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Transit plans leave ordinary Chicagoans out

July 6, 2007 | Page 6

EVERY ONE of the more than 300 participants who gathered for a public hearing to discuss a proposal from the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) to increase fares seemed to have come with something to say.

I arrived a few minutes late and was informed at the door that at least 90 people had already signed up to speak to the board, and that it would probably take a while to get my turn.

I had hoped to use a moment at the microphone to call the CTA board out for its hypocrisy in proposing to suspend large sections of its already threadbare service (particularly to the poor Black and Latino neighborhoods of the South and West sides), while simultaneously threatening to raise the regular fare from $2 to $3.25.

I wanted to say that no working person who went to their boss and proposed doing half as much work while demanding twice as much pay would expect to keep their job--and that, in fact, many of us will have trouble keeping our jobs if we're repeatedly held up by the already unpredictable and inefficient transit system.

I wanted to propose that the people who ride the busses and trains are the people who make the city run, and that just as we have no alternative for getting around the city, the city also depends on us to do the jobs we do. I would have suggested that rather than let our complaints fall on deaf ears, we should stand up for ourselves by getting organized and active.

Three hours later, I had to leave without taking my few minutes at the podium. But nearly everything I wished to say had been said by dozens of Chicagoans fed up with a city not designed to run in their interests.

The city's few thousand busses and half dozen train lines are simply not enough to serve the millions who commute to and from work, and the whole system lies in varying states of disrepair.

One woman recalled a particularly chilling experience on a bus whose wheelchair lift had broken--an elderly man was forced to hitch his chair to the bike rack on the front of the bus for the duration of the ride because it was winter, and he had already been waiting for some time for a bus with a working lift.

It's no mystery to Chicago transit riders why we're not only given so little in the way of safety, speed or dependability, but asked to bear the brunt of the expense. "What do you drive to work?" one woman asked members of the CTA board. "A Cadillac? How come I've never seen you on the Number 3 bus?"

She went on to suggest that perhaps the tens of millions spent to build an expensive new headquarters could have been better used to balance the CTA budget. That seemed like a good idea to the next speaker, who said "I don't see any of you taking notes. Don't you think you better write this down?"

And as each person got up to speak, the crowd weighed in on their comments, offering "Hell yes!" and "That's right!" in support of every bad bus experience or call to action or demand for repairs for the train tracks so badly worn that in many places trains have to slow from the normal 50 miles per hour to just six miles per hour.

The inspiring mood of both anger and solidarity was interrupted here and there with complaints about rude CTA workers, and even by one suggestion that the real problem faced by the CTA was that of "panhandlers and gang-bangers."

But the unmistakable fury of the Chicagoans who have felt put on hold and isolated in segregated neighborhoods left dangling on the periphery of the city's wealthy downtown couldn't help but evoke a sense of optimism.

The two moments when the crowd broke into a riot of applause and cheers were when someone spoke to the problem of the war, which saps our budget for not only public transit but a whole series of social services that have been on the chopping block in Chicago over the past few years--and when someone directed the attention of the board to the fact that the infamously corrupt and widely hated Mayor Daley is vying to host the Olympics in a city which is falling apart.

As the evening wore on, the CTA officials' explanation that politicians in the state capital of Springfield and the city of Chicago were to blame for not allowing the transit authority adequate funding was just not going to cut it, and the call for a boycott of busses and trains began to grow stronger and more frequent.
Rachel Cohen, Chicago

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