Statements and Responses
CTA 'L' Schedule Changes 3/26/2023
Effective March 26th, 2023, the CTA is updating all of the rail L schedules, with the most drastic changes on the blue line. This is the 2nd large change to rail schedules in the past 6 months, and a 3rd one for the blue line. At Commuters Take Action, we hope that the CTA can consistently deliver close to 100% of this schedule on all L routes. If this cannot be achieved, these changes are practically pointless. Up until now, we've been seeing many routes’ daily percentages in the 70's.
Despite CTA president Carter making promises that L service is improving in his latest board meeting report, these schedules paint a different picture. The new schedules now represent an 18% reduction of service compared to early 2020 (scheduled service was 17% in February 2023 and 12% in January 2023 versions of the schedules). Not mentioned in the press release, red, purple and yellow lines all saw about a further 10% service cut compared to last month.
On the blue line, the scheduled service was increased on the O'Hare branch, but further cut on the Forest Park branch, resulting in 38% cut compared to early 2020. As customary, the CTA isn’t eager to share the news about cutting service in their press release. The CTA notes an addition of two extra AM rush hour trains, but looking at the crucial 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM hour at the California station for Loop bound trains, there's still only 10 of them scheduled. This same one hour block used to have 21 trains pre-pandemic. To see our complete analysis of these schedule changes, visit https://www.ctaction.org/service-cuts
Much about the publishing of these new schedules feels amateurish. The CTA unveiled these less than two days before their effective date. As of evening of 3/24/2023, there were no posted notices at L stations about these changes. Riders deserve better communication so that they can adjust their trip planning accordingly. Additionally, some of the new timetables denote train times as "every 20 minutes". With such miserable intervals for rapid transit, riders deserve to be informed of specific arrival times rather than a general 20 minute window. No other agency provides such ambiguous schedules as the CTA.
Illinois State Senate Transportation Committee Special Hearing 3/14/2023
My name is Morgan Madderom and I am an organizer with Commuters Take Action. We are a collective of frustrated Chicago transit riders calling for reliable service and transparency. Since the onset of the pandemic, the Chicago Transit Authority’s service has deteriorated significantly and thousands of commuters are victims to ghost buses and late rides every day. For a long time, the agency was quiet and pushed their message retaining full service, while the reality was far from that. Only after mounting public pressure from the press and organizations like ours did the CTA admit something was wrong with their “Meeting the Moment Plan”.
This plan promised honest communication with riders, accurate schedules and transparent communication with riders. Since then, the CTA has done little to eliminate ghost buses and trains, and pursued their strategy of “optimizing” schedules. Updated L and bus schedules are closer to reality, but the CTA has never acknowledged what everyone knows - that service has been cut. Overall, buses are scheduled with 10% less service than pre-pandemic. On the L, it’s 17%. Some of the worst hit lines are the Madison bus with 23% of service eliminated. 79th street bus is down by 17% and LaSalle bus by a staggering 38%. Last month, CTA decided to further cut the blue line service, and didn’t even bother to announce this change to riders. This crucial line to the airport is now down 39% compared to pre-pandemic.
Even after reducing scheduled trains the CTA is not even able to meet the demand of these schedules, with 3 out of every 10 red line trains getting canceled. We are sympathetic to CTA’s struggles to find bus and train operators, but the agency needs to inform their riders better about how much their essential transportation has been affected. Despite these drastic cuts, President Carter gives monthly updates praising the CTA’s improvements - but riders don’t see any improvements.
In May, Commuters Take Action will have been organizing around poor CTA service for a year. We ask that the CTA provide fair work conditions to improve retention and hiring, publish accurate schedules and a working tracker, and provide transparency every step of the way.
