"Costly and inefficient" | Bleader

Thursday, February 14, 2008

"Costly and inefficient"

Posted By on 02.14.08 at 06:02 PM

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When Mayor Daley says, "Ours is a 1920s system. It's costly and inefficient," you'd be excused for thinking he's talking about local government.

Instead, it's the CTA, which the mayor has suddenly realized is a mess.

This afternoon he announced that the agency will borrow and bond its way to improving service. This will be welcome news to riders who have watched the transit system deteriorate dramatically over the two decades Daley has been in office, and perplexing news to everyone wondering why Daley has been unable to find a management team interested in doing this before now.

For all practical purposes, Daley has had control of the CTA since he was elected mayor in 1989, since he picks its executive and the majority of its board members, including the chairman. He's probably right in saying, as he has repeatedly, that the federal and state governments haven't kicked in enough--but it's also true that management is a huge reason why this operation is in rotten shape.

What do I mean? I was recently headed north on the 147, an express bus that makes no stops from the end of the Mag Mile until getting off Lake Shore Drive at Foster. As usual, the bus was packed with far-north-siders eager to get home from work. But after we pulled up next to the Dominick's at Foster and Sheridan, about halfway to the end of the route at the Howard Red Line station, the bus sat for a minute. And then another, and then another. The driver unfastened his seat belt, stood up, and stepped off.

No one knew what was going on; the people unlucky enough to have to stand were particularly displeased.

After about tenminutes, the driver appeared again. "There's another bus coming, and you may want to get on it, 'cuz I don't know when this one's moving again," he said.

The other, equally packed bus stopped beside ours, and people poured into it, some professing their disgust, others their disbelief. A few heaped curses upon the driver and his progeny.

It wasn't his fault, though.

Turns out his shift had ended--right there, in the middle of the route. And his replacement was apparently late for work.

"I'm trying to go home, just like you guys," he said.

First he had to catch a west-bound bus to his home base, a CTA garage on Kedzie. And since he couldn't leave the bus he'd been driving, he'd just missed the one he needed to get there.

Why would his shift end before his route did? "I have no idea," he said with a shrug. "You'd have to ask the people downtown."

The second 147 bus drove off, so full it looked like it would sink to the ground before getting another block. About five minutes later our replacement driver hopped off an eastbound bus and hurried over to ours, and not long after that the four of us still left on it continued our ride homeward.

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