WBEZ | Transportation http://www.wbez.org/news/transportation Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Uber's troubles mount even as its value grows http://www.wbez.org/news/ubers-troubles-mount-even-its-value-grows-111221 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/reuters.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Uber, the ride-sharing service that is <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/12/04/368550291/uber-is-richer-than-ever-but-the-company-still-isnt-playing-nice" target="_blank">growing in value</a>, is also watching its troubles mount.</p><p>It&#39;s latest woes are in California where, as NPR&#39;s Laura Sydell tells our Newscast unit, the attorneys general of San Francisco and Los Angeles counties are suing Uber. Here&#39;s more from Sydell&#39;s report:</p><blockquote><p>&quot;Prosecutors say that Uber misrepresents and exaggerates how extensively it does background checks on drivers. Uber searches publicly available data bases on individuals but prosecutors say it needs to take finger prints to check for criminal histories like traditional taxi companies.&quot;</p></blockquote><p>Complaints against the company fall into two broad categories: One is the accusation that it doesn&#39;t screen its drivers properly; the other is the fact that it lacks permits to operate or is unregulated, and hence the charge that Uber has an unfair advantage over traditional taxis.</p><p><strong>Driver screening: </strong>The service was banned this week in the Indian capital, New Delhi, where an Uber driver is <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/goatsandsoda/2014/12/10/369589675/alleged-rape-of-passenger-raises-concerns-about-how-uber-runs-abroad" target="_blank">accused of raping</a> a female passenger. Similarly, in Chicago, police said <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-chicago-investigating-uber-driver-20141209-story.html" target="_blank">today</a> they are investigating allegations that an Uber driver sexually assaulted a passenger.</p><p><strong>Permits: </strong><a href="http://www.oregonlive.com/commuting/index.ssf/2014/12/uber_to_portland_we_will_conti.html" target="_blank">Authorities in Portland, Ore.</a>, shutdown the service Dec. 10, saying its drivers don&#39;t have permits to operate in the city. A day earlier, a <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/business-30395093" target="_blank">judge in Spain</a> ordered Uber to stop its service in the country after protests by taxi drivers. Also this month, <a href="http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&amp;sl=nl&amp;u=http://www.telegraaf.nl/binnenland/23423484/__Uber__beroep_over_uitspraak_app__.html&amp;prev=search" target="_blank">a Dutch court said</a> the company&#39;s low-cost UberPop service could not operate in the Netherlands, and <a href="http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/transport/448541/uber-privately-owned-vehicles-banned-in-thailand" target="_blank">Thailand</a> ordered the company to stop operations, too. In <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-12-08/rio-police-probing-illegal-uber-amid-car-seizure-threat.html" target="_blank">Rio de Janeiro</a>, Uber drivers were told to get off the road or risk having their cars seized. Uber says it will appeal those decisions, and continue to operate in some places where it has been <a href="http://www.oregonlive.com/commuting/index.ssf/2014/12/uber_to_portland_we_will_conti.html" target="_blank">ordered to stop</a>.</p><p>The developments comes amid a financial windfall for the San Francisco-based company. Uber <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/12/04/368550291/uber-is-richer-than-ever-but-the-company-still-isnt-playing-nice" target="_blank">announced last week</a> that it raised $1.2 billion in its latest round of financing. It&#39;s now valued at more than $40 billion. That valuation came, as NPR&#39;s Sam Sanders reported, amid bad press for the company. Sanders noted:</p><blockquote><p>&quot;Uber drivers have been <a href="http://www.buzzfeed.com/johanabhuiyan/behind-the-scenes-of-ubers-biggest-driver-protest" target="_blank">striking for higher fares</a>. The company has come under fire for how it uses ride data, with some even accusing Uber of keeping track of <a href="https://gigaom.com/2012/03/26/uber-one-night-stands/" target="_blank">riders&#39; one-night stands</a>. Recently, an Uber executive alluded to the possibility of <a href="http://www.npr.org/2014/11/18/365015988/uber-executive-lashes-out-at-journalists-after-negative-publicity" target="_blank">spying on journalists</a>.</p><p>&quot;Uber has also been accused of going to extreme lengths to bring down competitors. The company has hired <a href="http://www.theverge.com/2014/8/26/6067663/this-is-ubers-playbook-for-sabotaging-lyft" target="_blank">stealth riders</a>, giving them burner phones to cancel fares, and giving them cash payments to lure drivers from other services like Lyft.&quot;</p></blockquote><p>&mdash; <em><a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/12/10/369922099/ubers-troubles-mount-even-as-its-value-grows" target="_blank">via NPR</a></em></p></p> Thu, 11 Dec 2014 10:56:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/ubers-troubles-mount-even-its-value-grows-111221 Are Chicago's shorter yellow lights unsafe, or just unfair? http://www.wbez.org/news/are-chicagos-shorter-yellow-lights-unsafe-or-just-unfair-110955 <p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s red light cameras are under increased scrutiny, after a <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/redlight/"><em>Chicago Tribune</em> investigation</a> found glitchy cameras may have issued thousands of tickets in error. The report also found many yellow lights are slightly short of the city standard of three seconds.</p><p>WBEZ has been looking into yellow lights too &mdash; and we&rsquo;ve found something else. Many traffic experts say Chicago flouts industry best practices with how it programs its traffic control devices &mdash; and one engineer says it may be &ldquo;entrapping&rdquo; drivers into running red lights.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Should I run? Should I stop?</span></p><p>Our inquiry started with Pavel Gigov, a North Side resident who, incidentally, is not a transportation engineer. Gigov drives a car, and like many of us, he&rsquo;s gotten a red light camera ticket or two. He got one in April at an intersection he normally drove through on his way home from work, and thought something was strange.</p><p>&ldquo;The light turned yellow and my immediate reaction was, OK, let me figure out what to do,&rdquo; Gigov recounted. &ldquo;And before I could actually even put my mind around what the decent thing to do is &mdash; should I run? should I stop? &mdash; it was already red and I was in the middle of the intersection.&rdquo;</p><p>The intersection was at W Peterson Ave. and N California Ave., in Chicago&rsquo;s West Ridge neighborhood. The streets are pretty wide: each has six or seven lanes across, and like many Chicago roads, the speed limit is 30 miles an hour.</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="450" src="https://www.google.com/maps/embed?pb=!1m16!1m12!1m3!1d209.6174687124326!2d-87.69939310755217!3d41.99043739075356!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!2m1!1scalifornia+ave+peterson+ave!5e1!3m2!1sen!2sus!4v1409930061367" style="border:0" width="600"></iframe></p><p><em>Gigov received his red light camera ticket at the intersection of W Peterson Ave. and N California Ave. Like many Chicago intersections, the streets have a speed limit of 30mph.</em></p><p>Gigov said the moment he crossed into the intersection, he saw the flash of the red light camera going off.</p><p>&ldquo;And I knew that there was something that was going to be in the mail pretty soon,&rdquo; he laughed.</p><p>Sure, enough, Gigov got a $100 ticket in the mail. He paid it, but still, he wondered: wasn&rsquo;t that yellow light kind of short?</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Is it safe? Is it fair?</span></p><p><a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/supp_info/red-light_cameraenforcement.html">Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Transportation says</a> the city&rsquo;s yellow light intervals &ldquo;fall within the guidelines of the Federal Highway Administration&rsquo;s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, and adheres to recommendations by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.&rdquo; That&rsquo;s half-true.</p><p>First, the true part: <a href="http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/htm/2009r1r2/html_index.htm">the MUTCD does, indeed, recommend</a> that yellow lights fall between 3 and 6 seconds. At the intersection where Gigov got his ticket, a frame-by-frame video analysis of the traffic signal showed that the yellow light lasts exactly three seconds &mdash; the minimum recommended under the MUTCD guidelines.</p><p>But three seconds falls short of what the yellow light interval should be, if the city were to follow ITE recommendations as it claims. Gigov said he worries that in flouting best engineering practices, Chicago may put drivers at risk. Particularly at red light camera intersections, where each traffic violation could bring dollars into the city&rsquo;s coffers.</p><p>&ldquo;Are we trading in accidents for revenue?&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Unfortunately in the City of Chicago, that&rsquo;s a legitimate question.&rdquo;</p><p>The city claims it implements a blanket policy on yellow light intervals, regardless of whether there&rsquo;s a red light camera: three seconds when the speed limit is 30mph or lower, and four seconds when it&rsquo;s 35mph or higher. &ldquo;Chicago&rsquo;s yellow times are more than adequate for a driver traveling the speed limit to react and stop safely,&rdquo; it states on the <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/supp_info/red-light_cameraenforcement.html">CDOT website</a>. The policy bucks a growing trend among transportation agencies nationwide.</p><p>&ldquo;The idea of a constant time is not typical,&rdquo; said James Taylor, a retired traffic engineer in Indiana.</p><p>While there&rsquo;s no federal mandate that requires transportation agencies to follow a method in determining yellow light intervals, Taylor said more places are adopting a <a href="http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_731.pdf">mathematical equation</a> that has been developed by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.</p><p>&ldquo;It keeps getting more and more widely accepted,&rdquo; said Taylor, &ldquo;as opposed to the system you&rsquo;re talking about where we just say let&rsquo;s just make all of them three (seconds), or three-and-a-half, or something like that.&rdquo;</p><p>A 2012 <a href="http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_731.pdf">survey</a> of more than 200 transportation agencies in the U.S., Canada and Germany, found only 6 percent timed their yellow light intervals the way Chicago does. By contrast, the largest chunk &mdash; almost 40 percent &mdash; used the ITE equation.