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Chicago Transit Authority President Dorval Carter

Chicago Transit Authority President Dorval Carter

Ashlee Rezin

CTA president takes the train to City Hall — then gets an easy ride

Embattled CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. made it a point to take the train to City Hall on Tuesday, and it was relatively smooth sailing from there — at least with City Council members.

Carter got a rougher ride from CTA passengers, who used the extended public comment period to beef about everything from security and service reliability to cleanliness and Carter’s rare use of the mass transit system he oversees in exchange for his salary — now about $376,000 a year.

When alderpersons got their crack at Carter, the questions were decidedly tamer — and markedly less hostile than the first time Carter appeared before the Transportation Committee for his quarterly hearing, after ghosting the City Council for months.

This time, Carter had a better story to tell about efforts to, as he put it, “rebuild from the pandemic,” when he opted to maintain schedules with nowhere near enough employees to do so.

He talked about a 14% uptick in ridership — to 279 million rides — marking the third straight year of gains, though ridership remains far short of pre-pandemic levels. He bragged about hiring and training 1,003 bus operators, more than any year in CTA history, along with 101 bus mechanics and 90 new rail operators.

If he succeeds in filling the jobs of 200 more bus operators and 150 more rail operators and training more this year, the CTA will have “enough operators to get back to full pre-pandemic service” and keep pace with attrition, he said.

The CTA president also showcased the online performance dashboard, rolled out in 2023, that provides a “ton of information” and “unprecedented levels of transparency” about service delivery delays, wait times and cleanliness.

In short, Carter said the “future is bright,” though the CTA faces a $700 million fiscal cliff when federal pandemic relief funds are exhausted in 2026. Without a massive infusion of new revenues authorized by state lawmakers, he added, that cliff would be “completely devastating.”

Carter was so proud of the fast-improving story he had to tell, he pushed back against the CTA rider who told him he’d “made a mistake by not cutting service when you didn’t have the employees” to provide that service.

“I decided to keep service running for the entire time — as much service as I could possibly put out. I don’t feel bad about that because I was trying to keep employees safe and I was trying to keep customers safe,” Carter said. “That has resulted in challenges around our service.”

But, Carter added “I’m pleased to tell you today that that service is going to be restored this year. ... And it is going to result in improved service, more frequent service, more reliable service, which are all of the things folks are complaining about.”

The most pointed questions came from Northwest Side Ald. Samantha Nugent (39th).

“Just this weekend, a 16-year-old girl was sexually assaulted on the CTA. Last month, a 61-year-old woman was beaten and pounced on, then died from her injuries. Our public transport is supposed to be environmentally conscious. It’s supposed to be reliable. It’s supposed to be safe. Where is the outrage? Why haven’t we brought this up today?” Nugent asked Carter.

After an awkward pause, Carter said, “Personally, I’m outraged. I’ve seen all of the incidents you’re talking about and I have not been happy that they occur. ... We work very hard to address crime as best we can given the size of our system and the number of people who use it every day.”

That didn’t satisfy Nugent, who said she was “personally distraught” by the brazenness of those crimes and the CTA’s seeming indifference.

“Parents are freaking out and worried about their children taking CTA after school. ... We deserve better. We need a sense of security on our public transit and I don’t believe it’s there right now,” Nugent said.

“This broke my heart. The case about the 61-year-old woman stopped me in my tracks. I had to read the article twice to make sure I was really looking at my city. This case about the 16-year-old girl that I’ve just learned about is heartbreaking. It’s not OK. If you need more police, if we need to have more hearings, if you need your own separate unit — we have to have these conversations. People are not gonna use transit if they don’t feel safe.”

Carter said security is “an issue that we take as seriously as you do,” adding, “I don’t want to see either my customers or my employees attacked—by anyone. I want us to do as much as we can to protect them.”

Ald. Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth (48th) argued “some students, including friends of my kids, will never feel comfortable” with more police on the CTA. She challenged Carter to “think of alternative ways” to improve mass transit security.

“There are people who tell us they want more police officers. There are people who will say they are intimidated by police officers,” Carter replied. “There are people who say they want more guard dogs. And there are people who view the image of a guard dog as raising all sorts of other images, particularly in my race over the years. ... It is a very challenging problem to solve.”

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