CTA March 2023 Scorecard
https://www.transitchicago.com/-cta-continues-to-improve-schedules-for-more-reliable-service-in-february/ and https://www.transitchicago.com/assets/1/6/Meeting_the_Moment_March_2023.pdf
Commuters Take Action Response:
Commuters Take Action (CTAction) is once again disappointed in CTA's lack of contextualization in their "Meeting the Moment" updates. In these monthly press releases, CTA praises itself for the continued improvements it's been making. While the need for more accurate schedules has been a core ask of CTAction since its inception, the CTA also needs up to be upfront about how it's achieving better service reliability percentages - by cutting scheduled service. CTA highlights that in February, rail service went up from 80.6% to 82.6%. However, they fail to mention that as of February 1st, they quietly cut down the blue line schedule, which is now down 39% compared to pre-pandemic. We welcome more realistic schedules, but changes need to be communicated to riders. The service on all other lines (except for the pink) actually went down by a few percent in February, as can be seen CTA's own interactive scorecard. In total number of train trips run each day, there's been no upward trend between June 2022 and today; the 'L' continues to hover around 1100 trips on average (this can be seen at cta.brandonmcfadden.com). Nowhere in their press releases does CTA tell riders how much they've cut each bus or rail route, instead they insist on using the ambiguous term "optimizations". If CTA was committed to honest dialogue with riders, they wouldn't hide the fact that buses have been cut by 10% and 'L' by 17%. Instead, CTAction had to do their own analysis, which can be seen at ctaction.org/service-cuts. CTAction submitted a public comment at this month's Chicago Transit Board meeting, but unfortunately president Carter was quick to dismiss our observations and pressed on with his narrative where CTA is doing a stellar job of improving service. At this point, we'd consider it a miracle to hear the words "we cut service" from anyone at the CTA leadership.
CTA February 2023 Scorecard
https://www.transitchicago.com/meetingthemoment/scorecard/ and https://www.transitchicago.com/assets/1/6/Meeting_the_Moment_February_2023.pdf
Commuters Take Action Response:
Commuters Take Action welcomes the new additions to CTA's February "Meeting the Moment" scorecard. The increased detail of data in regards to service delivered on both bus and rail lines is a welcome step towards more transparency. Riders can now see the history of service on a route-by-route basis.
The bus service improvement from 83% to 93% is commendable, however it should be noted that this is as a result of new reduced schedules, not because more buses were dispatched. CTA's new bus scheduled overall cut service by 10%, with many busy routes seeing cuts of about 20% (see ctaction.org/service-cuts).
To CTAction, the most alarming change is the 2/1/2023 adjustment of blue line schedules. This was mentioned by president Carter during the February 8th CTA Board meeting but not publicized otherwise. This change results in blue line service being cut by 39% compared to pre-pandemic. Rush hour service is cut by more than 50% and weekend wait times have increased from 6 minutes to 15 minutes. The blue line now has the worst weekend interval (along with the yellow line), despite being the 2nd busiest and serving O'Hare International airport. Despite these major cuts, CTA still fails to follow this new schedule - for example, Monday February 6th only saw 84% of trains. We continue to receive daily reports of overcrowding on the blue line from our riders. We welcome a more realistic schedule, but we are disappointed by CTA's absolute lack of efforts to communicate this change. Lastly, we'd like to see a plan to return the blue line to full service by the CTA.
In regards to hiring updates, we wish the CTA best of luck with its ambitious 700 bus operator hiring goal for 2023. What's still missing from the scorecard is a glimpse into net operator gains/losses (i.e. attrition). Additionally, rail operator hiring updates are still missing from the presented statistics.
CTA New Year's Eve Service
Commuters Take Action Response:
For 2022 New Year's Eve celebrations, CTA advertised increased service on red, blue and yellow lines. But just as a seasoned Chicago transit rider would expect, the actual delivered service was far worse than advertised. Shown above is blue line arrival data for the California station between midnight (12:00am) and 5:59am on 1/1/2023. The "Scheduled" column reflect the number of regularly scheduled trains on a Sunday early morning and doesn't even account for the advertised extra service. "Actual Arrivals" column show how many trains really showed up at the station for each 1-hour block. At least 42 trains should've showed up in total for both directions, but only 19 did in reality - with some gaps of over an hour between trains.
While we are somewhat sympathetic to the CTA's worker shortage; we are deeply disappointed at the continued inaccurate communications issued by CTA staff. The announcement that should have been issued that scheduled service will be significantly reduced. The CTA is continuing to post such misinformation on a regular basis, and at this point we must call it what it is - negligence and absolute disregard to CTA riders.
We have reached out to the CTA media department for a response, but were ghosted. However, Brian Steele gave a typical non-answer on the topic in a Chicago Streetsblog article.
