, 2022.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) — who represents parts of Logan Square, Hermosa, Avondale, Irving Park and Albany Park — introduced a resolution last month in City Council, calling for a hearing with the CTA to address a “deterioration” in service.

The resolution received the support of another 34 alderpeople.

“It’s having a real-world impact,” Ramirez-Rosa previously said. “People are late to work, people are late to appointments, people are no longer able to trust that this vital public service is going to get them where they need to go on time.”

A group of neighbors were so fed up with being “ghosted” by the CTA that they created their own tracking device, the Commuters Take Action group.

Ravenswood resident Micah Fiedler’s frustrations with the CTA came to a head earlier this summer when he was waiting for the No. 50 bus at Foster and Damen avenues, heading south to the Ranch Triangle, Fiedler said.

The Ventra app told Fiedler the bus was two minutes away, but when he looked down the street, he saw the bus idling with a driver inside, he said.

“It just stays there for 15 minutes. … What I find out from the operator is that the bus is technically active, but because the operator has reached their work hour limit, they need somebody else to come in and replace them, and nobody showed up yet,” Fiedler said.

Fiedler and other neighbors connected on Instagram over their frustrations with the CTA’s unreliable service and formed Commuters Take Action to document bus and train delays, he said.

“One of the major issues with the CTA that we’ve seen is that they don’t necessarily respond well for their customers. They don’t make their complete data publicly available,” Fiedler said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Passengers wait for a Montrose CTA bus in Irving Park on April 4, 2022.

The group has posted stickers with a QR code and an image of a ghost nicknamed “Reprot” around CTA stops this summer, encouraging commuters to report service delays for trains and buses.

Since May, the neighbor-led group has recorded 44 train and 86 bus delays. One Blue Line commuter reported waiting more than 22 minutes for a train earlier this month.

“The trains come at random times. Vastly different times every day, particularly lots of ghost trains. I ride the Blue line (Chicago to Clark/Lake) 5 nights a week. Impossible to predict the arrival times. The Ventra app doesn’t help much due to all of the ghost trains,” the commuter wrote.

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