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CTA President Testifies at Transportation Committee Hearing

Yesterday, the City Council Committee on Transportation held a meeting with CTA President Dorval Carter in attendance. After several riders testified to the lack of safety, cleaning, timing and a multitude of other issues with the CTA, CTA President Carter testified and defended his tenure as head of the CTA.


Last week, a majority of aldermen filed a resolution to call for President Carter’s resignation or removal by Mayor Johnson. Using our Council rules, Ald. Jason Ervin moved the resolution into the Rules committee where it could possibly sit until the end of this Council term. On the same note, the Mayor preemptively removed his own RTA nominee from consideration after losing the majority of votes before the final vote at Council. Not only have 29 of my aldermanic colleagues and hundreds, if not thousands, of CTA riders called for his resignation, but Gov. JB Pritzker also came out and said it was now time for a change in leadership.


President Carter’s response to criticism of CTA operations was, “as an African American man, this city has a history of attacking and trying to bring down their African American leaders. I know that because I’ve been here and I’ve seen it. ... What I would hope is that we would work together to find a way to support our agency and make our agency better.” His defense culminated with the question, ‘What did I do to warrant being singled out to be fired?”


I was taken aback by his comments and let him know that the pushback and criticism of his work is about leadership and the lack of improvements at the CTA. I don’t believe it has anything to do with race and the myriad of aldermen signing on shows it is more about their constituent riders who want safe, reliable public transit that we are not experiencing post pandemic. 


During the rest of the meeting, aldermen asked Carter for answers on how the CTA would improve on the problems it has been experiencing since the pandemic in 2020. There is a massive funding gap ($735 Million for regional transportation) looming as pandemic funds run out, and we have strongly pushed for Springfield’s assistance in the past to support ideas that could close the gap. What internal action has the CTA taken to increase revenue to address this problem? Where is CTA’s long term financial plan with real ideas as to how to address the financial shortfall and honestly address with accountability what caused the finances to get so bad? The answers from Carter were vague and will require us to look for other means to fill this gap. 


Aldermen have also pushed Carter to clean up the CTA, provide riders with timely buses and trains, and deal with many of the other operational issues that are eating into the CTA budget. Rider and employee safety is of utmost importance as many people feel that safety is not improving at the level it should for frequent riders of the system. While the CTA has hired several companies to provide private security, they are nothing more than additional bodies on the platform and perform very few, if any, safety related services. They cannot make arrests, intervene, or provide directions and as many riders rightly complain, are more focused on their own phones than the issues confronting riders in front of them. 

 

Due to many of these safety and operational issues, the loss of ridership has been a major factor in revenue shortfall. Pre-pandemic, ridership was at about 1.5 million average rides per day and are now about 1.0 million. Other transit agencies across the US have increased their ridership to pre-covid levels. What actions are CTA taking to recover ridership? Their answers were provided in the CTA Meeting the Moment report. 


Overall, the meeting left me with more concerns than answers and was another disappointing attempt to get clear cut solutions from the CTA. The City Council will continue to push for improvements and answers but needs leadership that will respond to the needs of the system. Perhaps it is time to have the CTA re-create its own Inspector General that other transit agencies have already implemented. While the state IG has some oversight over the CTA, they do not do the same kind of reporting and auditing of the system needed to have a safe and sustainable public transit agency for Chicagoans. An OIG could provide the riders with appropriate oversight and audit waste, fraud, and employee issues while providing much needed audits and reviews of programs and projects such as the $71 million contract for two of the security companies, vendor oversight, contractor compliance, and management reports.



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