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Using the ITE formula</span></p><p>The ITE formula for the length of yellow lights factors in the specific conditions of an individual intersection, such as speed limit and the grade of the road. It also uses numerical assumptions based on extensive field studies.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="Y=t+(1.47V/2a+64.4g)" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/yellow-light-fomula-1.png" style="height: 64px; width: 200px;" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">Where:</div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>Y = total clearance period (in seconds)</em></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>t = perception-reaction time (usually 1 second)</em></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>V = 85th percentile approach speed (mph)</em></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>a = deceleration rate (ft/sec&sup2;)</em></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>g = percent of grade divided by 100</em></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">The equation assumes a perception-reaction time, <em>t</em>, of one second for the average driver, based on field measurements. In other words, it takes about that long for a typical driver to see that the light has changed to yellow, and to decide what to do.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">The fraction shown in the equation calculates how long it should take to decelerate to a stop, based on a typical driver&rsquo;s approach speed (<em>V</em>), a comfortable deceleration rate (<em>a</em>), and the grade of the intersection. Traffic engineers recommend using the 85th percentile of approaching traffic to determine a typical approach speed. If that hasn&rsquo;t, or cannot, be measured, a commonly accepted approximation is to add 7mph to the speed limit. &nbsp;Field studies have also found that a comfortable deceleration rate, <em>a</em>, for drivers is 10 ft/sec&sup2;. In Chicago, the grade of the street, <em>g</em>, is negligible, so we assume it to be zero.</div><p>Plug the numbers in for the intersection where Gigov received his yellow ticket, and it yields a yellow light interval, <em>Y</em>, of 3.7 seconds &mdash; that is, 0.7 seconds longer than it actually lasts. Studies show that could significantly change outcomes at an intersection.</p><p>&ldquo;Increasing the yellow by one second would decrease violations by 50-60 percent, and reduce crashes by 35-40 percent,&rdquo; said Davey Warren, a transportation engineer who spent most of his career with the Federal Highway Administration.</p><p>That agency has been pushing transportation departments nationwide to adopt the kinematic equation. In fact, in 2012 it made a change to the MUTCD that would require agencies to switch to engineering practices to determine yellow light intervals by mid-June of 2017.</p><p>Many traffic engineers were surprised to hear that Chicago does not already use widely-accepted engineering practices to calculate its yellow light intervals.</p><p>&ldquo;There is a general rule with engineers, you should be following the best accepted practice unless they can document valid reasons for not doing so,&rdquo; said Warren.</p><p>WBEZ requested multiple times to interview someone at Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Transportation. The department didn&rsquo;t respond. The department also failed to respond to a request under the Freedom of Information Act for its programming instructions for traffic control devices.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">After the yellow, comes the all-red</span></p><p>But before you worry that the city&rsquo;s putting drivers at risk by skimping on yellow light times, there&rsquo;s a twist. In addition to recommending a mathematically-derived yellow light interval, transportation engineers also recommend something called an <em>all-red interval</em>. That&rsquo;s a brief moment after the yellow light, where the lights are red in <em>all directions</em>. It gives a chance for cars still caught in the intersection to finish crossing before the opposing traffic gets a green.</p><p>The ITE recommendation for the all-red interval has changed over time. However,a 2012 <a href="http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_731.pdf">study</a> by the National Cooperative Highway Research Board proposed the following guideline for the calculation:&nbsp;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="R=(W+L/1.47V)-1" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/yellow-light-fomula-2.png" style="height: 59px; width: 200px;" title="" /></div><p>Where:</p><p><em>R = all-red clearance interval (seconds)</em><br /><em>W = intersection width (ft)</em><br /><em>L = length of vehicle (ft)</em><br /><em>V = 85th percentile approach speed (mph)</em></p><p>It&rsquo;s worth noting that there&rsquo;s some debate over subtracting the number 1 on the right side of this equation. The &nbsp;ITE contemplates both possibilities. The NCHRP study found in field studies that it typically takes one second for drivers to perceive and react to a change to green after the all-red interval. So in its conclusions, it recommends subtracting that reaction time, to keep traffic flow more efficient.</p><p>Across transportation engineering literature, the standard length of a vehicle, <em>L</em>, is 20 feet, and again, the approach speed is approximated by adding 7mph to the speed limit.</p><p>At Gigov&rsquo;s intersection, where the streets were approximately 60 feet wide, the formula above yields an all-red clearance interval of 0.47 seconds. That means a vehicle that was caught in the intersection when the light turned red, would still have about half-a-second to finish its transition before opposing traffic gets a green light.</p><p>It turns out, the actual all-red clearance interval at the intersection of W Peterson Ave and N California Ave alternates between one and two seconds. Both of these are much longer than the formula recommends.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/yellow-lights-2.png" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>At a typical intersection in Chicago, where speed limits are 30mph, the city sets yellow lights at three seconds, followed by an all-red clearance interval of at least one second. By comparison, best engineering practices recommends a yellow light of 3.7 seconds, followed by an all-red clearance interval of .47 seconds. Experts say that while the total clearance times are close (4 seconds and 4.17 seconds, respectively), the misallocation of time between the yellow and all-red intervals may entrap drivers into more violations.</em></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>Data on actual yellow lights from CDOT&rsquo;s website and field measurements at intersection of W Peterson Ave. and N California Ave. Recommended calculations based on the<a href="http://www.ite.org/bookstore/IR-113.pdf"> kinematic equation</a> developed by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.</em></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><span style="font-size: 22px;">&lsquo;Entrapping drivers into running red lights&rsquo;</span></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Together, the yellow light and the all-red interval add up to what&rsquo;s called a &ldquo;change period.&rdquo; That &ldquo;change period&rdquo; at the intersection where Gigov got his ticket equals the three-second yellow light, plus one or two seconds for the all-red interval -- a total of four or five seconds. Engineering practices would yield a nearly similar result: a 3.7 second yellow light, followed by 0.47 second all-red interval, totaling 4.17 seconds.</div><p>The difference is, Chicago shortens the yellow portion of the change interval, and lengthens the all-red portion.</p><p>&ldquo;So from a safety standpoint, it&rsquo;s probably OK, but the thing is they&rsquo;re misallocating the times,&rdquo; said Warren, &ldquo;and so they&rsquo;re basically entrapping drivers into running red lights.&rdquo;</p><p>In other words, Chicago&rsquo;s yellow light intervals may not be unsafe, but they may be unfair.</p><p>Gigov said if the city wants to win back public trust when it comes to its use of red light cameras, it should use to the most up-to-date engineering guidelines when it programs its traffic control devices.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re the city of Chicago, and your fiduciary duty is to serve residents of the city, and not to increase the revenue in such a borderline shady way,&rdquo; said Gigov.</p><p>Last year, anger over red light camera tickets in Florida prompted a reexamination of yellow lights. It turned out, yellow lights in that state were also timed contrary to engineering formulas. So Florida&rsquo;s Department of Transportation mandated the lights be lengthened.</p><p>Gigov said he hopes Chicago will do the same.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her </em><a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef"><em>@oyousef</em></a><em> and </em><a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud"><em>@WBEZoutloud</em></a><em>.</em></p></p> Fri, 17 Oct 2014 08:11:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/are-chicagos-shorter-yellow-lights-unsafe-or-just-unfair-110955 Why buses arrive in bunches http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/why-buses-arrive-bunches-110941 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/172338843&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>It&rsquo;s a situation that plays out every day in Chicago. Riders show up at a bus stop, and the bus doesn&#39;t show up on time. Then all at once, two appear together.</p><p>The phenomenon is called bus bunching. Corrin Pitluck noticed it often while riding and driving around Chicago, so she put this question to Curious City:</p><p><em>I&rsquo;m interested to know about the urban physics involved in bus bunching, how it happens. I&rsquo;d also like to get drivers&rsquo; perspectives on how they feel about it and how they deal with it and what tools they have to unbunch their buses.</em></p><p>Most CTA bus riders have been frustrated by bunching at least once, but it&rsquo;s not just a problem for them. Bunching is a symptom of a bus system that&rsquo;s not running efficiently, and that creates more street traffic for everyone: bus riders, car drivers and bikers, too.</p><p>And don&rsquo;t be fooled that bunching is simple to combat. Not only is the problem practically inevitable, short-term fixes can sometimes make bus riders feel worse.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">A typical scenario</span></p><p>We watched bus bunching play out on a recent weekday morning at the 66 Chicago bus stop at Chicago and Milwaukee avenues.</p><p>Passengers getting off the Blue Line at Chicago waited for buses downtown, while bus riders worked to get off and board the &ldquo;L.&rdquo; Both groups converged at the bus stop, leaving bus drivers to wait while each got where they were headed.