Wednesday morning I had a dreadful commute into the Loop as a trip that should have taken close to 30 minutes wound up being over an hour. I waited at the Granville Station for nearly 20 minutes and then a Purple Line train stopped to pick up passengers which is unusual as the Purple Line is supposed to run express from Howard Street to Belmont Avenue. The Purple Line train ran local along the Red Line until Belmont where passengers were then told to wait for a Red Line train headed south on the other track. It was another 20 minutes before a train appeared and it was packed.
Just in the past few days the local media has had numerous stories about transit problems in the area. A sample
Oversight of mass transit in the Chicago region is deeply flawed, hobbled by weak leadership, competition instead of cooperation between the transit agencies, wasteful duplication of services and skewed priorities, according to a state audit report.
Nearly 2 miles of slow zones have been eliminated on the CTA Blue Line in the last six months, yet riders complain their travel times are growing longer.
That's because track conditions on the O'Hare and Dearborn Street subway sections of the Blue Line are deteriorating faster than the Chicago Transit Authority can fix them, officials say.
The reason? There's no money.
On the northside of the city there is major track work being done that is causing long delays on the Red, Brown and Purple lines. Riders are of course upset and you can sense the frustration of the blog CTATattler.com which was the inspiration of our Charlie blog. I had a nice meeting with Kevin O'Neil who is the author of the CTA Tattler on Saturday as we solved the transit problems in both cities.
Chicago has major infrastructure problems that Boston doesn't have yet but it is something to keep an eye on. Boston at least never allowed the subway system to deteriorate the way it has in Chicago. The subway stations on the Blue Line which opened in 1951 look like they haven't been cleaned in 30 years. The subway stations on the Red Line which opened 10 years earlier are now being rehabbed and the completed stations look good. However the Red Line 'L on the northside is crumbling and needs to be addressed ASAP before a disaster happens. The northside elevated does not run over streets but as a separate concrete viaduct and it is obvious that much repair work needs to be done.
Chicago went to "automatic fare collection" about 10 years ago and has also in the past few years started a "smartcard" system similar to CharlieCard called Chicago Card. It does offer discounted fares like Charlie ($1.75 for rail instead of $2) and it costs $5 to purchase ( similar to Washington ) and offers a reloading bonus similar to New York where if you put $20 on the card you get credit for $22 in fares. However my biggest gripe with the Chicago FVM's is they do not accept credit or debit cards for payment as is done in Boston, New York, Washington and other major cities. Chicago installed their equipment from Cubic at the same time New York was upgrading their system for MetroCard so it appears the CTA didn't want to pay the fees associated with bank cards. The faregates themselves are the same as those used in New York City.
The Chicago "rail cars" are the same size (about 48 feet long) as those you will find on the Blue Line in Boston or PATH between New Jersey and Manhattan. An eight car train in Chicago is equal to a six car train on the Red or Orange Lines where cars are about 20 feet longer. The cars are much older than Boston but new vehicles have been ordered and they will feature "New York" style bench seating ( which we have on our subway lines ) which has some riders in Chicago upset. Overall I have found the service to be "ok" with the exception of Saturday night after waiting 40 minutes for a train at the Morse station I went looking for a cab. Chicago was having a minor snow-ice storm at the time and it was causing problems on the Red Line. The CTA kept announcing delays for "defective equipment and weather problems" but never said when a train might arrive. I have also experienced slow moving trains but this is a problem the CTA admits will continue into 2009 as major track work must be done.
Concerning the buses in Chicago the CTA needs new buses fast. They haven't upgraded the fleet in quite a few years and many routes still have the workhorse RTS buses now being retired in Boston. However I have found the bus service more than adequate and it generally runs on schedule. The CTA does have inspectors stationed along major routes to make changes as needed.
I also have found the drivers to be MUCH FRIENDLIER overall from Boston. Check out this clip I made Sunday on the #36 Broadway bus. Notice how the driver says "Good Evening" to everyone that boards.
One thing Chicago is light years ahead of Boston are with the computer announcements on buses and trains. The CTA decided to use an actor known for "voice over work" instead of a computer voice the T currently uses on buses and the Green Line. In Chicago he is known as "Happy CTA Guy" and he gave an interview to the Chicago Tribune a few years back.
It just sounds so much better than the T's computer voice that on some trains and buses still can not pronounce Lechmere correctly. The CTA has also started real time bus tracking on select routes which is something the T has failed miserably on.
Chicago is a world class city that needs a world class public transportation system. Hopefully they can solve their problems. Sadly they have a mayor who is more interested in the 2016 Olympics than people getting to and from work.