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The new CTA budget

[I published an edited version of this post on Streetsblog Chicago.]

The Chicago Transit Authority gleefully tweeted that “fares [will] stay the same” and they’ll continue to “maintain/improve existing services”.

There are so many points to be made.

The medium on which they sent this message is irrelevant because Mayor Rahm Emanuel will parrot this at his press conference this afternoon at the Addison Blue Line station. He’ll say something that he’s holding fares down in order to support working families, yet he (because he runs the agency) can still get projects done, like renovating the Addison station to be accessible.

Fares should go up frequently, instead of making big jumps every 3-5 years. The price of things changes much more frequently and it’s what an agency providing such an important transportation service needs to do to be less constrained in making buses and trains run. And planning and funding for more buses and trains, under the strain of growing ridership. The CTA has the expertise to develop a long-term plan that sets out fare increases annually, removing the surprise, “Will this be the year?”

Fares should go up in increments smaller than quarters of a dollar! 0.25, 0.50, 0.75, and 1.00 are not the only choices available. Requiring riders who pay in cash – who become rarer each day – to pay with dollar bills and quarters isn’t a “convenience”, it’s annoying. It gives the CTA less flexibility in settling on the right price, and it means I can’t use these dimes and nickels that are piling on my nightstand. Quarters are for laundry.

“Fares will stay the same” is what Emanuel said two years ago when the price of passes was increased. Apparently causing people to spend more money to ride the train the same amount of times, if they have passes, is not a fare increase. This year none of the prices are changing. Hiking pass prices and keeping the base fare (single rides + transfers) the same can still hurt a low income rider: it puts the discounted fare further out of reach. Many Chicagoans are unable to put down $25 at a time for a ticket that would pay for all of their rides that week, so they pay per use, and end up paying more.

What holding the line on fare increases does is detrimental to riders and to CTA workers. It continues to defer fixing the problem of underfunded transit. The CTA, and its fellow transportation providers, Metra and Pace, are unable to pay for what people need them to do.

Additionally it’ll mean that, in order to keep costs in check, the CTA might freeze wages again. Because professionals providing Chicagoans with quality transportation services are the city’s and state’s piggy bank, and should sacrifice their wages due to “hard times”.

That’s the problem to be dealt with “soon”, but there’s an immediate problem, that Jon Hilkevitch explains in the Tribune:

The governor and lawmakers in Springfield have not agreed on a 2016 budget and the state still owes the CTA $221 million in capital-improvement funding that was expected in 2015, transit officials said.

But hey, “air quality” money is going to pay $18 million to widen a bunch of intersections so people can drive faster through them – until more people switch to driving through that fast intersection.

What if Metra employees were late to work as often as Metra passengers?

trainmageddon

A malfunctioning Metra Electric train in January. Photo by Eric Rogers.

It was a big deal to news media this morning when new Metra CEO Don Orseno reported at an Illinois House mass transit committee hearing that the commuter-focused rail system experienced a 30% on-time rating in January, when the “polar vortex” hit. (Apparently polar vortex is not an event that happens to a place, but is the name of a climate pattern that’s always there hovering above Canada and occasionally dips down over the United States.)

Most Metra passengers are commuters, going to work. A hair over 300,000 travel each weekday; service is drastically lowered on weekends and holidays, offering less than half the service of weekdays.

What if the organization of Metra, including all 2,500 employees in addition to the contracted railroad workers (let’s say 3,000 people), showed up to work with the same performance rating that their passengers experience?

First, Orseno – a career railroader who drives to work from Manhattan where a train comes leaves three times each day – would miss 11 work days of work each year (of 260 work days), based on their overall 95.8% on-time rating in 2012. Some routes are worse and others better. But collectively 3,000 people would miss 32,760 work days each year. That’s a lot of missed work.

Put another way, everybody – all 3,000 of them – is going to show up 20.16 minutes late to work because they’re missing 87.36 hours each year (of 2,080 hours they’re supposed to work and being 4.2% hours late). But again, I have no idea who’s working 8 hours and who’s working longer. (One of the problems Metra had during #Chiberia is that many workers hit the federally mandated limit and there weren’t always workers to take their place.)

Thankfully the Chicago Transit Authority, Pace, and ever-expanding highways and tollways are available to pick up the slack in Chicagoland’s transportation supply.

Another thing, this post is full of averages of averages, so it’s really imprecise. Today, Metra was reporting delays on a single train run of 16-100 minutes – a pretty broad estimate, but another train had a possible delay of 26-110 minutes. During the worst storm Metra experienced on January 5th and 6th, some train runs dumped passengers on platforms in subzero temperature.

