CTA earns a D-minus for failed passenger communication after Red Line derailment

(This is a guest post by longtime CTA Tattler reader and commenter C C Writer.)

The one good thing to come out of Thursday’s transit fiasco is that I had plenty of time to compose a rant in my head. (A southbound Red Line train derailed near Armitage.)

I give the CTA a D minus for the day. The only reason it’s not an F minus is that I did hear the words “shuttle bus” mentioned on the Belmont platform after we were told the train would go no further. But from there, everything went downhill.

The CTA still cannot or will not do an adequate job of communicating with passengers who are on the system when something happens. CTA management apparently hopes to make up for it by pouring money into new tech meant to keep everyone who ISN’T traveling informed about what’s happening.

But that only adds insult to injury for anyone who has already paid their fare, is stuck in transit, and really needs to know where the bleep this shuttle bus is going–or if the Red Line is still running at any point. I swear to you, they actually told us to just get on and we would be told later where it was going.

You can guess whether that promise was ever kept, and if you figure that the shuttle bus ended up going on some ridiculously circuitous route, and taking just about all day to do it, you’re right on that one too. (I finally escaped, caught a “77 Belmont” which was running southbound at that point, and then a 36 which I would have done better to take in the first place, but the traffic reports before I left were making it sound like things were under control.)

Big epiphany from this experience: I want to know the name of the genius who, when the automated stop announcements were added, came up with the boneheaded idea to eliminate the microphones that used to be on all the buses, so there’s no way for the driver to give a bus packed with passengers some badly needed information. That person should be put in stocks in Daley Plaza and pelted in the face with rotten tomatoes.

And after that I want the names of all the other people at the CTA who went along with it, when what they ought to have done is say something like “Yeah, and nothing unexpected will ever happen again, and if it does there will certainly be no need to make announcements about it! Ha-ha, thanks for the entertainment, now come back to us with a plan that makes sense, or you’re fired.” And all those people should have their heads dunked repeatedly in cold water and then made to pay heavy fines.

Groupthink is the pernicious evil at the root of so many bad CTA decisions. It must be condemned and rooted out. Do you hear me, Mr. Claypool?

C C Writer


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  • Bring back conductors.

  • When are you going to get the names of the morons that decided on the 5000's seats?
    The CTA is easily the most incompetent transit agency in America!
    They remind me of the British bus company that when confronted by complaints that their buses were always late said "They wouldn't be late if we didn't have stop & pickup passengers!"

    Remember, the original reason for creating the CTA wasn't to keep buses, streetcars & trains running, it was to keep employing 30,000 people at that time. Employing people who otherwise couldn't qualify for a job sweeping floors is the sole object of the CTA, no matter what else the politicians tell you!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Scooter, if my previous post comes up, look there.

  • In reply to jack:

    ...just under this one.

  • 1. I thought that the microphones were necessary for ADA purposes. Anyway, a bus driver could have yelled if the secret location control center had given him any information.

    2. The TV news stories didn't even mention announcements on buses. They did have Brian Steele on camera saying that announcements were made on the platforms (you concur with that), but that nothing was said to passengers on the other trains up and down the line when the power was pulled between Belmont and either downtown or Cermak.

    3. As far as the names, CTA has a spreadsheet of all employees' salaries on its Freedom of Information web page, so you can probably pin it down. But beware of someone Scooter and I discussed yesterday who went completely bonkers (as the Aussies say) when he identified someone by rank and I put a name on him. In that case, it wasn't hard to figure out who the Chief and Assistant Rail Equipment Engineers are. Probably someone similar for bus procurement.

    4. As for technology only being available to people off the system, didn't darkwing say that everyone has a smart phone? Apparently not. And it wouldn't have helped you if the shuttle bus were unscheduled.

  • In reply to jack:

    I don't know who darkwing is, but no, everyone doesn't have a smart phone! Some people can't afford one, others don't feel it fits their needs to have one.

    It is completely reasonable to expect that the CTA will have real-time audio or visual communications installed on its own vehicles and property to communicate in real time with passengers that does not require any equipment to receive other than the passenters' own eyes and ears. And to the extent that they do not accomplish this, SHAME ON THEM, plain and simple.

  • In reply to CCWriter:


    passengers' own eyes and ears

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    darkwing was a poster here who essentially said (1) don't put Bus Tracker signs on bus shelters because everyone has smart phones, and (2) there is an inherent right to evade RTA sales tax.

    On your main point, someone pointed out on chicagobus.org that the new radio system on Pace buses has an ITTF logo on it, apparently because the state radio system to which Pace connected also is part of the Terrorism Task Force. That was a couple of days before Boston, including the transit shutdown shortly after the bombings. You essentially raise the question that if CTA can't handle communications in a simple derailment, what would it do if a Boston situation arose here?

