When things go wrong: CTA tries to explain why “stuff happens”

In a new attempt at transparency with its riders, the CTA has created a new Web page to try and explain “when things go wrong” and what they do to try and set things right.

“This narrative is part of President Forrest Claypool’s desire and commitment to better communicate with customers,” said a CTA spokesperson via email. “Since his appointment in May 2011, CTA has taken steps to improve communications with our customers during incidents, including more informative platform announcements and expanded use of social media.”

The Web page reviews some common events – via QA format – on both rail and bus that cause delays, and thus anger riders. These include:

The page is a fascinating read. Plus, it contains some interesting stats, such as:

  • CTA ‘L’ trains travel about 177,490 miles on a typical weekday (that’s about seven times the circumference of Earth at the equator).
  • About 1,500 buses travel over 145,832 miles on a typical weekday (that’s almost another 6 times around).
  • Altogether, the distance our vehicles travel on an average weekday is almost a full trip to the moon and back.

So, check it out. And let me know if there are some other questions you would like the CTA to answer. (This should be good!)



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  • A CTA page for morons!
    Q. "Why do trains sometimes break down?"
    A. Because things wear out!
    Q. "Why does my train keep stopping for signal clearance?"
    A. Because trains stop for red lights just like cars!
    Q. "Why do buses bunch?"
    A. Because there are too many people for the number of buses & Chicago has the world's most incompetent traffic engineers.
    Q. "Why did my bus go down the street slowly and/or purposely miss a green light?"
    A. Because it's ahead of schedule!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    I took it as a glossary of jargon, not a real explanation. Which is about all these CTA PR efforts are worth. No real explanation why trains got stuck on the switch twice at Granville.

    "And let me know if there are some other questions you would like the CTA to answer." As indicated in August 2011, not until CTA shows evidence that they answer them. Ask Cheryl.

  • I just love it that you guys go out of your way to find things wrong with the CTA even when they are trying to give information.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Basically, because they aren't.

    So, take up my question to them about what happened twice at Granville and see if you get a straight answer. I bet not more than "equipment problems." But prove me wrong.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Maybe each post should automatically come with a comment from Scootlibjac that reads, "the cta is dumb!" and then we can all move on.

  • In reply to tbtb:

    No, they are conniving slaves to the PR machine.

    But I did say that Claypool does not meet statutory qualifications, and thus he is incompetent, as well as believes that corporate speak does the job. The Bears got rid of Lovie Smith; maybe the CTA Board should get the same message.

    Except they are liars given the Sun-Times article about how they wanted a special meeting to undo the Lincoln cut but didn't know how to do it. One decided to pray for guidance, but his deity apparently had other concerns.

    Was I specific enough for you, tbtb?

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    I think Hiklevitch got this correct today:

    "Frankly, the overall tone borders on being condescending toward CTA customers, who probably are less interested in hearing excuses about the causes of poor service than they are in seeing tangible improvements in their commutes."

  • In reply to jack:

    Jack, in general, I agree with you and Hilkevitch. But I also agree with the CTA spokesperson:

    "It is not our intention to be flip,'' CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said. She asserted that the average rider is much less interested than a transportation reporter would be about specific details of a complex transit system. "We are just trying to explain to people why the train isn't moving,'' she said.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    But as I think Jon implies, that assumes that the average rider isn't smart enough to figure out what Mr. CTA means when he says "whoop, whoop, we are waiting for signals ahead to clear and will be underway shortly."

    And from what he says about buses when line instructors are on them, and what I can infer from the various derailments at switches, neither can many CTA operators.

  • What are the most common el train breakdowns that lead to delays? Doors refusing to open or close? Smoke? Where does the smoke come from anyway? Batteries? Or burning insulation?

  • In reply to emglatstein:

    Could be brakes too, or as the CTA says, breaks. Maybe both.

    Or arcing between the third rail and the pickup shoe, such as in the Blue Line Subway derailment, which took the NTSB to blow the lid on that bit of track inspection incompetence.

    Was that on the CTA cheat sheet?

  • In reply to jack:

    It is both:

    "Why does the tunnel have smoke in it?" "Them's the breaks"
    "Why did the train overshoot the station?" "Them's the breaks"
    "Why is this train lurching as we start and stop?" "Them's the breaks"
    "Why is this train going out-of-service?" "Them's the breaks"

  • fb_avatar

    Sadly, no explanation for why they bought a bunch of badly-designed train cars with only 8 seats and a few benches.