Orseno reported today at the committee hearing that a “I don’t want to say middle-level” manager at Union Pacific made the call to dump the passengers. This has been “corrected” by only allowing a senior level staffer at Union Pacific make this call. Metra, which doesn’t have any performance-related incentives in its contracts with the freight railroads, apparently cannot stop this decision.

I’m waiting for the day when Metra is run like a transit system and not a railroad.

Note: I excluded vacation days because, well, no law requires organizations to offer paid or unpaid vacation days and there are probably several tiers of vacation-giving at Metra that I don’t know about.

Car parking really is the root of all of Chicago’s transportation ills

Two pools! Read more about the Maryville Hospital site proposal from JDL Development.

Parking has a greater effect on new traffic impacts in a dense neighborhood, more than bike lanes, more than road diets, and more than the number of people who live or will move there.

Yet we require so gosh darn much of it in Chicago! A developer who proposed a 25-story residential tower in Uptown, one block from the lakefront, essentially said that parking is a waste. He’s already proposing the lowest without a special ordinance that favors (singles out) his development.

 

I think that Streetsblog Chicago, where I work, could have a part-time writer dedicated to new property developments and parking issues. But for now it’ll stay my beat!

The 2012 Chicago bike crash data is in

Crash statistics differences from 2011 to 2012

I posted this as a series of tweets on Friday night.

The Chicago Fire Department has one of the least useful Twitter feeds, but sometimes it’s hilarious

20 minutes ago, when the Twitter outage probably corrected itself, the Chicago Fire Department’s Office of News Affair tweeted three photos, without comment. I’ve posted them in reverse order.

Tweet 3

The third photo (above) shows a BMW X5 SUV on top of a Jaguar sedan and Mercedes E320 sedan in a multi-level parking garage. The parking garage appears to be a split-level, and it seems the BMW SUV was moved forward from an upper level to the tops of these cars, which you can see in the second photo (below).

Tweet 2

Tweet 1

The photos appear to have been taken with a cellphone, using the flash. The license plates are obscured by their reflection of the flash. The car broke through the cables leading me to ask two questions: What is the level of tension on the cables? How fast did the car travel?

The @CFDMedia account is often cryptic. The Chicago Sun-Times provided more information an hour later:

A 74-year-old man driving a 2012 BMW X5 crashed through cable barriers separating two levels of a Loop parking garage Thursday — and his SUV came to a stop atop a 2005 Jaguar and a 2003 Mercedes-Benz parked on the level beneath him, police said.

Police cited the 74-year-old with driving too fast for conditions.

Updated 16:18 to add a report from the Chicago Sun-Times.

Terminology debate: crash versus collision

The following is an email conversation between myself and Travis Wittwer, a cool guy in Portland, Oregon, whom I stayed with in April 2010. We’ve had similar conversations before about the language writers (mainly newspaper article authors) use when speaking about and describing situations where “people and their bicycles make contact with people and their cars” (yes, there’s an easier way to say that, read on).

Travis: Continue reading

UIC hosts Chicago election season’s first forum

I’m following the race for 11th ward alderman as well as for mayor of Chicago – the election is going to get wild. It’s mild right now, though.

On Wednesday, the University of Illinois at Chicago hosted a forum in Student Center East (750 S Halsted) featuring 10 candidates for mayor. Out of the 20 candidates registered with the Board of Elections, 10 didn’t come. Noticeably absent were Rahm Emanuel, Carol Mosely-Braun, and Gerry Chico.

We’ve got some weirdos running for mayor of Chicago.

I’ll be uploading some video footage I recorded but I also tweeted a few times during the forum. Here they are in reverse chronological order:

  1. Ryan Graves says Rahm Emanuel gets corporate donations for favors, “not because they like the guy.”
  2. Some attendees upset at Ryan Graves use of word illegal aliens. They muttered they prefer undocumented. Same thing or not?
  3. Ryan Graves needs a better answer on higher education. Hu gave an excellent response.
  4. Ryan Graves actually knows what TIFs are for. #UIC mayoral candidate forum.
  5. Chicago’s 77 community areas from the 1950s still going strong today at #UIC mayoral candidate forum.
  6. Frederick K White wants to make a Chicago water bottling plant. #UIC mayoral
  7. #UIC mayoral candidate forum going well. Too many single issue platforms though.

I wrote so many times about Ryan Graves because I’m excited that he’s running. He’s 27 years old and I admire his efforts so far. I think that as long as he remains sane during the campaigning, he will be a good person to consider for mayor in the coming decades.

I wish that was me with the Apple iPad, live-tweeting the event.

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