LOGAN SQUARE — A group of transit activists took over the Blue Line’s video stream Monday in protest, urging the CTA to run more trains and improve service as long wait times persist.
Commuters Take Action, a group made up of frustrated riders, made signs that read “Run more trains” and “Commuters Take Action,” then held them up to Blue Line cameras during morning rush hour Monday to raise awareness about unreliable Blue Line service.
Citing their own analysis, group leaders said the number of scheduled Blue Line trains is down 21 percent and fewer trains are running during rush hour, which has left many riders stranded or stuck on a platform for 15 minutes or longer.
CTA officials said Blue Line service has improved after the agency launched its Meeting the Moment plan last year amid growing reliability and safety concerns from riders and city officials.
CTA officials declined to comment on the group’s claims, saying it can’t “verify any outside analysis.” But in an emailed statement, officials said 81.2 percent of Blue Line trains operated as scheduled in March, the highest level since launching Meeting the Moment. Wait times have dropped across all lines, according to its data.
Commuters Take Action leaders said that’s not good enough.
“CTA service is essential to keeping the city moving and ensuring Chicagoans can get to work and their loved ones,” the group said in a statement. “Workers commuting during rush hour don’t have the luxury to go into work later or not at all if their trains are too crowded to board. Reliable transit options are especially important now given the extensive Kennedy Expressway construction.”
The Tribune reported in February some train service is running closer to schedule, but the CTA is still running far fewer scheduled trains on its busiest lines, which is continuing to cause delays.
Chicago’s public transit system has come under fire for a host of problems amid the pandemic, including long wait times, deteriorating conditions, security issues and “ghost” trains and buses.
The CTA experienced a sharp drop in ridership at the start of the pandemic, then was hit hard by a nationwide staffing shortage, officials have said.
Responding to mounting public pressure last year, CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. acknowledged transit service dipped to “unacceptable” levels during the pandemic. He later unveiled a plan to boost reliability, staffing and safety.
Under the citywide plan, the CTA is “aggressively” hiring more train and bus operators and updating digital trackers to restore transit service up to pre-pandemic levels.
As for the Blue Line, the CTA said it’s taken “several steps” to improve service, including adding more trips between the O’Hare and UIC-Halsted stations to ensure there are enough trains on the busiest section of the line, beefing up rush-hour staffing and making frequent platform announcements.
The efforts come as crews do extensive track work, causing temporary station shutdowns. The track work has “occasionally” impacted the number of trips, the CTA said.
“While these efforts have led to improvements, [the] CTA recognizes more needs to be done, including strengthening its workforce,” CTA officials said in a statement. “The unprecedented, industrywide workforce shortages have hampered the CTA’s ability to provide all its scheduled service.”
The CTA continues to struggle with staffing levels, WBEZ reported last week. The agency has doubled down on hiring, filling hundreds of train and bus operator vacancies, but current employees keep leaving, according to WBEZ.
The members of Commuters Take Action held up the signs to spread their message. The cameras were recently installed as part of the CTA’s Meeting the Moment plan to provide riders with “real-time information” on platform crowding during morning rush hour, the CTA said.
The transit activists said the cameras are “a nice gesture, but [they] don’t solve anything at all.”
“If nothing else, these cameras enable anyone to stalk and track the public, posing a safety threat,” the group said. “Only more frequent and reliable service can make the Blue Line into the kind of rapid transit that the city can be proud of once again.”
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