</p><p>Meanwhile, three 66 Chicago buses all rolled east down Chicago toward the stop together.</p><p>&ldquo;Oh, don&rsquo;t get me started,&rdquo; Matt Zachar said while waiting for a bus to arrive. &ldquo;It is inconceivable. I don&rsquo;t understand why one can&rsquo;t just wait and be on schedule like he&rsquo;s supposed to.&rdquo;</p><p>Many riders feel just like Zachar, unable to figure out how two, three or more buses can even be in the same place at once. Bus bunching is ninth on the Chicago Transit Authority complaint list, the subject of around 2 percent of all calls. It seems like there should be something the Chicago Transit Authority can do to keep the buses on schedule.</p><p>That&rsquo;s not always the case, though, according to University of Chicago Professor Donald Eisenstein.</p><p>Eisenstein studies self-organizing systems, like workers in a production line. As a system, buses by design are set up to bunch.</p><p>&ldquo;A bus system by nature has bad dynamics,&rdquo; Eisenstein said. &ldquo;Left on its own, buses will bunch.&rdquo;</p><p>Big gaps between buses, he said, will get bigger, while small gaps will shrink. This reality makes it almost impossible to eliminate bunching on a route unless there&rsquo;s a lot of time between buses.</p><p>&ldquo;Zero isn&rsquo;t a possibility,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;The natural dynamics fight against you. I don&rsquo;t think you&rsquo;ll ever get zero bus bunching, so your goal is to reduce it as much as possible.&rdquo;</p><p><a name="slideshow"></a><iframe frameborder="0" height="450" scrolling="no" src="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/bus-bunching" width="620"></iframe></p><p><em><a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/bus-bunching/">Click here for a full screen and shareable version</a>&nbsp;</em></p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">&#39;At the mercy of the street&#39;</span></p><p>Mike Connelly, the CTA&rsquo;s vice president of planning, said bus bunching isn&rsquo;t a major issue for the agency. According to CTA performance metrics, only around 3 percent of bus trips experience bunching, which the agency defines as a gap of less than 60 seconds between buses at a stop.</p><p>Of course that percentage is greater during morning and evening commutes, as well as along the busiest routes. Still, for Connelly, bus bunching is a smaller part of making sure the buses are on time and consistent.</p><p>&ldquo;Though everyone may be affected at some point, we feel that it&rsquo;s something we work at and that we have a very high standard for [being] unbunched,&rdquo; Connelly said.<a name="routes"></a></p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="320" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" src="http://cf.datawrapper.de/Z5XAO/2/" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="620"></iframe></p><p>The main way the CTA tries to combat bunching is scheduling. Each bus is equipped with a GPS tracker, and four times a year the CTA analyses the data to see if there&rsquo;s a more efficient way to run the buses.</p><p>Next, buses are monitored and controlled at key spots on the route, called terminal points. A street supervisor can speed up or hold a bus back to make sure it leaves that point on time and with enough space between it and the bus in front.</p><p>From there, &ldquo;we&rsquo;re at the mercy of the street,&rdquo; Connelly said. There are a few go-to methods, but each comes with a cost: financial costs to the CTA or potential to frustrate bus riders.</p><blockquote><p><a href="#slideshow"><strong>Check out our visual explanation of bus bunching to learn more about how CTA tries to stop bunches</strong></a></p></blockquote><p><span style="font-size:22px;">A driver&rsquo;s view</span></p><p>The CTA&rsquo;s job is complicated by us, the riders, who need to go to a specific point and in a predictable way, so buses can&rsquo;t always go the fastest or easiest way possible.</p><p>&ldquo;For us, the bottom line is that we carry people, so the people have to be our bottom-line,&rdquo; Connelly said. &ldquo;If we were UPS, where you load the boxes and we go, we could make a choice not to deliver down this street at 9 a.m., because there is something going on this street and we could come back at 2 in the afternoon. That&rsquo;s not our choice. Our choice is that there are people waiting at the stop and we&rsquo;re going to go pick them up.&rdquo;</p><p>While bunching can be an annoyance for riders, it&rsquo;s even more stressful for the drivers themselves.</p><p>Michael Toomey is an 11-year CTA veteran and current bus operator on the 77 Belmont route. He said the main thing he wished customers understood was how the smallest disturbances on the street can lead to big delays on his route.</p><p>&ldquo;[It&rsquo;s] minor factors most people wouldn&rsquo;t notice, like a double parked car that I get stuck behind and the bus behind me comes straight through,&rdquo; Toomey said. &ldquo;So if I become two minutes late on a route that runs every four minutes, that&rsquo;s the same as being 15 minutes late on a route that runs every 30 minutes. I get more stress knowing I&rsquo;m two minutes behind schedule and the next bus is scheduled four minutes back, which means I&rsquo;ve got twice as many people to pick up.&rdquo;</p><p>Drivers can do a few things on their own to stop bus bunching, such as leapfrogging the driver in front of them or skipping unneeded stops. On larger problems they coordinate moves with the control center and street supervisors.</p><p>&ldquo;If I see my coworker in front of me, he has a standing load, I pull up and say &lsquo;Come on, you guys. I&rsquo;ve got room&rsquo; and we work together,&rdquo; Toomey said.</p><p>Though Toomey can spot many bunches starting &mdash; he knows how much time an extra load from the Belmont &lsquo;L&rsquo; stop will add, for example &mdash; he sometimes gets as mystified as riders.</p><p>&ldquo;Some days it&rsquo;s wide open, the next it&rsquo;s bumper to bumper stopped,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s something we as operators ask, too. We&rsquo;re throwing our hands up, expecting something major, and there&rsquo;s not.&rdquo;</p><p>Toomey said he wished customers could see the bunching and delays from his eyes, as a problem they share.</p><p>&ldquo;I rode the bus for years, so I&rsquo;ve seen both sides,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I wish more people had the opportunities to experience it firsthand, because if people could actually see what was happening behind the scenes they&rsquo;d be more understanding.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Now we have an answer. Who asked the question?</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/corrinpitluck.jpg" style="height: 201px; width: 280px; float: left;" title="Corrin Pitluck asked Curious City about how bus bunching works. (Chris Hagan/WBEZ)" />Our question-asker, Corrin Pitluck, takes a lot of trips from her Logan Square home with her kids, heading to school or visiting friends. Both as a CTA bus rider and a car driver, she&rsquo;s been fascinated by bus bunching.</p><p>&ldquo;I might be waiting for a bus and it&rsquo;s clear two buses are coming up, or might be driving and making a right turn and trying to be a good citizen and not turn in front of a bus, but waiting back there a ways behind a queue of buses,&rdquo; Pitluck said.</p><p>Growing up in New Jersey and Southern California, she&rsquo;s seen lots of different types of public transportation, and she&rsquo;s seen how easy it is for a bunch to form.</p><p>&ldquo;I have wondered and shook my fist at this bunching problem for decades now.&rdquo;</p><p>We love that she took this empathic element so seriously. It prompted us to speak with driver Michael Toomey and convey the gist to her.</p><p>She was just as shocked as we were when Toomey told a story of a seven-bus bunch he was involved in early in his career at the intersection of Cicero and Chicago. Utility work and an accident shut down all but one lane, and it took him more than a half hour to go one block.</p><p>&ldquo;Oh my gosh, that&rsquo;s unbelievable!&rdquo; Pitluck said.</p><p>Pitluck said the experience helped her understand the position of drivers and the difficulties they face on the road.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a lot that&rsquo;s out of their hands,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;They have some tools but they&rsquo;re kind of limited in dealing with this ... that buses bunch.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Chris Hagan is a web producer and data reporter at WBEZ. Find him on twitter </em><a href="https://twitter.com/chrishagan"><em>@chrishagan</em></a><em>.</em></p></p> Wed, 15 Oct 2014 15:10:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/why-buses-arrive-bunches-110941 After the accident: Metra and pedestrian fatalities http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/after-accident-metra-and-pedestrian-fatalities-110875 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/170234239%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-Jvys6&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Frequent commuters are all too familiar with the pangs of delays: the groans induced by announcements made over a train intercom, or the confusion created when train or bus operators suggest alternative routes, thanks (or no thanks) to weather, mechanical failures, or backups.</p><p>Chicago-area Metra riders are no strangers to these feelings, but often these delays are brought on by another, more heart-dropping reason: pedestrian accidents and fatalities. It&rsquo;s not uncommon for up to 1,300 Metra riders to be held on a train for more than an hour while investigators gather at the scene to determine what happened.</p><p dir="ltr">And while many wonder why so many of these accidents happen, or how they can be stopped, a Curious Citizen (who chose to remain anonymous) had us consider this question:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>How can a thorough investigation of Metra fatalities be performed when trains are up and running 90 minutes after a fatality?</em></p><p>It&rsquo;s a bit of a loaded question, of course, as our questioner is basically asking whether a 90-minute timeframe is sufficient to gather evidence.</p><p>From the first moment we spoke with the questioner, we knew this would be sensitive topic, for sure, but experts did make themselves available to explain how pedestrian death investigations work, and they were also willing to address the &ldquo;90 minutes&rdquo; figure directly. And the question&rsquo;s important, too. The issue of pedestrian fatalities by train is regularly <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-metra-suicides-met-20140825-story.html" target="_blank">in the Chicago-area news</a>. Also, anyone involved &mdash; a victim&#39;s family,&nbsp;commuters on the train, taxpayers in Illinois &mdash; deserves to know exactly what&rsquo;s going on outside that train once tragedy strikes.