An Open Letter

An Open Letter to the CTA’s leadership, the Chicago Transit Board, the City Council, and Mayor Brandon Johnson

At the Chicago Transit Board’s Jan. 18 meeting, CTA President Dorval Carter berated private citizens for an op-ed they wrote in an attempt to hold him — and other CTA leadership — accountable.

On the public record, President Carter accused us, the op-ed writers, of being unwilling to talk to him and other CTA officials and of having “an agenda that isn’t consistent with wanting to make the system better, but is consistent with trying to attack the agency or individuals in the agency.” He also stated that “engagement is a two-way process,” implying that he wants to engage with us, but we aren’t willing to engage with him.

For a government official to use a public meeting to attack private citizens like this is inappropriate, unprofessional, and unbefitting of his role. What makes it worse is that he’s lying again.

We belong to the grassroots advocacy organization Commuters Take Action. For the last two years, CTAction has been trying to communicate and engage with CTA leadership and the Transit Board. They’ve stonewalled us at every turn.

10 of our members’ many public comments at Transit Board meetings have included explicit invitations for CTA leadership and board members to contact or work with us.

We’ve sent requests to the CTA’s media and communications department.

We’ve invited CTA leadership and board members to our events.

We’ve emailed the Transit Board directly.

Our members have even reached out to board members on LinkedIn.

When we’ve tried to contact CTA via the media department, we have never received a response from Vice President of Communications and Marketing Brian Steele, or anyone else in the department.

We have never received a response from Dorval Carter or anyone on the Transit Board.

The only person in CTA leadership to respond to or meet with us is CTA's Chief Equity and Engagement Officer Denise Barreto.

Every detail we learn about CTA operations has to be obtained with a FOIA request — a process that takes, at its fastest, 30 calendar days (and often requires assistance from the Illinois Attorney General’s office because the CTA routinely delays responding to us).

Engagement is a two-way process? For two years, it’s been going one way. We’ve been engaging with the CTA and the Transit Board every way we know how, and they have absolutely refused to engage with us — or any of the public, for that matter.

It is not our responsibility to force transparency from a tax-funded government agency. We just happen to be the only people doing it.

That brings us to the real issue: Where does the buck actually stop? Who is going to step up and hold Dorval Carter accountable for this years-long, consistent failure to do his job? It’s become clear that it won’t be anyone else in CTA leadership. It won’t be the Transit Board. It won’t be the mayor. It won’t be the City Council. All of these people have the power, but none have the conviction. None are willing to step up.

We are private citizens, yet we’ve been doing this work for two years. We’ve invested countless hours and immeasurable energy into trying to save the CTA from a president who is mismanaging it into failure and brazenly lies about it. We have years of data that proves the CTA is significantly worse off now than it was before Dorval Carter, and that the system is objectively failing compared to other U.S. transit agencies. We’re not attacking the system. We’re trying to save it. Our only agenda is love for the CTA and wanting to turn it around before it’s too late.

We are calling on CTA’s leadership, the Transit Board, the City Council, Mayor Johnson — all the people in the City of Chicago who should be doing the work we’ve been doing for you. Please, finally, do your jobs. Do the jobs that we, and all of Chicago’s other taxpayers, elected you and pay you to do. Hold Dorval Carter accountable. Demand honest, transparent CTA leadership. Help us save the CTA.

An earlier version of this letter stated we've never spoken to anyone in the CTA's media department. While we've worked with a small handful of individuals within the CTA, our letter was meant to demonstrate the systemic ways the agency's leadership works to block communication and transparency.