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    In reply to CCWriter:

    Also, my experience has been that when these major CTA disruptions happen (especially on high-ridership lines) the cell phone networks can quickly become overwhelmed in the area of the disruption, making smartphones an unreliable way to disseminate information even to those who have them.

  • In reply to jack:

    Oh, and PS, I'm afraid "yelling" doesn't do it. I think the driver may have been trying to say something--it was heard by about 5 people in the front. That's why microphones were invented.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    Not to mention that they say they have to upgrade the cell phone communications system in the subway.

    I didn't hear if there were any reports of passengers being stuck in the subway because the power was turned off either there or just north of there.

  • To answer both of your questions, the Salary spreadsheet indicates that as of now:

    Caco, James J.. Chief Bus Equipment Engineer (Maintenance)

    Santos, Norman S., General Manager, Bus Engineering & Technical Services

    Kielba, Robert A, Chief Rail Equipment Engineer

    Kilstrom, John G, Engineer IV - Rail Vehicle Design

    Lonnes, Frederick D., Assistant Chief Equipment Engineer (Rail).

    This is all public information. I don't know any of these people personally.

    Also, since the question came up elsewhere, I don't know if they were the engineers when specs were developed for both buses and rail cars around 2006, but the current administration (a) authorized change orders for the rail cars and (b) must have told Claypool that nothing could be done.

  • Scooter: Also, see today's Dilbert, except substitute customers/passengers/cattle for underlings.

    Claypool is going to be in trouble if he starts balding down the middle of his head.

  • In reply to jack:

    I read Dilbert every day

  • I had a coworker caught up in that also. No one told anyone on his train about the shuttle buses so he walked over to Clark and got on a 22. He didn't know what was wrong with the trains until he got to work and we told him.

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    I have to agree with CC Writer. I was on the red line at the time and found out about the derailment because someone who got on at, I don't know, Argyle or so, started telling someone about it on his phone. Didn't hear anything directly from the CTA until just before Belmont, where they told us we all had to get off and there were free shuttle buses. By the time I got down to the crowd waiting for the shuttles (confusingly directed by an employee who seemed to be telling us to go to Sheffield, when the bus was on Belmont right by the station, the crowd was huge and unruly, with another employee shouting at people to get back on the sidewalk. One bus was sitting there, not yet being boarded, with enough people waiting to more than fill two buses, maybe more, so I just got out of there and caught the 151. Saving 25 cents to catch a free shuttle bus isn't always worth it. Anyway, everything CC said about lack of communication jibes with my experience.

  • This guy just has an ax to grind because three years ago I "accidentally" pissed on his pet duck, Gertrude.

  • In reply to lynnebernard773:

    Lynne: That rolls off a duck's back. They have natural oils. Also quite tasty after being wokked.

  • In reply to jack:

    Off a duck's back is right. All the more easily because lynne doesn't even know I'm not a guy. (We wok to the bus or L stop all the time. Sometimes via a viaduct, or as Chico Marx said, why a duck?)

  • I've taken parallel bus routes to the Red Line when there is construction or station closure and the bus route drivers had no knowledge of the adjacent L-station closures. I don't think the CTA does a very good job of communicating operationally (at least in real time) between their bus and train operations, even if riders see them as part of the same multimodal system.

  • In reply to JosephMusco:

    Hmm, good point. How can the CTA communicate anything to its passengers if it cannot even communicate within itself?

  • Sadly, I have not been a regular CTA rider for some years, since all the jobs--in my field at least--are now in transitless suburbs. I miss it even when I read about stuff like this.

    Seems to me that this debacle was a collision of three of the CTA's perennial major weaknesses: deferred maintenance, lack of redundancy, and an almost complete absence of basic communication--internally as well as externally, as JosephMusco and CCWriter point out. With the state and city clinging to insolvency by their fingernails (if that), Washington perpetually under the spell of Reagan and Norquist (no matter which party is nominally in power), and nearly all of the region's transportation funds still being siphoned off to tollways and exurban roads (and I suppose still to the Boondoggle Regional Airport at Peotone), I'm not optimistic about the first two factors improving in my lifeltime, or my children's lifetimes for that matter. It would essentially cost the CTA nothing to communicate. Well, nothing except a complete change of organizational culture.

  • In reply to rastewart:

    I was with you until the tollway and exurban roads (most of which are now proposed to be tollways) in that the funds for them come from whatever the drivers put in the toll baskets or I-Pass accounts, as opposed to transit capital, to which the riders will now have to contribute due to Claypool's borrowing schemes, but up to now they have not.

    And, as you note, communicating effectively costs relatively little, but that is the one thing Claypool does not know, and apparently (from the surveys this week on job performance) Emanuel does not care about.

    Like I said before, wait until some Boston type of incident happens on the CTA.

  • What do you expect when the entire CTA workforce has not finished high school?

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