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">The extent of the problem</span></p><p>Pedestrian fatalities by Metra trains, or any type of train, for that matter, are not new phenomena. Train deaths, both intentional and accidental, have been an issue for rail officials across the world. <a href="http://gazebonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/ian_savage_438_manuscript.pdf" target="_blank">But as Northwestern University researcher Ian Savage found out</a>, these incidents are happening in Illinois more than any other place in the United States.</p><p>According to Savage, one of the main reasons is Chicago&rsquo;s position as a national rail hub.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s a combination of the number of trains and the geography,&rdquo; Savage said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re fairly flat around here, and if you go out east, you&rsquo;ll find many more hills. Because trains [there] can&rsquo;t get up steep grades, you have to level this out by digging cuts, you make embankments, so you end up with a lot more natural grade separation. And here in Chicago, we have little natural grade separation.&rdquo;</p><p>Savage looked at data from the Illinois Commerce Commission from 2004 to 2012, and accounted for 338 pedestrian deaths by train within the six-county Chicago area. (Notably, Savage&rsquo;s research did not include the Chicago Transit Authority&rsquo;s elevated trains). Put another way, the area saw one pedestrian death by train every 10 days. Approximately 47 percent of the incidents were suicides.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20graphic%20mockup%203%20final_2.png" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20graphic%20new%20stats2.png" title="*Data from Chicago metropolitan region, 2004-2012. Note: Does not include CTA data. Non-motorized persons include pedestrians and bike-riders. Source: Ian Savage, Northwestern University " /></div></div><p>According to Savage, these fatalities happen for a variety of reasons. When it comes to accidents, many times people don&rsquo;t understand how dangerous trains really are.</p><p>&ldquo;In some cases, crossings are designed in a way that good people are lead into making bad decisions. And I think that perceptions of speed are very difficult,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;d never think about jaywalking across an interstate because there are cars every few seconds. But there are five, 10 [minutes], half an hour where there&rsquo;s no activity on train tracks. So you can always get led into this cognitive assumption that nothing&rsquo;s coming, when something is.&rdquo;</p><p>And while the complexity of suicide makes it difficult to understand the reasoning behind individual deaths, Savage said the frequency and high number of occurrences is likely connected to the availability of trains around Chicago. Through his research, Savage stumbled on a study from Children&rsquo;s Memorial Hospital that looked at methods of suicide. They found that the use of trains in the Chicago area was more than four times the national average.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Metra-related investigations</span></p><p>Beyond the magnitude of these fatalities, Metra faces another predicament, one that&rsquo;s different from those of state or city agencies: <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZrzuzWv2wY" target="_blank">Metra prides itself on its timeliness</a> and its ability to get commuters home on time. Its slogan is &ldquo;The way to really fly,&rdquo; and their signs read phrases such as &ldquo;We&rsquo;re on time, are you?&rdquo;</p><p>So when tragedy strikes, not only do Metra officials have to worry about the victim of the incident, but the thousands of passengers sitting on the train. In our question-asker&rsquo;s case, she read that trains were up and running 90 minutes after her friend was struck. (Metra officials say delays that day &mdash; including residual delays for other trains on that line &mdash; ranged anywhere between 30 and 110 minutes.)</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20photo%201%20LC.jpg" title="Metra signs advertise the agency's ability to arrive places on time, without delay. (WBEZ/Lauren Chooljian)" /></div></div><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a process in place, a lot of times there&rsquo;s a lot of different factors that are involved in that incident which may extend that investigation, or there may be a train strike where we hit a pedestrian, and that person ends up being fine,&rdquo; said Hilary Konczal, director of Safety at Metra. &ldquo;I mean, we&rsquo;ve hit people and we&rsquo;ve broken a leg or an arm, and we were up and moving in 20 minutes, so it depends on the situation.&rdquo;</p><p>Konczal said every investigation begins the same way: A dispatcher is immediately notified of anything that happens on Metra railroads or that involves a Metra train. That dispatcher then notifies a control center, which reaches out to the municipality where the incident occurred.</p><p>&ldquo;Normally we get the call first,&rdquo; said Des Plaines Police Chief William Kushner. &ldquo;And we&rsquo;ll get it either from people waiting for the train, or someone driving past. And they&rsquo;ll call that someone was struck by a train or someone just jumped in front of a train.&rdquo;</p><p>The local municipality usually arrives on the scene first because of their close proximity. They&rsquo;ll secure the scene, meet with the train crew, and begin to gather witness testimony. Metra also has its own police force. Its officers do their best to get to the scene ASAP, but it could take some time, as the six-county service area is about the size of Connecticut. Once both departments are on scene, one will take the lead.</p><p><iframe align="middle" frameborder="0" height="420" scrolling="no" src="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/metramap.html" width="620"></iframe></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><em>Metra rail lines cover six counties and more than 110 municipalities. The service area is about the size of the state of Connecticut, which means travel times for investigators and other responders can be sizable.</em></span></p><p>&ldquo;Usually, if Metra police investigate the incident, we can do it a little quicker. We have evidence technicians on scene 24 hours [per day], and a lot of times local municipality doesn&#39;t have that. They have to call them in, so that may add time to investigation,&rdquo; Konczal said.</p><p>Konczal said his staff constantly network with the over 110 municipalities that Metra travels through, so when an incident happens &ldquo;we have a rapport with them, so we can get traffic moving as soon as possible.&rdquo;</p><p>But depending on the type of accident, and how long it takes to gather all the correct people together, investigations can still take a while. Konczal said if Metra strikes a vehicle, federal regulations require that signals be tested, for example.</p><p>In a fatality situation, officials have to report information to the ICC and the Federal Railroad Administration. Almost all Metra trains have cameras on them now, as do some grade crossings, so film has to be reviewed to determine what happened, and to assess whether it was an intentional death or not. They also have to wait for a coroner to arrive, as he or she has to respectfully remove the remains.</p><p>The Metra Police Department was recently assessed by <a href="http://www.hillardheintze.com/books/metrapolicedept_01_23_14/" target="_blank">Hillard Heintze</a>, an independent council of retired police chiefs. While the group <a href="http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20140122/news/701229709/" target="_blank">found many issues with the department overall</a> (e.g., unclear mission, ineffective or nonexistent policies and procedures, staffing issues, etc.) the report did not address how Metra conducts fatality investigations.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20investigation%20full.jpg" style="float: left;" title="Metra officials investigate a commuter train accident in 2004 in Chicago. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)" /></p><p>Metra officials say there&rsquo;s no minimum or maximum amount of time that they try and meet for each investigation. Other police departments operate this way as well.</p><p>&ldquo;If there&rsquo;s a fatality, there are no minimums,&rdquo; said Monique Bond, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Police Department. &ldquo;The main thing is to get the victims, whether they&rsquo;re dead or hurt. That&rsquo;s the priority.&rdquo;</p><p>Bond said each investigation varies tremendously, depending on the incident: It could be hours, or it could be one hour.</p><p>But what doesn&rsquo;t change per incident, according to Metra officials and police, is the difficulty of dealing with these fatalities, both for him and his staff.</p><p>Naperville Police Chief Bob Marshall said his department, like many others around the state, provides mental health services for any officer that responds to traumatic events. Naperville recently dealt with two suicides by train.</p><p>Konczal added that Metra staff take the issue of pedestrian deaths personally. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re people. They may be your brother, my sister, your friend, it&rsquo;s just a shame,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We have employees that go out there. We have the engineer that&rsquo;s traumatized, and the family of the deceased. ... I mean, it&rsquo;s real, and it gets very personal, and at times it gets frustrating.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re constantly looking at ways to educate the public. We&rsquo;re looking at our numbers, the day of the week incidents occur - and it gets frustrating trying to identify how to reduce these risks, without trying to put up some sort of virtual fence. It&rsquo;s just very hard.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Waiting in the wings</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/steven%20vance%20bartlett%20station.jpg" title="Signage at Metra's Bartlett station on the Milwaukee District/West Line route indicates safety precautions for pedestrians crossing the tracks. (Flickr/Steven Vance)" /></p><p>Metra, as well as local law enforcement agencies, suggest that some investigations can take far less than the 90-minute figure that started our look into train-related pedestrian deaths. According to Joe Schwieterman, transportation professor at DePaul University (and Metra rider for 23 years), delays of any kind can be difficult to bear.</p><p>&ldquo;You feel the tension on board right away, people start making phone calls, and after five or ten minutes, you know, you start to wonder, &lsquo;Is this gonna be a nightmare?&rsquo; So that speculation starts,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>According to Schweiterman, everyone in the region has been startled by how a fairly small commuter rail system (in the national sense) has such a regular pattern of hitting people. And a lot of it, he said, isn&rsquo;t on Metra.