Public Transit Advocates Outline System’s Pressure Points Ahead of Chicago Mayoral Election

Buses that never show up and unreliable train travel times.

Filling a CTA staffing shortfall.

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And a push for better bike safety.

Those are just a few of the transit topics on the minds of voters as they head to the ballot box for Chicago’s mayoral runoff election next week.

More: Voter Guide to the 2023 Chicago Runoff Election

For Jose Manuel Almanza Jr., director of advocacy and movement building for Equiticity, the issue of public safety on the CTA and train and bus reliability are correlated.

If people know exactly when transit is arriving, there will be less wait times and less of an opportunity for an incident to happen, he said. Plus, with more reliable transit, there will be more ridership and people will feel safer in numbers, he added.

But increasing ridership is the “billion-dollar question,” according to P.S. Sriraj, director of the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois Chicago. Many are sticking with working with home — and transit agencies need to take that into account. He pointed to Metra, which he said has decided they are no longer a commuter rail and that they’re going to serve a variety of trips.

“That may be what all transit agencies ought to be doing in terms of why depend on the peak commute as the basis for your existence when you can serve many other trip types,” Sriraj said.

Alamanza said another public safety step is for CTA to employ ambassadors on trains and buses to deescalate incidents.

Records show the total number of operators employed by the CTA continued to fall, driven by a loss in bus drivers. In 2022, the agency employed 4,399 bus and train operators, down from 4,580 in 2021, according to WTTW News.

Sriraj said it’ll be an “onerous task” for whoever the next mayor is. There’s severe competition from other industries for jobs that are pay better, he said.

Audrey Wennink, senior director for transportation at the Metropolitan Planning Council, said she would like to see more protected bike lanes and that entire routes should be protected for bikers. One step toward improving bike safety could be a recently approved pilot from Chicago’s City Council to fine drivers who park in bike and bus lanes.

“Chicago Tonight” also spoke with advocates in public safety and environmental issues to hear what they’d like to see with the next administration.

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