Scores of supporters of the gutted No. 11 Lincoln Avenue bus packed a Chicago Transit Authority budget hearing Monday night to urge the agency to fully restore the North Side route.
Two years ago, when the CTA increased pass prices and chopped out the middle of the No. 11, about 100 supporters of the Lincoln Avenue route showed up at 2013 budget hearings in yellow T-shirts emblazoned with “Save No. 11 bus.”
Having lost that battle, two busloads of No. 11 supporters showed up at Monday night’s 2015 budget hearings, with updated yellow T-shirts emblazoned with “Bring back No. 11 bus.”
Speaker after speaker urged the CTA to restore the gutted parts of the line, saying it allowed residents — young and old — to visit everything from the local doctor and grocer to the opera and exercise classes. One man said 300 seniors are now “trapped” in a senior home because taking the L to run errands is too difficult.
“How did you go so wrong?” Marvin Childress, of the North Center neighborhood, asked CTA board members. “What has to happen to change your mind? What more do you need?”
Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) and State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) were among those describing the route as a “lifeline” that deserved to be restored.
The sole public hearing on the CTA’s 2015 budget had looked like a cakewalk, because, for the second year in a row, the budget packed no fare increases or service cuts.
In fact, the $1.44 billion plan proposes adding service to the Blue and Orange Lines — after adding service this year to the Red, Purple, Brown and other Orange Line trains.
Pawar contended Monday that since the 2013 budget hearings, the CTA has been “tone deaf” about a decision that has hurt seniors, parents, students and others who had traveled up and down one of the city’s major diagonal arteries on the Lincoln Avenue bus to run errands or visit the doctor, pharmacy, grocery or school.
Seniors in particular have been severely affected, he said.
“We are all going to get old one day, and we all want to believe that the system we paid into will serve all of us, not just the people the current leadership wants to serve,” Pawar said. “This is a public sector agency. It has to serve everybody.”
CTA officials contend the agency saved $1.4 million by gutting the middle of the Lincoln Avenue route — from Western to Fullerton — and using those funds to add service and reduce crowding elsewhere. At the time, the agency said bus riders could walk half a mile to the Brown Line instead or take an east-west bus there.
“For about the same amount of money,” CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said Monday, “the CTA in the 2015 budget was able to add train service to five of eight lines that benefit hundreds of thousands of customers.”
“People use buses differently than trains,” Pawar countered. “They uses buses to get around their neighborhood” while trains are often used for traveling downtown or longer distances.
With the CTA now facing flusher times than when the route was gutted, Pawar was hoping CTA officials would listen to the vast majority of about 2,500 people who said in a recent online survey that the Brown Line has been an inadequate substitute for the No. 11 bus.
Pawar said he talked to CTA President Forrest Claypool just last week about restoring the No. 11 bus, but Claypool called the idea “preposterous.”
“I found that to be very offensive,” Pawar said. “It was offensive to my constituents. . . . [The CTA] is digging in so hard, they can’t even hear what anyone is saying.”
Pawar said he has proposed using surplus funds of some of the tax-increment financing districts in his ward to restore the No. 11, but the CTA contends TIF funds cannot be used for “capital” expenses.
“The money is there if they want to make it happen. The CTA just doesn’t want to make it happen,” Pawar said.
Over the last five years, CTA bus ridership peaked in 2012, but dropped in 2013 and 2014 — when a January deep freeze and heavy snows severely affected ridership.
Rail service over the time period also peaked in 2012, dipped in 2013, but saw an uptick in 2014. The 2015 budget expects ridership increases on both bus and rail in 2015, but current bus routes can absorb a projected 0.4 percent increase but rail lines need more service for an expected 1.1 percent boost, officials contend.
Some critics called the budget an “election-year” document and wondered if a fare increase would be in the offing after Mayor Rahm Emanuel faces re-election in 2015. Emanuel has said the CTA avoided fare increases or service cuts for two years in a row by being “very disciplined.”
After the hearing, CTA spokesman Brian Steele emphasized that residents of senior centers near Lincoln are close to east-west connecting bus routes that can get them over to the No. 49 Western Avenue bus or the Brown line to go north and south.CTA board member Jackie Grimshaw said many of the comments were similar to those made two years ago, but “I think this is something for the board to discuss with staff and we’ll see what we do about it.”