I am a CTA devotee.
The trains and buses of the Chicago Transit Authority have been my lifeline. As I was growing up on the city’s South Side, my family rarely had access to a car. Back in the day, the “Big Green Limousine” and the old “A” and “B” L trains were old friends and close companions.
Today, I board articulated buses with my Ventra card and ride the rainbow of Red, Blue, Brown, Green, Pink, Orange and Purple lines.
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I refused to abandon the CTA during the pandemic. Throughout, I rode from the O’Hare stop to 95th and everywhere in between.
So did tens of thousands of others who rely on public transit to get to work and school, buy groceries, visit the doctor’s office and all their other must-do destinations, virus or not.
Now, my beloved CTA is in trouble. I watched in frustration as the COVID-19 pandemic plunged my CTA into an existential crisis. This indispensable public service suffered a steep decline in ridership as it lost the patronage of the work-from-homers and others who feared catching a bug along with a ride.
They abandoned the system to homeless and mentally ill people seeking shelter, bad-news hustlers and worst of all — the criminals committing a horrifying array of shootings, robberies and beatings.
Violent crime on CTA trains is up 17% so far this year, compared to the same period in 2021, according to Chicago Police Department data analyzed by ABC-7 Chicago.
I have other transit options, but other Chicagoans, especially low-income and working-class residents, do not. As the pandemic taught us, many of them are the “essential workers” who keep the city going. They should never ride in fear.
In March, CTA officials announced a new plan to fight crime by increasing the number of security guards patrolling the trains. Last week, the agency told CBS-2 Chicago that between 200 and 220 unarmed security guards are now riding the transit system daily, with a goal of getting to 300 once more guards are trained. CPD has also pledged additional resources.
That’s not enough, say two prominent Chicago-area members of Congress. On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia wrote to CTA President Dorval Carter and urged the agency to do more.
“While we appreciate the efforts that both the CTA and Chicago Police Department recently have made to increase passenger and employee safety on trains and buses throughout the CTA’s network, more needs to be done to protect CTA’s frontline workers and passengers given the alarming increase in crime on the CTA system,” the lawmakers wrote.
The recently passed, $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill, they noted, mandates that the CTA and other transit agencies create a safety committee to address the problem.
A committee has been created, Carter responded. “During the pandemic, employee and customer health, safety and comfort was — and remains — the agency’s top priority,” he wrote.
Experts warn the pandemic could put urban transit systems into a “death spiral” sparked by declining ridership that triggers budget deficits, then leads to service cuts and fare hikes, which could trigger more drops in ridership.
Chicago cannot thrive without a safe and attractive public transportation system for all. Our economic, cultural and social survival depends on getting us where we need to be.
Billions of federal dollars are available to return safety to the CTA. This world-class city can afford no less.
Follow Laura Washington on Twitter @mediadervish
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