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a whole series of issues, like willful deaths, and of course just a preponderance of freight trains which makes these crossings very difficult, and even just people dying on the tracks who, you know - drug use along railway tracks - there&rsquo;s a long history of a place where deviants often go.&rdquo;</p><p>But when it comes to whether these investigations are long enough or comprehensive enough, Schwieterman said anything longer than the current delays wouldn&rsquo;t be practical.</p><p>&ldquo;My view is that there&rsquo;s rarely a complex investigation needed,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;When somebody gets hit, the reason that person got hit is important from a data standpoint &mdash; and I mean, of course, for the family it&rsquo;s an absolute travesty &mdash; but from an investigation standpoint we need to know why people are getting hit and how we can fix the problems.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;But it&rsquo;s not like a crime scene, where there&rsquo;s an assailant out there who we have to find, and he may have left a clue behind.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>If you or someone you know exhibits any of the <a href="http://reportingonsuicide.org/warning-signs-of-suicide/" target="_blank">warning signs of suicide</a>, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)</strong></p><p><em>Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ Reporter. Follow her<a href="http://twitter.com/triciabobeda"> </a><a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian" target="_blank">@laurenchooljian</a></em></p></p> Tue, 30 Sep 2014 17:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/after-accident-metra-and-pedestrian-fatalities-110875 Global Activism: Climate Ride organizes rides and hikes for Earth's sustainability http://www.wbez.org/series/global-activism/global-activism-climate-ride-organizes-rides-and-hikes-earths-sustainability <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/ga climate ride.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>It&rsquo;s Thursday and time for our <em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/global-activism">Global Activism</a></em> series. Each Thursday, we hear about people who work to make the world a better place. Today, we&rsquo;ll talk with Caeli Quinn, co-founder of &lsquo;<a href="http://www.climateride.org/">Climate Ride</a>&rsquo;. They organize rides and hikes to benefit sustainability-oriented non-profits. Climate Ride is about to start their first <a href="http://www.climateride.org/events/midwest">Midwest event</a>. It&rsquo;s a 300 Mile ride that starts in Grand Rapids, Michigan and ends at Chicago&rsquo;s Northerly Island on September 9<sup>th</sup> around 4:30pm.</p><p>The work of Climate Ride was suggested by Paul Culhane from <a href="http://www.greatlakes.org/">Alliance for the Great Lakes</a>.</p></p> Thu, 04 Sep 2014 12:20:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/global-activism/global-activism-climate-ride-organizes-rides-and-hikes-earths-sustainability Quinn vetoes 'Uber Bill,' some cry for override http://www.wbez.org/news/quinn-vetoes-uber-bill-some-cry-override-110700 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Rideshare.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Supporters of limits to rideshare services in Illinois vowed Monday to push for an override of Governor Pat Quinn&rsquo;s veto of the so-called &ldquo;Uber Bill.&rdquo;</p><p>The <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-senate-passes-ride-sharing-rules-110191" target="_blank">bill</a>, which would have affected popular technology platforms such as Uber and Lyft, would have forced rideshare companies to track more closely how many hours each of their drivers spent behind the wheel in the state, and to comply with safety standards similar to those required in the taxi industry. Supporters of the bill blasted Quinn&rsquo;s decision, saying it was motivated out of a concern for votes in the November gubernatorial election, rather than out of concern for public safety.</p><p>&ldquo;Governor Quinn is making the decision solely because of politics,&rdquo; said State Senator Martin Sandoval (D-11). &ldquo;Governor Quinn has decided (he&rsquo;s) not doing well in the polls, and based on his political advisors and lobbyists that he needs the &lsquo;lakefront liberals&rsquo; to come out in big numbers for him, and maybe that&rsquo;s what this is about.&rdquo;</p><p>Sandoval said he will push to have <a href="http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/fulltext.asp?DocName=&amp;SessionId=85&amp;GA=98&amp;DocTypeId=HB&amp;DocNum=4075&amp;GAID=12&amp;LegID=77989&amp;SpecSess=&amp;Session=" target="_blank">HB 4075/5331</a> on the General Assembly&rsquo;s override calendar in November. The Illinois House passed the measure 80-26 in June, and would require only 71 votes for an override. The Senate passed the measure 46-8, and would require only 36 to override.</p><p>But in his veto statement, Quinn said he objected to the bill&rsquo;s pre-emption of &ldquo;home rule,&rdquo; meaning that it would prohibit local municipalities from creating or enacting their own regulations for rideshare services. &ldquo;A statewide regulatory framework should only be considered when it is clear that it is not possible to address the problem at the local level,&rdquo; he wrote. &ldquo;At this point, there is not yet enough evidence to make a judgment about the effectiveness of local ordinances in dealing with the challenges of ridesharing technologies.&rdquo;</p><p>The bill would have required rideshare companies to closely track how many hours each of their drivers averaged on their platforms. Those who offered rides more than 36 hours every two weeks would have to comply with safety regulations similar to taxi drivers &mdash; namely, obtaining a public chauffeur&rsquo;s license, getting fingerprinted and submitting to a criminal background check. Additionally, the companies would have to provide commercial liability insurance identical to that which is required for taxis, for all its drivers -- regardless of how many hours they spend on the platform.</p><p>Several Chicago taxicab medallion owners joined Sandoval in protesting Quinn&rsquo;s veto, saying they believed Quinn&rsquo;s track record as a champion of consumer rights and safety would have led to a different outcome. But many believe that the issue has become politicized &mdash; even briefly becoming campaign trail grist by Quinn&rsquo;s Republican opponent Bruce Rauner &mdash; such that the governor had little choice but to veto it. They said they are confident that the General Assembly will override.</p><p>Ehsan Ghoreishi, a Chicago taxi driver of ten years and former medallion owner, said the state sanctioning of rideshare companies will ultimately be bad for labor. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m a taxi driver, I lease from big companies,&rdquo; he explained. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m sure there&rsquo;s some exploitation, and it&rsquo;s not a clean industry. But the question is: Do I prefer to work with a guy who owns 600 medallions? But I can reach him &mdash; he&rsquo;s a tangible person, I can call his office, I can go make a complaint. Or, do I want to be exploited by a guy that I cannot reach in any tangible fashion?&rdquo;</p><p>Indeed, changes that Uber and Lyft made to their fare and revenue structures this summer have alienated some of their most devoted drivers. Uber slashed its fares 15 percent, and started charging $10 each week for use of the data plan on iPhones that it issues to each driver. Chris Taylor, General Manager for Uber Chicago, said the price experiment has resulted in a greater number of people using their platform to get around. In other words, while drivers may earn less per ride, they&rsquo;re getting more rides.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re confident that drivers on average will still have the ability to earn, on average, double minimum wage in Illinois in fares per hour,&rdquo; he said. Additionally, to offset the smaller earnings per ride, Taylor said Uber has negotiated discounts on gas, maintenance services and car washes for its drivers.</p><p>But Dan Burgess, who has driven for both Uber, Lyft, as well as a third competitor, Sidecar, said he and other drivers are definitely not earning double Illinois&rsquo; $8.25 minimum wage. &ldquo;If you take into account our car expenses for fuel and wear and tear, we&rsquo;re probably netting about $10 an hour,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s just not a worthwhile experience for us anymore.&rdquo;</p><p>Meanwhile, relatively <a href="https://chicago.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1657453&amp;GUID=48EE4E9D-5D88-4001-8753-74FA1D4C47AF" target="_blank">light regulations</a> for the industry are set to take effect Tuesday in the City of Chicago. The rules would require the companies to apply for different classes of licenses, depending on how many hours their drivers, in aggregate, average. Companies whose drivers average fewer than 20 hours per week would be allowed to continue mostly as they already do. Both Uber and Lyft are working to gain this type of license.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and <a href="http://www.twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Mon, 25 Aug 2014 18:26:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/quinn-vetoes-uber-bill-some-cry-override-110700 Meet the CTA's super-friendly conductor http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/meet-ctas-super-friendly-conductor-110466 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/157991456&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false; show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><em>Editor&rsquo;s note: The podcast episode available above includes two stories. The first looks at <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/passing-through-chicagos-union-station-amish-transit-hub-110453" target="_blank">why Chicago is a transit hub for the Amish</a>. The profile of CTA conductor Michael Powell begins at 7 minutes, 36 seconds.</em></p><p>The idea for Caroline Eichler&rsquo;s Curious City question first came to her in 2011, shortly after she had finished college and first arrived in Chicago. She didn&rsquo;t know anyone except her roommates and co-workers. &ldquo;And this is the first city I&rsquo;ve ever lived in, too,&rdquo; she says. It&rsquo;s little wonder that she felt &mdash; by her own admission &mdash; &ldquo;pretty terrified and overwhelmed.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p>One of the first people Caroline came to recognize in the city was the voice of a certain chatty train conductor during her commute on the CTA&rsquo;s Red Line from Rogers Park to the Jackson stop downtown. She remembers the conductor reminding passengers to grab their umbrellas if it was raining, or he&rsquo;d jokingly advise passengers to take their children with them when they left the train. &ldquo;One time he said &lsquo;May the force be with you.