December 2022 Meeting the Moment Scorecard
Commuters Take Action Response:
Commuters Take Action continues to monitor CTA's monthly "Meeting the Moment" scorecard updates. At the December 2022 Chicago Transit Board meeting, CTA president Carter once again gave an overly optimistic look at the state of CTA service. However, upon further look at the scorecard, there are two main aspects that continue to raise concerns:
Hiring updates - CTA gives us a metric of 450 target hires for bus operators in 2022. And they seem to be fairly well on track at 420 operators hired. However, this metric should be posted as an overall net gain/loss of operators to account for those who have left the CTA. As far as we know, even a net addition 450 bus operators would only fill about half of the gap towards target full employment. Additionally, there is no mention about the state of rail operator positions. These positions require a more complicated career progression, so we are skeptical that CTA has been able to make much progress. The first step towards a rail operator position is usually a part-time customer service assistant (i.e. station attendant) job at near minimum wage. If the CTA wants to attract more rail operators, the entry level job needs to be a better proposition. While we applaud CTA's recent hiring incentives (source), unfortunately customer service assistant position is not included in those.
Rail service - On 10/23/2022, new rail schedules went into effect, boasting that "New Rail Schedules Adjust Scheduled Service to Better Align with Available Workforce" (source). Unfortunately, the improvements are very marginal and riders continue to be haunted by ghost trains. You can read our analysis of the blue line on Streetsblog Chicago. In the scorecard, CTA claims an improvement of fulfilled rail service from 77.2% in October to 79.5% in November. First, this increase is already essentially a statistical error. But most importantly, November's metric is based on the new schedules, which actually reduced service about 12% overall. The overall number of trains dispatched in November is very consistent with previous months (one can see that on page 4 of Brandon McFadden's tracker: http://cta.brandonmcfadden.com/), i.e. there is no measurable increase in service so far this year. Looking at the previous scorecard, we see that between 10/23/22 and 11/07/22, weekday service was running at 81.5%. Comparing to the latest scorecard, we see that between 10/23/22 and 12/10/22, this weekday percentage is now at 79.5% - this shows us that after a small initial improvement with the new schedules, the trend has shifted downward in recent weeks. Weekend and owl service continues to be dismal - with some lines routinely operating about 50% of schedule. In short, CTA has failed to both increase service closer towards pre-pandemic levels, and to update schedules to be at least somewhat accurate.
While we welcome the scorecards as a step towards transparency from the CTA leadership, but we continue to be disappointed by the agency's careful crafting of statistics to hide the real problems and obfuscate the truth. Furthermore, we are frustrated by the Chicago Transit Board's continued, almost unequivocal praise of president Carter's leadership instead of asking pressing questions on the matter.
Chicago Avenue Bus Lanes
Commuters Take Action Response:
Commuters Take Action is excited to hear about the new dedicated bus lanes on Chicago Ave. The implementation of transit infrastructure to speed up service on one of Chicago's busiest bus routes is long overdue. While we are grateful for every improvement, we must note the slow progress on bus service improvements in our great city. Chicago is still (quite literally) miles behind other cities when it comes to implementing new bus lanes. On a busy route such as the #66, there is no reason that the entire route does not have a dedicated, speedy lane. Any Chicagoan who's experienced the delight of traveling on a bus in a dedicated lane knows how quickly these benefits can diminish when an unauthorized vehicle is blocking the way. We need legislature to call for automated bus lane enforcement, such as New York City has championed. We welcome 1st ward Aldersperson LaSpata's efforts to bring such legislation to Illinois. Let's not stop there, Chicago's busiest bus routes could be improved by being converted to light rail or bus rapid transit; the demand and ridership is certainly there. However, we can't forget that any infrastructure improvements are in vain without improved service reliability. Currently, around a quarter of #66 buses are ghosting riders. A few weeks ago one rider shared this typical experience with us: "66 bus west at Chicago and Orleans. Waited over 20 minutes. The bus was too packed to get on when it finally came and the next one wasn’t scheduled for 19 more minutes." We are wishing CTA buses many fast and unobstructed miles in these lanes, and hoping for more systematic improvements in the future.