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Mayoral candidates detail how they would steer public transportation

mayoral forum

An organizer addresses the crowd at the Lozano Branch of the Chicago Public Library for a mayoral forum about public transportation improvements. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

They generally agreed on the need for more designated bus lanes to provide reliability and speed. But they were split on the idea of discounted fares to make public transportation more affordable.

And more than a few mentioned crime as a factor impacting public transportation, as it does so much else in Chicago.

Nine of the 15 Chicago mayoral candidates took turns tossing around ideas for an improved public transit system Tuesday evening at a forum in Pilsen.

The 90-minute event featured a variety of proposals — some more welcome by the audience at the Lozano Branch of the Chicago Public Library than others.

In discussing a transit system that has seen a 26 percent decline in bus ridership since 2008, according to a Chicago Sun-Times analysis, the issues of citywide access, funding and safety surfaced during the session.

Amara Enyia, the director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, said “all of the challenges that Chicago faces” can be seen by riding the CTA Red Line from the 95th Street to Howard stops.

Enyia proposed using money generated by tickets from improper bicycle usage and red light and speed cameras — which she said disproportionately affect neighborhoods of color — to reinvest in the CTA.

She was also one of the few candidates — others were Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle  and former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy — to voice support for taxing ride-hailing services to benefit public transit. State Comptroller Susana Mendoza and attorney John Kozlar said they didn’t want to use additional ride-hailing taxes to solve transportation needs.

Toni Preckwinkle

Cook County Board President and Chicago mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle details her public transit plan at a forum Tuesday in Pilsen. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

McCarthy, though, said there’s a clear reason why fewer Chicagoans are riding the CTA.

“I think a lot of that has to do with crime,” McCarthy said.

A Sun-Times analysis in 2018 found serious crime on the CTA in the city went up 16 percent, but more than 90 percent of the serious crimes reported on CTA L trains and buses and at stations went unsolved.

The solution is to more closely monitor “fare evasion,” McCarthy said, because he believed those committing crimes on trains and buses often don’t pay to get on.

Susana Mendoza

Illinois Comptroller and Chicago mayoral candidate Susana Mendoza shares her public transportation ideas at a forum Tuesday in Pilsen. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

Calling for improved safety for public transportation riders, state Rep. La Shawn Ford brought up a recent shooting in which a woman with a conceal carry permit killed an armed robbery suspect at a Far South Side bus stop.

On the issue of bus reliability and speed, many of the candidates suggested more designated bus lanes to help avoid traffic and move through routes faster. One candidate, Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, even suggested adding bus lanes on Lake Shore Drive.

The candidates were split on the idea of discounted fares to make public transportation more affordable.

Businessman Willie Wilson, who said he rides the CTA about three times every year, proposed discounted rates for seniors. Asked how he would make up for the deficit the discounts would create, Wilson said, “If you lower the prices on a Big Mac, people come in and buy 30 Big Macs. All I’m saying is this, you gotta lower the prices.”

Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas said he would work with community members and new Gov. J.B. Pritzker to come up with solutions.

Co-hosting the event were Pilsen Alliance, a grassroots social justice organization; and Active Transportation Now, nonprofit advocacy group for public transportation.