&rsquo; That really cracked me up,&rdquo; she says. Since Caroline only knew a handful of people in the city, even the more reserved announcements such as &ldquo;I hope you&rsquo;re having a great day!&rdquo; were really nice, she says.</p><p>All of this interest in a comforting voice led Caroline to send us this question:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>Who is the super-friendly train conductor on the Red Line?</em></p><p>While tracking down an answer, we learned that the man behind the kind words used the daily commute to comfort himself, too.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">&lsquo;I just started talking&rsquo;</span></p><p>The conductor is Michael Powell, who began working for the CTA in 1978. Getting a job with the CTA was &ldquo;like a dream come true,&rdquo; Powell says. He&rsquo;s always loved trains, and he even had toy trains when he was growing up.</p><p>Talking over the train&rsquo;s PA system came naturally to Powell. &ldquo;I just started talking,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s spur of the moment, I really don&rsquo;t rehearse them. If it feels like I can say something silly or something half-serious, I&rsquo;ll say it.&rdquo;</p><p>Powell is not shy about sharing difficulties he had early in life. The oldest of four children, Powell says his mother &ldquo;had a rough time raising four children, not having a college degree or any education formally.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I could never make her happy,&rdquo; Powell remembers. &ldquo;I didn&rsquo;t like myself because I didn&rsquo;t get any compliments.&rdquo; Eventually Powell went to counseling. &ldquo;I just had to get over my fear or rejection, I think that&rsquo;s everybody&rsquo;s problem,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;When I started getting attention from the train it was like: Hey, I&rsquo;m getting the love or the attention that I didn&rsquo;t have growing up.&rdquo;</p><p>Powell&rsquo;s philosophy about relating to the passengers is straightforward. &ldquo;I just try to make everybody feel good,&rdquo; he says. Knowing people aren&rsquo;t always happy to be on their way to work, he would sometimes give a morning pep talk. &ldquo;Some people feel like they&rsquo;re down in the dumps. They&rsquo;re like &lsquo;Wow-wee, I had to come to work today.&rsquo; And I sometimes say, Yeah, you know, it would be nice to stay home today, but we have to work. What&rsquo;s for dinner tonight? Make sure you have everything with you! Just, you know, look on the bright side of life,&rdquo; he says.</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/MichaelPowell%20for%20WEB.jpg" title="Michael Powell, a CTA conductor for 36 years, was known by commuters for his cheerful quips. (Photo courtesy Katie Klocksin)" /></p><p>Over the years Powell has made an impact on his passengers, and he&rsquo;s been written about many times. When I first introduce him to Caroline, he presents a large binder full of his press clippings, print-outs of mostly-positive comment threads on articles featuring him, cards passengers had sent him, and comments people sent to the CTA. Caroline says she&rsquo;s impressed with how much Michael&rsquo;s comments resonated with people &mdash; enough that many people actually wrote to the CTA with positive feedback.</p><p>&ldquo;He brings out a good side of Chicago,&rdquo; she says.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">End of an era</span></p><p>Fans of Powell and his conversational style as a train conductor may be disappointed to learn that he retired at the end of 2013. He still spends time with a group of friends he calls &ldquo;train club.&rdquo; They get together once a week for breakfast, and they also run model trains and watch train movies together. Michael also became a grandfather this May. He misses seeing his passengers every day, &ldquo;yet it&rsquo;s nice to be a grandfather. It&rsquo;s nice to spend more time at home,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Caroline asked Powell if he had a fantasy train he&rsquo;d like to drive. &nbsp;&ldquo;Not really,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;I feel like I&rsquo;ve done enough driving in my life. Let someone else do the driving.&rdquo;</p><p>As their time together ends, Caroline tells him: &ldquo;The Red Line community of train riders will miss you.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ll miss them too,&rdquo; he replies. &ldquo;I had fun.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Caroline%20Re-Touch%20for%20WEB.jpg" style="float: left; height: 242px; width: 200px;" title="Caroline Eichler, who asked about the super-friendly Red Line conductor. (Photo courtesy Caroline Eichler)" /><span style="font-size:22px;">Our question comes from: Caroline Eichler</span></p><p>Caroline Eichler moved to Chicago in 2011, after graduating from Kenyon College. She quickly noticed Michael Powell&rsquo;s distinctive style on the Red Line&rsquo;s train announcements.</p><p>&ldquo;He was one of the first people in city I&rsquo;d recognize,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;I didn&rsquo;t even see him, I would just would know he was there from his voice.&rdquo;</p><p>Powell was a topic of conversation among her roommates as well. They would text each other when they caught Powell&rsquo;s train on their morning or evening commutes. &ldquo;I think I&rsquo;m the most excited about it, but we&rsquo;re all in on it together,&rdquo; Caroline says.</p><p>After three years, Caroline is more settled in the city; she&rsquo;s involved in several musical endeavors, including working as the Music Librarian for the <a href="http://cso.org/Institute/CivicOrchestra/Default.aspx" target="_blank">Civic Orchestra of Chicago</a>. She&rsquo;s also a violinist, and she sings with the vocal ensemble <a href="http://www.lacaccina.com/" target="_blank">La Caccina</a>.</p><p><em>A <a href="http://chirpradio.org/podcasts/person-of-interest-michael-powell" target="_blank">version of this story </a>originally aired on ChirpRadio.org. Katie Klocksin is a freelance radio producer. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/KatieKlocksin" target="_blank">@KatieKlocksin</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 09 Jul 2014 12:03:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/meet-ctas-super-friendly-conductor-110466 Passing through: Chicago's Union Station as Amish transit hub http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/passing-through-chicagos-union-station-amish-transit-hub-110453 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/157991456&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: In producing this story, producer Katie Klocksin quotes several people of Amish background. In a deviation from most journalistic practice, Klocksin and editor Shawn Allee chose not to publish the sources&rsquo; names out of respect for the Amish culture&#39;s longstanding premium on humility, as well as possible social consequences for participants. The decision was made in consideration of comments on the issue made by Dr. Steven Nolt, Professor of History at Goshen College and author of numerous books on the Amish.</em></p><p>Paul Vaccarello of LaGrange, Illinois, sees Amish people when he passes through downtown Chicago&rsquo;s Union Station &mdash; the nexus of several Amtrak and Metra commuter rail lines.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve just always been curious about where they&rsquo;re going, why they&rsquo;re here, if they&rsquo;re actually coming to Chicago or if this is a stop on their way to somewhere else,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>This led him to ask Curious City:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>Is Chicago a large transportation hub for Amish travelers?</em></p><p>Reporting an answer provided Paul an opportunity to hear from people that Chicagoans and suburbanites don&rsquo;t ordinarily cross paths with. Members of the religious group seek to maintain a close-knit rural lifestyle and, though there are Amish settlements sprinkled throughout the Midwest, the nearest one lies 90 miles from downtown Chicago. As we approached an answer &mdash; by checking in with experts and Amish travelers themselves &mdash; we couldn&rsquo;t help but feel we were meeting our regional neighbors for the first time.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">A separate pattern of life</span></p><p>Dr. Steven Nolt, Professor of History at Goshen College and author of numerous books on the Amish, reminded us that adherents belong to a Protestant religious community that is &ldquo;sometimes referred to as &lsquo;the old order Amish,&rsquo; which means they have tried to maintain what they consider the old patterns of life.&rdquo; Typically, they limit their use of modern technology and their communities tend to be in rural areas. These &ldquo;old patterns of life,&rdquo; Nolt said, &ldquo;would be things that encourage community and cooperation and collaboration.&rdquo;</p><p>Nolt noted, though, that there are few technologies that the Amish consider wholly bad. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s their attempt to try to control technology or engage technology on their own terms,&rdquo; he said. &nbsp;</p><p>Relevant to Paul&rsquo;s question, Amish people generally don&rsquo;t own or drive cars, although some will hire a vehicle and driver for transportation. It&rsquo;s common for the Amish to travel on trains or buses. &ldquo;The problem isn&rsquo;t the <em>thing</em>,&rdquo; Nolt said. &ldquo;The problem is when we own and control something, then, that heightens our sense of individual autonomy.&rdquo;</p><p>Nolt described an aspect of Amish life that posed a problem for reporting this story: &ldquo;Amish people, when speaking to members of the media, almost always decline to be identified by name or photographed in ways that would highlight them as an individual. Their concern there is one of humility, of not appearing to present oneself as a spokesperson for the whole group, not wanting to call attention to themselves.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Traveling by train<a name="map"></a></span></p><p>Paul and I made several trips to Union Station and found Amish people each time. Most were happy to talk with us, provided my large microphone was turned off. Most people, as predicted, declined to give their names. Everyone we talked to confirmed our theory: Chicago <em>is</em> a hub for transportation among the Amish. The people we interviewed at Union Station were all waiting to switch trains. One woman put it succinctly: &ldquo;A lot of Amish travel from one state to the other on Amtrak. &hellip;Every train comes into Chicago and leaves Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p>Our map can clarify this: There, you can see how Amtrak lines cross near or through midwestern Amish communities. Nolt added, too, that more than 60 percent of the Amish live in Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania: states with Amtrak lines. So Paul was onto something: Amish people, by avoiding cars, travel by train throughout the Midwest and the country. Many Amtrak trains converge in Chicago, thus Amish regularly wait for trains and transfers at Union Station.