CTA boss Dorval Carter Jr. unveils plan to fix reliability, safety concerns
“The pandemic changed everything. How we live, how we work and — most notably for public transit agencies — how we get around,” CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. said in a speech at City Club of Chicago Thursday
CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. on Thursday unveiled a plan he hopes will fix a number of issues the agency faces that include a spike in violent crime on its properties and growing complaints that services are unreliable.
Carter, who has repeatedly blamed staffing shortages for the problems, has hinted about the release of such a plan for over a month and revealed it during a speech at the City Club of Chicago in what he said is “an action-packed initiative.”
“I am confident this action plan is exactly what CTA needs to address our customers’ immediate concerns while proactively meeting our transit future,” Carter said. “We are investing in and appreciating both our current customers as well as our employees while taking meaningful steps toward welcoming more customers back.”
The “Meeting the Moment: Transforming CTA’s Post-Pandemic Future” looks at how the beleaguered CTA aims to improve by focusing on five areas. The “pillars” of the report:
- Deliver reliable service by hiring full-time bus operators, transition over 300 part-time operators to full-time positions, rehire retired bus operators to work part time, allow retired rail instructors to assist with training and for customer service assistants to start working a full-time schedule.
- Enhance safety for riders by expanding police officer patrols with the Chicago Police Department, increase the number of security guards from 200 to 300, reintroduce canine units, target fare theft with new tall fare gates and collaborate with social services organizations for unhoused people.
- Improve customer experience through extensive cleaning of its fleet, introduce nine electric buses on its Chicago Avenue route and roll out the new 7000 series rail cars.
- Upgrade digital tools that will help eliminate “ghost buses” in its bus and rail tracker feed, launch a pilot “Chat with CTA” to provide riders with real-time information and host more customer surveys on issues related to this action plan.
- Invest in CTA’s existing workforce to help with retention, improve employee facilities, expand employee recognition programs, install sturdier driver shields on buses and improve its internal anonymous reporting system for employees.
Carter said CTA isn’t the only transit agency in the country facing these issues, which have been made worse by statewide shutdowns and a prolonged global public health crisis.
The CTA is the second-largest public transit agency in the country and its fleet boasts more than 1,800 buses, 1,400 railcars, 9,000 front-line operation staff and a pre-pandemic weekday ridership base of almost 1.5 million riders.
Average weekday ridership took a nosedive in the immediate aftermath of statewide shutdowns in response to the pandemic. In April 2020, the month after stay-at-home orders, CTA had an average of 296,000 weekday riders. The number of average weekday riders has grown and in May there were more than 786,000 average weekday riders.
“Over the course of this pandemic public transit saw some of the biggest changes and challenges from COVID-19,” Carter said. “The pandemic changed everything. How we live, how we work and — most notably for public transit agencies — how we get around.”
Carter reiterated the CTA must fill the more than 800 vacant bus operator roles to truly address its reliability problem. Carter said they have launched an extensive marketing and recruiting campaign to fill the vacancies while also partnering with local community colleges and its unions to help find people to fill the positions.
Last week the agency welcomed 80 new full-time bus operators and also said the agency has started paying for applicants’ permits, which it hasn’t done in the past.
“But our customers should understand, hiring quality candidates and properly training operators in these challenging roles takes time and we will not cut any corners in training our workforce to safely deliver service,” Carter said. “This means our efforts will take longer to bear the fruits that we need on the ground.”
The plan also looks to address crime on CTA property which has grown more violent in recent years as ridership has dropped, according to a Chicago Sun-Times analysis. For several months there have been reports of stabbings and shootings on Red Line platforms that have left riders fighting for their lives.
“While the overwhelming majority of rides on the CTA are safe and occur without incident, even one crime is one too many,” Carter said. “CTA is committed to working with the CPD to make the system even safer.”