The Politics of Public Transportation: How to Fix the CTA

Earlier this year it was announced that the south side portion of the red line would shut down for five months beginning in 2014. The city promised shuttle buses, but it still seemed rather drastic that the southern branch of the red line would be completely off limits to passengers. Especially, when you consider that the Brown line was renovated while still keeping it functioning. Even if that functioning was subpar.  Then I remember a tweet I saw that summed up why those two train lines are getting completely different treatment. The tweet went along the lines of “They would never do that to the north side branch of the red line.”

Brutally honest, right? But it still rings true even in current talks of bus line cuts. Looking at the list of routes on the chopping block, many of the lines are in the south side. Yet, the lines receiving the most attention are from the north side. Especially, the number 11 Lincoln/Sedgewick route. Riders of route 11 even created a movement to save it claiming that the line’s existence promoted businesses in the Lincoln Park to Lincoln Square area. I don't remember hearing about a movement to save the south side buses. It is important to note that the 11 bus line is going to be replaced with a revived version of the number 37. So, complete access to the area is not going to be cut off.

As a victim of the perpetually crowded and slow running 74 Fullerton bus, who waits for it at the same stop as the number 11 (The red line Fullerton stop), I noticed that despite a massive crowd of people waiting, maybe 10 percent jump on the number 11. The remaining 90 percent try to get on the 74 bus, wait for another 74 bus, or just end up walking. Anyone who rides the overcrowded 74 can see the reason why the 11 line is on the chopping block.

It isn't fair if that one line gets saved, but it would be fair to finally fix the CTA so that there will be no further threats of cuts. Because despite the popularity of the CTA “El” system on mugs and t-shirts, it is not efficient and leaves many patches of the city without access to a train line. Add to that the south red line closure and bus route cuts and it looks as though Chicago’s transit system will continue to lag behind those of other cities. During my time abroad, I enjoyed how other cities ran their public transit systems. Here are changes I would make to the CTA based on my observations abroad to create my ideal transit system.

I would cut service to the “El” having it stop at 12am-1am Sunday through Thursday and 3am to 4am on Friday and Saturday. To make up for lack of train service, I would increase bus routes and have certain buses run 24-7. I would create another train line that reaches further south and southwest.  I would also install services that create zones with varying prices based on traffic. That way travel within the loop would cost the most while travel on the fringes of the city would cost the least. I would also implement a system that allows anyone under 18 or over 65 to travel for free (with ID) and special discounts based on income and for college students.

Where would Chicago get the money to do this? Primarily with TIF reform. The CME Group in the heart of downtown Chicago received $33 million this past year. TIF money is supposed to go towards neighborhood reform. Instead, they planned on using the money to revamp their bathrooms. Funneling that amount of funds yearly towards a CTA revamp (I know this type of overhaul cannot be done overnight) would allow for significant progress to be made to help make Chicago an accessible city for all of its citizens. Maybe with more bus routes coming in and out of blighted areas businesses can be created to brighten them up and make them economically stronger just like the number 11 bus did to the Lincoln Park area.


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Filed under: Transportation

Tags: CTA

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