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe align="middle" frameborder="0" height="400" scrolling="no" src="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/amish/index.html" width="620"></iframe></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><em><strong>Map: U.S. counties with extant Amish settlements as of 2010, overlaid with unofficial map of Amtrak rail system lines.</strong> Amish population data: <a href="http://www.rcms2010.org/index.php" target="_blank">Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies</a>.&nbsp;Rough Amtrak line map: <a href="https://www.blogger.com/profile/17241478144408980328" target="_blank">Rakshith Krishnappa</a>.</em></span></p><p>Nolt points out that Amish people aren&rsquo;t likely to use the word &ldquo;vacation.&rdquo; Instead, he says, they talk about trips. &ldquo;I think on one level it&rsquo;s because &lsquo;vacation&rsquo; suggests leisure type activity that doesn&rsquo;t fit with their rural way of life,&rdquo; he said, adding, &ldquo;Their worlds are not as neatly divided as many of the rest of ours are between work and leisure, home and work. There&rsquo;s much more fluidity and overlap between the domains of their life.&rdquo;</p><p>Nolt says it is common for a long-distance trip to be centered around business travel. There are all-Amish trade shows, for example, which are similar to standard trade shows except they are hosted by a local community and attendees stay with local families. &quot;Most people bring their whole family and it kind of turns into a reunion of visiting,&quot; he said.</p><p>For the most part, though, Paul and I met people traveling to visit family members in other states. We met a large family returning home to Kansas from a wedding in Indiana. An Amish woman from Ohio was traveling with several of her grandchildren to visit her cousin and see the Grand Canyon.</p><p>A few Amish people we met were seeking medical care, including a man from Kentucky. &ldquo;We were in Mexico for medical purposes,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t like to see it, but medical expenses in the States anymore are so phenomenal that an ordinary person cannot afford it.&rdquo; He was returning from Tijuana after a successful operation.</p><p>Another medical traveler, an Amish man with a salt-and-pepper beard and a constant grin, cracked jokes with us for a while. After we parted ways with him, though, we ran into him throughout our stay at Union Station. It&rsquo;s not an exaggeration to say he seemed to know every Amish person there that day, which perhaps reveals a benefit of Union Station&rsquo;s being a hub: For the Amish, it provides a space to serendipitously meet far-flung neighbors.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Paul%20Vaccarello%20-%20courtesy%20of%20Paul%20FOR%20WEB.jpg" style="float: left; height: 254px; width: 190px;" title="Paul Vaccarello asked Curious City about the Amish at Union Station. (Photo courtesy Paul Vaccarello)" /><span style="font-size:24px;">Our question comes from: Paul Vaccarello</span></p><p>Paul Vaccarello told Curious City he visits Union Station about twice a month, adding that &ldquo;pretty much every time, I see groups of Amish people.&rdquo; While he was curious about whether the Amish travel by train, he also wondered if Chicago was ever the destination for Amish people on the road. &ldquo;It was interesting to hear they sometimes stop in Chicago to sightsee, go to the Sears Tower and John Hancock building,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Paul said he&rsquo;s not someone who would normally talk to strangers in the train station, and striking up a conversation with someone from a clearly different background can feel like crossing a barrier.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s cool to see they&rsquo;re so willing to talk, and that they don&rsquo;t even really see the barrier,&rdquo; he said.</p><p><em>Katie Klocksin is a freelance radio producer. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/KatieKlocksin" target="_blank">@KatieKlocksin</a>.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 07 Jul 2014 15:51:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/passing-through-chicagos-union-station-amish-transit-hub-110453 CTA charges kids full fares to get to summer school, job programs http://www.wbez.org/news/cta-charges-kids-full-fares-get-summer-school-job-programs-110450 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/IMAG2791web.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>In what appears to be another stumble in the city&rsquo;s transition to the new Ventra fare-collection system, thousands of young Chicagoans are paying more in train and bus fares than they should be this summer.</p><p>Typically, students under age 20 going to summer school or jobs programs would pay reduced CTA fares&mdash;currently $0.75 per ride and $0.15 for a transfer.</p><p>But many have gotten a rude awakening this summer when they&rsquo;ve used their student cards on buses or trains.</p><p>&ldquo;I swiped it, and I had (added) a dollar. Usually a dollar is good for me to get over here, but it said &lsquo;insufficient fares,&rsquo;&quot; said student Cesar Fierro in the hallway of his high school, Noble Street College Prep. Fierro rides on a student Ventra card he purchased at school.</p><p>He&rsquo;s been paying $4.50, every day, to get to and from summer school&mdash;if he has the money.</p><p>&ldquo;Like yesterday I had to walk all the way home,&rdquo; said Fierro. That&rsquo;s a 4.5-mile hike, from Augusta and Milwaukee to Fullerton and Kostner.</p><p>School staff at Noble Street say they&rsquo;ve &ldquo;easily&rdquo; spent 10 hours on the phone over the last two weeks trying to get reduced fares for summer school students&mdash; &ldquo;calling back and forth to Ventra, being sent to CTA, the CTA saying, &lsquo;Go back to Ventra.&rsquo; It seems to be a very confusing time for the companies as well as the schools,&rdquo; said Noble Street administrative assistant Nicole Baily.</p><p>And thousands of youth involved in one of the city&rsquo;s largest summer job programs&mdash;After School Matters&mdash;have also been paying full fares.&nbsp;</p><p>Student Ventra cards, which are available only through schools or by mail from Ventra, offer kids reduced fares Monday through Friday during daytime hours &mdash;but only for the regular school year.</p><p>CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis says that&rsquo;s because reduced fares are for students enrolled in an educational program, not for all youth. &ldquo;If you&#39;re enrolled in the regular fall term, once that term finishes, the entitlement on the Ventra card is turned off automatically,&rdquo; said Lukidis.</p><p>For students to get reduced fares during summer, schools must submit each student&#39;s individual transit card ID number to the CTA (or to one of Ventra&#39;s subcontractors).&nbsp; Lukidis says the transit agency has been working since spring with schools to prepare for the summer session.&nbsp; She says 5,500 Chicago Public Schools students and 9,500 students from charters and private schools are already receiving the reduced fare.</p><p>&ldquo;So we have mechanisms in place for this to work successfully, and it has,&rdquo; says Lukidis. She blamed Noble Street&#39;s problems on a &quot;miscommunication on how to activate and get all of those entitlements processed.&quot;</p><p>A clerk at one of the city&rsquo;s neighborhood high schools says not all summer school students there are getting the reduced-fare rides to school and they&#39;re entitled to them. &ldquo;I&rsquo;ve had parents call to complain,&rdquo; said the clerk, who didn&rsquo;t have authorization to speak to the media. She said she&rsquo;s unable to sell Ventra cards to summer school students who aren&rsquo;t enrolled at that school during the regular school year.</p><p>And the CTA seems to have been blind-sided by summer programs beyond schools.&nbsp; In the past, many summer programs&mdash;including After School Matters&mdash;purchased and distributed reduced-fare CTA cards to teens. Those cards were valid during the summer months only.</p><p>&ldquo;It seems like a very easy-to-solve problem, but the CTA has not created a student fare card for the summer,&rdquo; says Brian Brady, director of the Mikva Challenge youth organization.</p><p>Brady says nonprofits like his, who run summer programs for youth, are &ldquo;up in arms on this, but not getting anywhere. It seems like Ventra and CTA are much more impenetrable than they were before the Ventra system took over. We&rsquo;re having trouble making any headway.&rdquo;</p><p>Brady says the Mikva Challenge, which pays for students&rsquo; transportation to its summer civics programs, is shelling out $4,000 more in student transit fares than last summer&mdash;and has no choice but to pay full fare for students it believes are entitled to youth fares. Other programs, like After School Matters, have passed the costs on to students.</p><p>Brady says that for students paying their own way to summer programs, full fares are &ldquo;a significant expense for these kids. A lot of them are extremely low-income.&rdquo; He says even if students are traveling to jobs programs, &ldquo;these jobs are often stipend-type jobs.&rdquo;&nbsp; Brady says nearly 20 percent of teens&rsquo; earnings could be going to the CTA.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s in the city&rsquo;s interest to see these kids getting to and from good activities in the summer&mdash;constructive activities&mdash;so to have them get socked at this heavy rate is really frustrating,&rdquo; says Brady.</p><p>Coincidentally, teens involved in a Mikva Challenge youth committee successfully advocated for the city to offer free rides&mdash;rather than reduced fares&mdash; to youth travelling to and from school&mdash;as a way to improve attendance.&nbsp; The city piloted the program in 10 schools last school year.</p><p>CTA says it has been in discussions with directors from After School Matters and plans to give reduced fares to those students &ldquo;soon. &rdquo; But Lukidis could not say how reduced fares would work, when they might begin, or whether students would be reimbursed for overpaying fares. Some After School Matters programs have been up and running for two weeks. Others begin Monday.</p><p>A spokeswoman for After School Matters, which has close ties to the city, declined to comment. The group says 8,000 students are enrolled in summer programs.</p><p>As for other summer programs run by nonprofits or universities, &ldquo;the best thing for programs to do, is reach out to us,&rdquo; said Lukidis, who emphasized the programs must be educational for students to get the reduced fare. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s so many good programs throughout the city. If you feel like you have a program that would qualify, and you&rsquo;re offering something to student-aged kids, contact us, so we can go ahead and review it.