Transit Riders Still Second-Class in Second City

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(Photo: It’s criminal the lengths transit riders have to go to get their opinions heard.)

CHICAGO’S TRANSIT NEWS BLACKOUT RETURNS FROM THE DEAD
I still can’t figure why local media–and transit reporters most importantly–weren’t up in arms this week over Mayor Daley’s sudden removal of Ron Huberman from the president’s seat at the Chicago Transit Authority. Aside from Greg Hinz’ opinionated coverage on his Crain’s blog, most Chicago reporters covered Huberman’s arrival at Chicago Public Schools, ignoring the potentially disastrous ramifications of Huberman’s exit from the CTA entirely.

For shame. A world city rises and falls on the strength of its public transit, no matter what Mayor Daley says. (To review, he justified his actions by offering the highly facetious defense, “education is the answer to all the ills”.) World cities recognize that without strong public transit within their borders, people don’t get to work, business doesn’t get done, productivity declines, money goes unmade, and in the end, economic competitiveness goes out the window. World city leaders know this through and through.

Moreover, world city leaders (not to mention leaders from Chicago’s competition cities for the 2016 Olympic Summer Games) act like they know this, too. The instantaneous removal of the leadership of Transport for London, New York City Transit, or the RATP in Paris would seem laughable in those cities, especially without any clearly defined plan on the part of municipal leaders for what comes next.

In case you haven’t noticed, Mayor Daley didn’t have such a plan for the CTA. For three days the agency–under Huberman for the first time crawling back from the bad old days–didn’t have a president. Today, by dint of an emergency meeting of the CTA Board, it has an interim head quickly chosen from within (Dorval Carter, the EVP of Operations, in case you’re wondering.)

So why weren’t our town’s transit reporters out there asking riders–especially existing riders groups–what they thought of the sudden shuffle?  Other than Hinz, not much of a peep emerged from the media peanut gallery.

THE VOICE OF TRANSIT RIDERS NOT NEWSWORTHY?
Amazed at the deafening media silence, yesterday I pitched a major local radio show on a roundtable discussion of transit advocates to address the CTA/Huberman issue. Initially, the response was favorable.

Late this afternoon I was told the show’s producers decided that already existing riders groups like CTA Tattler or the Transit Riders Alliance weren’t important enough to be on the air. Instead, you’ll be listening to the weekly transit reporter of a free local tabloid and a stand-in for an unavailable, former transit advocate.

The above sentence bears re-reading, I’m not kidding about it in any way.

With all due respect to reporters from free tabloid rags everywhere, for any member of local media to think an Internet watchdog site with a sizable constituency and demonstrable influence like the CTA Tattler would be a less reliable source about the voice of CTA riders is asinine. For all intents and purposes, the CTA Tattler is the voice of CTA riders. Unofficially on the local blogosphere, the Tattler is already considered just that.

In fact, CTA Tattlers reach has gotten so wide, last year its editor & publisher, Kevin O’Neill, and several Tattler readers sat down twice with former CTA President Ron Huberman–now pay attention to this part, folks–at Huberman’s own request.

If CTA management thinks the CTA Tattler represents riders but local media doesn’t, the only lesson there is that local media is as woefully out of touch on transit issues as is our local mayor.

In order to ensure a real-life rider’s voice appeared on the show, I was invited to be the first call-in guest. I declined (and quite frankly, O’Neill should have received that invitation, not me.) Thanks, but I’ll keep my own personal CTA rider voice here on the Internet, where I’m pretty sure it will have greater effect than asking a secondary transit reporter and physically absent transit advocate whether my opinions regarding the CTA are valid.

Funny thing, the thousands of transit riders who are already organized amongst ourselves out here on the Interwebs don’t really think we need anyone else to interpret our opinions about what’s right and what’s wrong with Chicago’s transit system for us. We already know what works and what doesn’t. Very well, I might add.

We’re more than happy to share our (usually) educated, well-considered, and community-vetted opinions about the state of transit in the Windy City with the public.  In fact, we’re committed to doing just that every single day on the blogosphere. But don’t ask us to do it at arm’s length. The former head honcho of the CTA never left the CTA Tattler hanging on the telephone. Neither should local media.

WHY DOESN’T CHICAGO’S MAYOR RIDE HIS CITY’S TRANSIT SYSTEM?
The mayor who reassigned Huberman sure doesn’t know much about us, either. Since Daley never sets foot on the his city’s own transit system, he probably has no idea how bad the CTA got for so long, how much better it became under Huberman, nor by dint of how bad it used to be, why many riders now fear a return to the awful old days.

Remember, folks, this is the mayor who said in the mid-1990s that transit was dead in modern American cities and that CTA cutbacks really weren’t a big deal.  If Daley’s coarsely considered removal of Huberman is any indication, his thinking hasn’t come very far since then.

After years of willful neglect of the CTA–and the now 1.8 million Chicagoans who ride the system every weekday–for Mayor Daley to signal that the agency and the people who ride it are second-best is laughable. How out of touch the Chicago mayor must be to think that’s a Progressive message to send about the things that matter in America’s third-largest city.

Then again, it’s not like Daley follows the lead of NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg.  The latter mayor has taken the NYC subway to work at City Hall every day for the past eight years.  Maybe if Richie got around more on the CTA he’d understand why many people think his judgement in this situation stinks.

SPEAKING ENGAGEMENT AT COLLEGE OF COMPLEXES
But wait, there’s more. Yours Truly be opining on all this and more tomorrow night (Saturday, January 31st) at a College of Complexes dinner debate on Chicago’s North Side (follow the link for more information.) C of C is a decades old, raucous debate club with a history of tackling tough issues and putting speakers on the spot. I look forward to the potential next-day bruises.

Originally I was invited to speak about the CTA’s ongoing harassment of homeless riders. I will, too. But thanks to Mayor Daley, there’s now a lot more to talk about.

And if I weren’t under the weather, I could make it there, too.  Rats.

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