Twas a dismal news day Tuesday for the CTA

Tuesday was not a great day for the CTA, news-wise, for a number of reasons.

1. A derailment of track maintenance equipment on the Blue Line caused service interruptions for about 12 hours. The derailment occurred near on the Forest Park branch between Harlem and Forest Park stations. Bus shuttles carried passengers for abotu 11 hours till service was finally restored at about 2:30 p.m.

2. The Tribune reported about a top rail manager issuing a memo for operators "load and go" -- that is, not wait for passengers who might be running up stairs or trying to connect from another soon-to-arrive train. But the CTA said, no, the manager shouldn't have sent that memo. It just made everyone look bad. -- especially top management at the CTA.

3. An intoxicated man fell onto the tracks at Roosevelt elevated platform, but miraculously didn't get hurt. Of course, you have to blame the stumbling drunk for this. But anyone caught on trains that couldn't move while the guy was extricated wouldn't know that, and no doubt would be cursing the CTA for making them late.

4. In a Tuesday story, the Trib reported a 54-year-old convicted thief was caught on camera cutting the pants of a Red Line CTA passenger and stealing his credit card to buy CTA cards. The alleged thief (and probably the victim) is to blame for this, but stories like these just add fuel to the fire that the CTA is unsafe to ride.

Of course, the good news here is a CTA surveillance camera caught the guy red-handed as he sliced and diced he victim's pants. But then the Trib story also noted the thief was found was at least 11 fare cards that he no doubt had lifted from other CTA victims. But at least the guy is a loyal customer, right?

5. Finally, there was some good news. Ridership is up for the first six months of the year over the same time period last year. CTA reports a 4 percent increase in boarding, or about 10.5 million boardings so far this year over last year.

But then, the glass-half-empty guy would say that just give thieves like the fellow featured in Item No. 4 above even more opportunities. But since I'm generally a glass-half-full guy, my spin is it gives more revenue and hopefully reduces the need for a huge fare increase next year.

6. UPDATE:And I missed one, which happened after I first posted Tuesday night. Sun-Times: Pedestrian dies after fall at Forest Park Blue Line station. "It was unclear whether the person was hit by a train or fell from a platform on the electrified third rail, officials said." A tragic way to end a bad day.

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  • But, as a glass-half-empty guy, I'll note that with the increased revenue from 10.5 million more passengers, which should be at least $10 million, the trains are even more crowded as they haven't added any trains to the system.
    That means more delays because more people equal longer boarding times.
    And the CTA does need a fare increase right now so they don't get into the same disastrous situation Metra got into several months ago when they had to have a 30% or more increase because they stupidly held the fares down instead of regular 5%-10% increases every year.
    Plus they need to charge the cash customers more because they slow up the buses & cause the fareboxes to breakdown. Smart cards means no moving parts to record fares, thus no mechanical breakdowns of fareboxes.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Scooter, I was waiting for you to comment about a fare increase and you didn't disappoint. Notice I referred to a "huge" fare increase. I agree the CTA should be increasing fares, but only in small increments in a plan set out for five years.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    But they won't do regular small fare increases, they're too cowardly.
    They're afraid of attacks from the politicians that never ride the CTA.
    Just the term 'Fare increase' is a filthy, dirty word at 567 Lake St.

  • My impression from the "rip the pants" story in the Tribune was that the guy was using a stolen bank card to buy CTA fare cards at the vending machine, not that he was able to steal that many fare cards from victims. As you say, apparently the surveillance cameras are now doing the job.

    As far as the additional passengers, the usual reaction is that more passengers mean a bigger deficit, but since it appears as Scooter says that CTA hasn't put more resources into the system, I can't quarrel with his math (assuming that the $1 average fare per unlinked trip is still valid).

  • In reply to jack:

    I'd love to know why they claim more passengers equals a greater deficit.
    It costs the same to move 100 people in an 8 car train as it does to move 1000.
    Plus I used to pick up plastic farecards to see if any had money on them to use. About 75% had a zero balance, but the rest usually had 5¢ to 25¢.
    But I did find a few with over $5 on them. So just how much money is the CTA making in fractions of fares paid for but never redeemed? I know it won't be enormous, but I'm guessing it's at least $100,000 a year!
    And since I don't know the breakdown of how many paid how much, I just used $1 a passenger. But there are those that paid full fare, $2.25, but a lot paid 85¢ & some pay nothing with the circuit breaker card.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    I agreed with your math, but to answer the questions:

    1. Based on the recovery ratio (supposedly about 50% for CTA, but counting statutory exclusions, now maybe close to it) the usual line from various transit authorities was one has to count the fare and the subsidy. However, in Chicago, that was usually used on the downtick, i.e. the 2005 doomsday plan called for about $220 million in cuts to cover a $55 million deficit because you lose those passengers, and then you lose their subsidies, etc., according to Carole. But, in fact, there was very little loss of unlinked trips when the actual cuts went into effect in 2010, so Carole and Kruesi were overreaching for political purposes in 2005. Conversely, as you recognize, there has been very little increase in service since, so the only real cost is accelerated wear on the equipment, but supposedly they are getting capital money for that.

    2. You don't have to rationalize the $1 average fare per unlinked trip; that's what CTA says it is in the budget, and one should assume that it includes all the factors you mentioned. And, since about 2005, the best it has done is gone up from about 93 cents to $1, despite such things as eliminating the sale of transfers on buses.

  • In reply to jack:

    Well, the revenue might be a bit higher because what's in the budget presentation:

    "Free Rides is 2.8 M less than YTD MAY 2011"

  • In reply to chris:

    Plus, RTA the CTA owes 23.8M more this year over last year, totaling over 250M, which has to hurt the bottom line.

  • In reply to chris:

    Pace also says that the RTA owes them, and Pace gets theirs for paratransit off the top.

    However, the Free Ride one appears to be manipulating figures, as before it was abolished, CTA claimed it cost them $30 million, but accounted for the loss of free rides in the budget at only $7 million. In any event, the budget accounts for that, so it isn't found revenue.

  • For some reason, I am reminded of a guy I saw riding the Red Line a few years ago wearing a suit of armor (like what one might see at Medieval Times). It might be kind of hard to cut into those pants and if you try, the guy might kick your a** with his pointy boots.

  • CTA has said that the increase in ridership/revenue has helped close the projected budget deficit and helped to delay the need for any cuts/labor concessions. http://www.chicagonow.com/cta-tattler/2012/05/one-time-savings-allow-cta-to-balance-budget/

    Their stated total increase of $5 million dollars seemed rather low to me given the fact that we are now talking about 13 million more riders over 2011. So I did a cursory investigation into the CTA documents. Let us assume the $5 million dollars was only the increase through April. CTA has budgeted a .9% increase to ridership, so actual versus budget would be right around 7 million new trips through April. Now budget puts average fare around $1.02 per rider but maybe average fare has stayed closer to $1 in which case the CTA saw an increase of around $3.6-$7.14 million in fare collection over budget through April 2012. So $5 million seems in the middle and would suggest that average fare is somewhere between $1 and $1.02, or $1.008.

    The May numbers would be $3.4 million increase over budget assuming $1 average fare through $7.9 million increase assuming $1.02 average fare. A $5 million increase would assume a slightly smaller $1.007 average fare.

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