The final public hearing on the CTA's 2011 budget last Thursday was at once a three-ring circus and a touching display of emotions.
From the long-shot gubernatorial candidate to the laid-off bus driver to the old man displaying photos on his camera of "malingering" bud drivers, the night certainly had drama and comedic moments.
The meeting at Truman College was sparsely attended, with perhaps 30 members of the public and another 30 CTA employees on hand. Three board members, including Board Chairman Terry Peterson, and CTA President Richard Rodriguez presided. Actually, they just dutifully listened to each person, and board Secretary Greg Longini really presided, keeping the proceedings moving.
Since Rodriguez earlier had released a budget with no further service cuts or fare increases, there really wasn't much to complain about budget-wise. But that certainly didn't stop people from complaining.
There were bitches about bus bunching and inaccessible Red Line rail stations, including the Wilson stop adjacent to the meeting site at Truman College. That made me wonder why the CTA decided to have the meeting at that venue. One wheelchair-bound woman who lives near the Wilson stop testified that she has to take the #22 Clark bus to Addison, and get the elevator to the platform there to ride the Red Line.
Riders complained about plenty of bus operators, for sins ranging from not stopping for passengers to driving too fast. One passenger in particular was very agitated about the bad attitudes of drivers. And she had many examples that she only too happily shared with us all.
One woman shared her many gripes, and then later her mom got a chance with the microphone. Mom turned the mike back over to daughter, who again meticulously covered complaint after complaint, before Longini stepped in and demanded the mike back, saying she could share her complaints with various CTA department heads who were present. This prompted a screaming outburst, and then tears from the woman. Longini finally convinced the CTA brass really would listen to her - after the meeting. It was both excruciating and sad.
The highlight of the evening was the testimony of a laid-off bus operator. He told the CTA brass about his struggles being out of work, but his hope for the future. He was funny, thoughtful and emotional. And he ended his remarks by asking Rodriguez and the board members for his job back, and then shook everyone's hand.