CTA President Carter is a no-show, again

The CTA, to be blunt, is in a crisis. Carter’s absence at a City Council committee meeting does a great disservice to council members, to CTA customers and to Chicago taxpayers

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Chicago Transit Authority President Dorval Carter Jr. discusses a new program, aimed to help Chicago residents facing higher transportation costs, during a news conference at City Hall in March 2022.

Chicago Transit Authority President Dorval Carter Jr. discusses a new program, aimed to help Chicago residents facing higher transportation costs, during a news conference at City Hall in March 2022.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

City Council members were “ghosted” (again) on Wednesday by Chicago Transit Authority Board President Dorval Carter Jr. — a move many frustrated Chicagoans are all too familiar with when dealing with unreliable trains and buses.

As in a similar occurrence early this year, aldermen were left feeling disrespected and disappointed — and we don’t blame them — by Carter’s absence at a committee hearing meant to address riders’ dissatisfaction with unreliable service and fears about public safety.

The CTA, to be blunt, is in a crisis. Carter’s absence does a great disservice to council members, to CTA customers and to Chicago taxpayers who, customers or not, help pay Carter’s $350,000-plus salary.

His absence also doesn’t help build confidence in the agency’s capacity to solve its staffing woes. Leaders of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents more than 3,100 CTA employees, decided to skip the hearing when they learned Carter was not going, according to WTTW.

Editorial

Editorial

“It does speak volumes that the president decided not to show up. That’s just not a good look,” as Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) said at the hearing of the council’s Transportation and Public Way Committee.

Taylor is right.

As a city leader, we’re hoping Carter decides to finally accept this editorial board’s invitation to discuss the CTA’s future.

Carter’s attendance history with the City Council is a red flag: In January, for example, the council’s budget committee was set to vote on a pass-through of some $26.1 million in funds from the city of Chicago budget to the CTA. Because it was a routine matter, Carter didn’t attend, and an agency spokesperson said no one asked anyone from CTA to be present.

Even so, some council members got upset, and the vote did not happen.

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At the second-chance rescheduled meeting the following week, Carter sent his chief financial officer in his place.

“If the gentleman feels it’s beneath him to come talk with us, then that’s the message that’s being conveyed,” Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the council’s Black Caucus, said then.

Carter did show up, however, to a December 2021 meeting where the CTA board praised his “rockstar” leadership and unanimously voted for him to receive a 33% pay raise from $262,731 to $350,000.

In August, at a speech to the City Club of Chicago, Carter unveiled a CTA plan on how the agency would recover from the damage caused by the pandemic.

If a public official can show up to the City Club, surely he can show up to a public hearing.

Looking to the future of public transportation

On Tuesday, Mayoral candidate Kam Buckner released one of the first comprehensive plans to rehabilitate public transportation by a mayoral challenger, as the Sun-Times’ Manny Ramos and Fran Spielman reported.

One element of Buckner’s plan involves improving CTA services and frequency by establishing dedicated bus lanes in areas with more riders. Buckner said he would hire “transit ambassadors” trained in “de-escalation techniques,” while also establishing a system that allows riders to text crime, intimidation and sanitation problems so personnel can “respond in real time.”

He also would “restore CTA rides as part of police beats” and upgrade the agency’s 32,000 security cameras.

Public transportation will no doubt be a major issue for candidates in next year’s municipal election. Candidates should be expected to have serious proposals to tackle problems with public transit, education, crime, economic development, city finances and other issues.

Buckner has one of the first comprehensive public transit plans — but he shouldn’t be the last.

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