CHICAGO (CBS) — A city council hearing on the delayed CTA service began nearly two hours later Thursday, but the president of the Chicago Transit Authority still faced the music after skipping the city council’s most recent passenger complaints hearing altogether.
“It’s important to me that each of you know that you have my full commitment to continuing to update you and our drivers on the progress we are making on our action plan,” Carter said.
CTA President Dorval Carter testified about improvements in transit service and safety concerns. As CBS 2’s Tara Molina reported, the councilors didn’t hold back on tricking Carter.
Carter was questioned about a long list of issues – including the cleanliness of our transit system, significant delays in service and serious concerns about violence.
The hearing came hours after another act of violence on the CTA Red Line Thursday morning. One of our CBS 2 producers saw an attack firsthand and captured cellphone video after a 25-year-old man was assaulted and assaulted at the Sheridan station.
Police tell us the victim was hit in the head by a man with pens and a rock in his fist and charges are pending against a suspect. The attack also delayed trains.
That attack was just one of hundreds of crimes reported to the CTA this year.
In terms of crime, the councilors questioned Carter on a range of issues — including private security, on which the CTA spends a huge chunk of money. Carter said the CTA measures the performance of security forces and auditors monitor them every day.
“They’re engaged,” Carter said. “They are extra eyes and ears.”
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) asked Carter about the number of people living in the transit system. No plan was given to fix this issue.
Reilly also asked if Chicago had changed its policy regarding smoking cigarettes or cannabis on trains — which is a common complaint. Carter said no – such behavior was still not allowed. But no plan was revealed to address such behavior either.
When asked if cameras are used to deter such behavior, Carter said camera footage is checked later on trains.
One councilor said cameras will not replace boots on the ground – that is, police on trains where illegal activity is taking place. The city council was “not impressed” with the security guards, saying they often check their phones. Carter said he understands the need for visible police.
However, Carter did not address concerns about non-dedicated private security guards, only later repeating that the guards should be “eyes and ears” to assist the police. Carter said the police themselves are also more visible, according to Supt’s instructions. David Brown.
“The Superintendent has issued a number of directives to make police more visible on our trains on CTA – both in the stations and on our trains,” Carter said.
A city councilman brought up police personnel on trains in other cities, saying Houston has 400 officers on its trains while 3,500 NYPD officers patrol the New York City subway system. For Chicago to achieve this staffing level relative to the size of its system, about 1,000 officers would need to patrol the CTA.
A city councilor also questioned whether there would ever be armed security guards on CTA trains. Carter said he recognizes the benefit but there are liability concerns.
He noted that armed guards are often off-duty police officers.
“I’m not a crime expert. I’m not a security man,” Carter said, adding that he wanted to support the CPD.
Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) suggested creating a pilot program to have “ambassadors” or someone outside stations and on trains as a positive, safe presence. That wouldn’t necessarily be the way security people patrol with dogs now.
“If it’s safe to enter outside of the station, it leads up onto the platform and onto the train for safety,” Osterman said. “If there’s chaos in front, it’s chaos inside, it’s chaos on the platform, it’s chaos on the train.”
Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) asked Carter if he supported CTA bringing back its own police force, which was disbanded more than 40 years ago under former Mayor Jane Byrne.
“I don’t think that’s a practical, efficient solution to the problems we’re facing,” Carter said. “It would take me years to build a police department at CTA. This police department would be isolated from the Chicago Police Department – which not only has police officers, but also has numerous other resources that help investigate crimes and fight them at a much broader level. I believe the most efficient way to deal with the problem we are facing now is to focus on how we can make better use of the resources that we have to address the issues we are having much more quickly its than any ability on my part to basically create a police department at CTA.
Carter also noted that creating a CTA police force would be costly and take money away from other priorities.
“I don’t think it makes much sense to me,” Carter said.
Carter also said CTA is studying ways to improve the CTA security camera system.
City council members also criticized a range of other issues – including CTA’s service at the moment and CTA’s response to delayed service and dirty trains and buses.
Focusing on buses, Carter said they’re cleaned every day – and there’s both full cleaning and “light cleaning”. Carter said he’s increasing the cleaning budget and janitors by 20 percent.
Also raised were concerns about ghost trains and buses – trains and buses that according to the timetable appear to be a certain number of minutes away but never arrive.
Carter said CTA is actively working on its systems to make bus scheduling and tracking more accurate. Carter said Clever Devices is the vendor providing the bus tracker system and is currently working on “technology improvements.”
as ald. Reilly asked that the CTA be given a grade, Carter declined.
Many councilmen have asked Carter to better communicate with the council directly — explaining that their offices constantly receive transit-related complaints.
“You, as President, expect to work closely with us so that we can help you with the problems – because our constituents depend on CTA like their lives depend on it,” Ald said. Jeannette Taylor, (20th).
The CTA president said the agency is keen to be more transparent about the challenges they’re facing — with details on ongoing staffing issues, a “bulk layoff” case earlier in the year and ongoing impact from COVID — with an average of 15 to 17 employees who fail every day.
Carter said if he had his way, a mask mandate would return to CTA buses and trains.
Carter also said CTA currently has about 1,000 open positions — 600 to 700 bus operators and 100 to 200 rail operators.
“I’m hiring. I have good paying jobs,” Carter said. “I think the problem is that we’re in a competitive market for people to take jobs like this. Someone who gets a commercial driver’s license is very much in demand with private companies.”
Carter also told City Council members CTA is making efforts to support current employees and hire more — something he says needs to happen to address late trains and buses.
“The reliability of my day-to-day presence also affects the reliability of my service,” Carter said. “If I don’t have a driver to deploy a bus, that bus won’t run. And that leads to gaps and delays in service that our customers experience every day.”
The CTA president said part of the agency’s commitment to transparency is the scorecard they release monthly. According to a press release, according to the latest CTA action plan scorecard, 77.2 percent of rail service was delivered as planned — an increase from 71.8 percent in August. But service is still poor across the board compared to pre-pandemic times.
The scorecard also said the Brown, Green, Orange and Pink lines are all providing more than 90 percent of their scheduled weekday service – a significant improvement over the previous plan. However, the Blue Line service faces issues with labor availability, slow zones on the Forest Park Branch along the Eisenhower Expressway, and an intermittent weekend construction project.
Cases of long waits for trains have also decreased systemwide, the CTA said.
The press release did not address crime and safety, but said, “The scorecard will evolve over time to reflect new initiatives being rolled out in the coming months.” The CTA also noted that its October and November -Scorecards each contained a section labeled “Security” that addressed the issue.