&rdquo;</p><p>The CTA&rsquo;s web site <a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/travel_information/fares/reduced.aspx#students" target="_blank">indicates </a>parents can also ask for their child&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/assets/1/fare_information/Summer_2014_Student_Entitlement_Extension6_4_14.pdf" target="_blank">reduced-fare status to be extended</a> if the child is in a school program.</p><p><em>Linda Lutton is a WBEZ education reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZeducation">@WBEZeducation</a>. </em></p><p><br />&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 04 Jul 2014 14:10:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/cta-charges-kids-full-fares-get-summer-school-job-programs-110450 Rideshare vs. Taxicabs: The inside story http://www.wbez.org/news/rideshare-vs-taxicabs-inside-story-110296 <p><p>The best taxi drivers get to know hotel doormen.</p><p>&ldquo;How you been, John? Everything good?!&rdquo; shouted Saied Sarvinehbaghi out his window as he pulled to the front of the Hilton cab line on a recent morning. &ldquo;You want me to stay here or back up? Stay here? OK. Airport would be nice, John,&rdquo; Sarvinehbaghi chuckled.</p><p>A ride from the Loop to O&rsquo;Hare could bring in more than $40 for a single fare. Chicago&rsquo;s airports are one of the few places left in the city where taxicabs still rule the road. But elsewhere, the competition for fares is growing fiercer by the day.</p><p>Chicago <a href="https://soundcloud.com/morningshiftwbez/rideshare-ordinance-passes-1?in=morningshiftwbez/sets/morning-shift-week-of-may-26">recently passed rules</a> to legalize ridesharing services, which let people use their personal cars to take paying passengers around. The debate over ridesharing has mostly centered on how the service differs from traditional taxis. So WBEZ spent a day with a cabbie, and a night with a rideshare driver to find out for ourselves.</p><p><span style="font-size: 21.81818199157715px;">The taxicab driver</span></p><p>Sarvinehbaghi started driving 35 years ago, soon after he came to the U.S. from Iran for college. At the time, he thought he&rsquo;d only be driving cabs for a couple of years. As a passenger climbs into the backseat and directs him to O&rsquo;Hare, Sarvinehbaghi reflects on why he&rsquo;s stayed so long in the industry.</p><p>&ldquo;This job is good to me because it&rsquo;s exciting, because it&rsquo;s not a boring job,&rdquo; Sarvinehbaghi said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a very addictive job, actually. You get addicted to this job. If you get addicted, it&rsquo;s hard to let go.&rdquo;</p><p>Sarvinehbaghi is not your typical cabbie &ndash; he owns his medallion, which is a city license for a cab. He&rsquo;s had it for about 15 years.</p><p>&ldquo;I didn&rsquo;t buy it,&rdquo; he explained. &ldquo;We had a great mayor called Harold Washington, and he&rsquo;s the one who started giving medallions out instead of selling them, so I was one of guys who won it (in a lottery).&rdquo;</p><p>Most taxi drivers don&rsquo;t own medallions, and in recent years, they&rsquo;ve gotten harder to buy. At times, medallions have sold for as much as $360 thousand. The majority of cabbies lease their cars, with the medallions attached, for $400 to $700 a week.</p><p>Sarvinehbaghi is glad he doesn&rsquo;t pay a lease, but he said he still has expenses. According to city rules, he has to buy a new car every four years and pay for expensive taxi insurance. Despite all that he says he got by just fine until the road recently became more crowded with rideshare drivers.</p><p><span style="font-size: 21.81818199157715px;">The rideshare driver</span></p><p>At about the same time Saied usually ends his shift on a Saturday evening, Dan Burgess is driving into the city from his home in Downers Grove. Burgess, who introduces himself to passengers as &ldquo;Trivia Dan,&rdquo; has done this most weekends for the past year. He drives for ridesharing services UberX, Lyft and Sidecar.</p><p>&ldquo;I like meeting people,&rdquo; he explained. &ldquo;I love the city and the pulse of the metropolis, and I enjoy driving people around and getting paid for it and having a good time. And I thought it would be a fun way to expose people to me and my trivia company and ask them trivia questions on the rides.&rdquo;</p><p>Burgess receives ride requests through his smartphone. Almost as soon as his first carload of Lyft passengers &ndash; three young women going out for a dinner in Lakeview &ndash; squeeze into his back seat, he peppers them with trivia questions.</p><p>&ldquo;Well, if you guys want to play trivia, I&rsquo;ve got trivia questions ready&hellip;&rdquo;</p><p>As Burgess ferries passengers around the city in his 2005 silver Hyundai hatchback, the same scene repeats itself all night.</p><p>When asked, passengers said they prefer ridesharing to cabs because of the convenience. They use their smartphones to summon cars without ever going outside, and there&rsquo;s no hassle with cash or credit cards &ndash; the apps take care of the payment. When the ladies arrive at their destination, they just hop out.</p><p>&ldquo;Alright, so, I just got a text already saying that was &lsquo;50% Prime Time,&rsquo;&rdquo; Burgess said as the passengers exited. &ldquo;Lyft has a promotion going on tonight, so I got time-and-a-half on that.&rdquo;</p><p>Lyft and Uber frequently raise their rates at times of peak demand, or simply to entice drivers to use their app rather than the competition&rsquo;s. Cabs, by contrast, can&rsquo;t change the meter rate.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Ridealongs%202.jpg" style="height: 415px; width: 620px;" title="Dan Burgess, a.k.a. “Trivia Dan,” drives in from the suburbs nearly every weekend to do ridesharing. He uses it as an opportunity to promote his trivia business, and says he shouldn’t be subject to the same rules as cab drivers. (WBEZ/Odette Yousef)" /></p><p><span style="font-size: 21.81818199157715px;">Different rules of the road</span></p><p>After roughly six hours with both Burgess and Sarvinehbaghi, it was clear that the essence of what they do is the same: they drive people places for money. So should they follow the same rules? Dan said &lsquo;no.&rsquo;</p><p>&ldquo;This is a casual experience,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I might go a month without giving a ride. Nobody has a cab that sits for a month without being used. So why should I fall under the same strict rules as a real cab when I might only give five or ten hours a week, or sometimes even five or ten hours a month?&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s rules and regulation,&rdquo; counters Sarvinehbaghi. &ldquo;It says if you want to transport people in the City of Chicago, you have to be registered, you have to have a medallion, you have to pay the fees and taxes, and have some kind of chauffeurs license, so they know who you are.&rdquo;</p><p>Sarvinehbaghi said to get his chauffeurs license, he had to take a class; pass an English exam, a physical, an eye test, and a background check; and have a clean driving record. Uber, Lyft and Sidecar say they perform background and driving record checks, too. But several <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-02-14/news/ct-rideshare-background-checks-met-20140214_1_background-checks-ride-sharing-drivers">news outlets</a> have <a href="http://www.nbcchicago.com/investigations/Ride-Service-May-Pose-Risk-to-Passengers-256639641.html">reported cases</a> of rideshare drivers with criminal histories.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s about protecting the consumer in Chicago. People&rsquo;s life is in our hand,&rdquo; Sarvinehbaghi said. &ldquo;I used to work night shift on the weekends, you won&rsquo;t believe how many drunk people I take home, they pass out in the back seat. Young girls, older guys with Rolex (watches), girls with short skirt and practically no clothes on, and I take them where they want to go and I call their parents down and take them.&rdquo;</p><p>But Burgess said ridesharing services weed out bad drivers faster than the city does, because the apps require passengers to rate their drivers after each ride.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s actually more safe because of the rating system,&rdquo; argued Burgess. &ldquo;If there&rsquo;s a problem, you can call support and report a driver, saying I was driving erratically or dangerously or I was under the influence or something. Lyft would turn off my account immediately.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size: 21.81818199157715px;">The cost of doing business</span></p><p>The other big difference between Sarvinehbaghi and Burgess involved their expenses. WIth frustration, Sarvinehbaghi pointed out that his 2014 Toyota RAV4 was only four months old. He bought it with a five-year payment plan, but the city will only allow it to be used as a cab for four years. He said that means in the fifth year, he&rsquo;ll have to continue paying for it, but he won&rsquo;t be able to use it as a taxi. In fact, he&rsquo;d have to buy another new car to use as a cab,saddling him with two monthly car payments.</p><p>&ldquo;This car, $33,000, I paid it. I&rsquo;m paying the car payment,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m paying almost $600 a month (for) insurance...stickers, fees, taxes, gas &ndash; you add all this up, it&rsquo;s costing me money to keep this medallion. You know, I work so hard, paying all these fees, and [rideshare drivers] come and do it without paying any fees or anything.&rdquo;</p><p>After expenses, Sarvinehbaghi made roughly $11 an hour during the shift I observed.</p><p>Burgess has it easier. He uses his nine-year old car, which he paid off long ago. Unlike Sarvinehbaghi he is not required to pay for commercial liability insurance. Burgess just needs to cover gas, and pay Uber 15 percent of his earnings.</p><p>During my night shift with Burgess he made about $14 an hour after expenses.</p><p>He acknowledged that rideshare vehicles have been hard on independent medallion owners.</p><p>&ldquo;I really feel bad for some independent cab owner who spent $300,000 on a medallion, yeah, I feel sorry for that guy,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s unfortunate, he made that investment. But it&rsquo;s a new day, and people like getting around this way more than that way.&rdquo;</p><p>Indeed, ride sharing&rsquo;s growing popularity is one reason Chicago&rsquo;s city council decided to legalize the service. Illinois may soon <a href="https://soundcloud.com/morningshiftwbez/rideshare-legislation-passes">follow suit</a> statewide. Sarvinehbaghi said he had planned to pay his sons&rsquo; college tuitions by selling his medallion, but now it&rsquo;s likely to lose much of its value.</p><p>Still, he said if the state allows ridesharing, he may sell his cab and try it, too.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 05 Jun 2014 15:21:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/rideshare-vs-taxicabs-inside-story-110296