  • Interesting question that should be put to CTA Admin. (I will myself next time I see them):

    In what could be an Election ploy, ask them how much do they think it would/will cost the NEXT City Hall and CTA Administrations (Election Promise) to get an aftermarket rail car builder to replace the benches with transverse seats; and to be more attuned to Public Input, and what the Public wants and needs ( #11 bus, etc. ).

    If I lived in Chicago; I would vote for someone who could promise to correct their errors -- Did they think they would be in control forever, or that someone couldn't capitalize on their UNPOPULARITY.

  • What you really need to do is file a FOIA request for all memos & emails on the seating layout. Both internal CTA & those between CTA & Bombardier.
    I'd love to know, just who are the lunatics that were in favor of this & promoted it, starting with most of the articulated buses.
    Don't forget, some geniuses at the CTA thought removing a few rows of seats on a dozen or so of the Nova buses as a test was a great idea. Their thinking, if you can call it that was that more people would fit on the bus.
    The reality was that the buses became so heavy, they couldn't move & the seats were reinstalled.

    I believe that there is just an entire layer of management on Lake St. that simply hates the passengers.
    They think exactly the same way a private English bus company did around 20 years ago.
    That company was asked why their buses were always late. Their answer was, the buses would be on time, except they have to stop & pick up passengers, who then complain about the bus service!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    You forgot about the Max Capacity L cars during the Brown Line supposed project.

  • Claypool already gave his "informed" answer: It can't be done.

    So, like any other question given to him, you won't get anything different.

    And heck, like Hugo Chavez, no Chicago mayor is going to admit to a successor. Not to be mean, but it took Maggie's illness to get Richie out.

  • In reply to jack:

    "It can't be done" is silly, if you put Bids out to qualified Manufacturers -- they'll be knocking down your door. They just don't want anyone to realize they're C R A P can be undone.

    I can hear their Election Platform -- "We Screwed You, We Wouldn't Listen To You -- Please ReElect Us"

  • Please attend if you can, the next 2nd District Candidates Debate;

    Wednesday, January 30, 2013 -- 4:30pm to 9:00pm
    Rich Central High School 3600 203rd St.,
    Olympia Fields, IL 60461


    I will be there to submit ideas for Jobs and Economic Development,
    and to distribute CTA Gray Line information and literature; there may also be coverage by Fox 32 TV:


  • In that I said that JJJr. did nothing about this or any other transit matter, even though the ME passed by his official reference, maybe this is the proper place to put the candidates' feet to the fire on this and other transit matters.

    Too many other Dem congresspeople have let transit slide.

  • In reply to jack:


  • In reply to jack:

    I am planning to EAT THEM ALIVE Jack -- Hope to see you there ( And you too Kevin and Scooter ).

  • Like I said with respect to such things as Duckworth v. Walsh and Foster v. Biggert, I don't have a vote in that district.

    In fact, I'm not even sure (due to gerrymandering) whether I have a vote in the district where I reside :-).

    And since you indicate that the forum will be in Olympia Fields (Robin Kelly's territory), it looks like from the way the district is structured, the balance will be in the south suburbs, where the main interest may be getting the city people off their train or out of the way of it. In any event, city interests will be diluted.

  • In reply to jack:

    Hey jack -- I know Chicago politics.

    If JJJr changed his mind, and decided to join in the Election; he would get more votes than all the others combined -- and Re-elected.

  • I thought he was going to say that while he resigned from the 2011-2012 Congress, his 2012 victory meant that he was resuming his seat on Jan. 3, 2013. I'm surprised that didn't happen.

    But Sandi is teed that Rahm won't rubber stamp her designated successor.

  • You better believe I am going to be at this one also:


  • Bring your bike, because as its leader has indicated elsewhere on the Tattler, that's about all he is good at.

  • Why does it seem that buses are racing each other down the street?

  • In reply to ibilldavis:

    If it's at the end of a driver's shift, a lot of them will drive really fast either to the end of the line & then go to the garage or, if it's just a driver change, they drive fast to the change point.

  • I'd like one question answered "why doesn't the CTA seriously listen to comments of the people that they serve?" (the riders). I write this as I'm literally pinned in between two people on a 5000 series car for the next 40 minutes. I wish I could post a photo or two here of the several unusable seats in this car (unless you are a child) while the car is jammed to capacity with standees. I would have been fine with the 3200 seating arrangement. It works. Lots of extra standing room, room for luggage, etc. They could still replace these damn bucket seats with a bench and use the same supports. No need for a complete re-engineering of the cars Mr. Claypool.

  • In reply to Matt:

    This is a BIG PART of why Rahm will LOSE the next Election, and CTA Administration will be replaced -- They act like people are I D I O T S.

  • I REALLY disagree with you here. Rahm is going to romp in his re-election bid. And his administration will not be substantially replaced.

    Mark my words.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    You're probably right Kevin, but I will be interested to hear how they will convince the Voters that Screwing, and NOT Listening to them is best for them?

    Jedi Mind Tricks??

  • "Jedi Mind Tricks??"

    Not necessary for the average Chicago voter.

    In fact, old school machine techniques still work. 6 years ago, Sandi Jackson was giving out turkeys in exchange for signing voter registration cards.

    A politician has to be Todd Stroger clueless to lose. And, as I noted elsewhere in this topic, his minions got other political jobs.

  • I have to agree with Kevin on this one, for the reason I said before. Remember, each Daley lasted 22 years, and the elder one had to be carried out on a gurney. I don't know if anyone is going to offer Rahm the presidency, but short of that, the voters of Chicago aren't going to vote for an opponent. Is Dorothy Brown going to take on the mayor again?

    Even Harold Washington, with all the opposition he faced, was only taken out of office the same way Daley the First was.

    And, as far as the CTA administration acting like I D I O T S, there is a long history of that too. Nobody was voting Daley out over Kruesi. Maybe someone will get teed off at Rahm about the schools or his dealing with public employee unions, but, again I agree with Kevin that I am not going to put money on that.

  • According to Steve Mayberry, signal problem on the Loop today. Not mentioned by Steve was that there was a signal project there in the past year or so.

    Maybe the semaphore froze, but I'm sure that Steve (a Stroger crony who somehow got another job--which I'm sure is the reason why CTA staff doesn't care about the passengers, Scooter) won't be saying more.

  • I suppose it is ironic that I posted this today, when the CTA had massive switching problems on the Loop "L." At least there was a generic entry for that, though no doubt the cold exacerbated the problem.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    And a similar report to that of Jan. 16, making it more predictable than ironic.

  • In reply to jack:

    And again this morning, making 3 incidents in a short time, 2 2 days in a row.

  • In reply to jack:

    I agree, 3 days with signal issues within 10 days is a problem. My understanding too is the problems have all been at the Wabash/Van Buren junction, which was replaced this fall with the new project. The Wells/Lake junction hasn't been done yet as they are waiting on the Wells St. bridge shut down to do the work at the same time.

    What do you want to bet the work done at Wabash/Van Buren wasn't designed for weather below 20 degrees

  • If the CTA was on top of things, they would inform the public that they are investigating why the newly installed Loop signal system continues to fail almost on a weekly basis, usually at the height of rush hour, instead of the canned answer "it is under investigation." This should then be followed up with full disclosure of the action plan...holding the contractor and/or manufacturer accountable, stopping payments for the work until it is fixed, etc.

    Also, don't be surprised if months down the road and after several more mornings like today it is discovered that the design of the new signal system is fatally flawed and the CTA will be on the hook for millions to fix the design flaws. The CTA's history on procurement contracts says it all....the NABI articulated bus debacle, Brown line wooden platforms falling apart, railroad ties on the O'Hare Blue line falling apart, issues with inferior steel parts cracking on the new 5000 series railcars.

  • It's a start. At least one person in the organization apparently doesn't endorse the notion that we all richly deserve a bad experience, rendering explanation unnecessary. Whether this attitude will catch on, who knows.

    Here's one question (well, really several) I would love to have answered: I was one of the first passengers to board a 151 bus on the far North Side that clearly said it was going to Union Station. The driver confirmed this as I boarded with luggage. At some time before the bus got downtown, the destination changed. Why? People already on the bus were not informed of this. Why? If the buses no longer have microphones for driver announcements as they used to (Why?) or if the driver just didn't use it (Why?) then how can affected passengers already on board learn of such changes? (And don't tell me Twitter.) And how does this problem jibe with the purported dependability of intermodal public transportation on which we are encouraged to rely?

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    This is exactly the problem with the CTA. Things break down, circumstances change, things catch fire. The CTA seems to think we don't need to know anything at all about what's going on even when what has changed has a direct impact on us right now.

    Just tell us what's going on, that's all I ask.

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