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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Letter to RedEye: CTA Suggestions

Recently, the RedEye's Going Public column opened the floor to hear suggestions for the CTA so they could improve service and reliability and all the other things we want the CTA to provide because it doesn't.

I came up with a few ideas. Here's my letter. We'll see if any of it gets printed, since I didn't see that they did today.

Since the RedEye is calling for suggestions for the CTA, I can't resist drafting my own list of suggestions:

1) Bus tires.

I don't know what is wrong with the tires on every single bus I get on, but there seems to be a near-constant, squealing, screeching noise coming from the wheel areas. It almost sounds as if some of the wheels on my bus aren't going 'round and 'round - but are literally being dragged along the ground all the time. If this is the case, I'm sure it's affecting the gas mileage of the bus, and fixing this problem would lead to better gas efficiency, better speed and handling, and IT WOULD STOP THE SQUEALING NOISE!

2) "Approximately one minute."

I'm getting a little sick of the "Attention customers: an ___BOUND train, ___ the Loop, will be arriving in approximately one minute" messages. Okay, some stations just have an "arriving shortly" message, but the whole system is a moot point. By the time these messages are playing and being displayed, the train is IN SIGHT. I like the suggestion I read about replacing it with just a sign that flashes with the direction of the train (inbound/outbound) that would do the same thing, quicker and easier, but I'm taking it one step forward. If we have some ridiculous trigger or sensor that alerts the sign to scroll some text and play that dumb message, why can't we move it back farther, maybe to the previous station, and have a countdown of the minutes we'll be waiting for the next train? This would alleviate rubberneckers who lean INTO THE TRACK AREA to fight over catching the first glimpse of an incoming train - which always happens BEFORE any message plays. Just give us a countdown so people can just relax and wait, rather than endanger themselves because we never have a clue when a train is REALLY coming in this whole system until we actually SEE it.

3) Leaks and puddles.

Dear CTA: You know where the roof is leaking. You know it's causing puddles. Spend $5 and get a freaking TARP for the leak to divert the puddle AWAY from customers. The end.

4) Bus-bunching research.

Here's how you can PROBABLY solve the entire bus-bunching phenomenon for about $100 per bus route (though we all know I'm talking about the #8 Halsted, because if THAT could be fixed, anything could be fixed four times as easily). Buy twenty one-day passes. Give them to twenty college students who have nothing better to do than spend a day fixing the CTA. Tell their professors to give them extra credit if they're civil engineers or something. Have them board the bus route at one end, one per bus, so you've now got twenty researchers on twenty buses in a row, all with a watch, notepad and pen. Have them record the time as they get to each stop, and take notes on anything significant that's delaying the bus, whether it's unruly passengers, traffic accidents, or the bus is just going REALLY SLOWLY. When they get to the end of the route, have them get off and board going the opposite way, and repeat. In one day, you'll have enough data to plot the movement of the buses, make all kinds of graphs and charts, and I'm sure you'll have a thousand times more information about the bus-bunching phenomenon than you ever did before. All for a lousy $100. You're welcome!

5) Enforcing the rules.

At every level, from the CTA to the federal government, it winds up with the fact that we have too many laws and not enough enforcement. I read the entire debate over whether or not there are CTA rules about strollers on buses and trains, but where's the debate over actual-factual rules that simply aren't being enforced? We all love to argue over the cleanliness (or lack thereof) of the buses and trains, but when was the last time you saw anyone being fined or punished for eating/drinking on the CTA? The signs and loudspeakers make it clear that there IS a rule, but nobody enforces it. And the soliciting! My goodness, it's like I can't take one ride on a train without being harassed for change, asked to buy something that was probably stolen, or hit up for money by children and their fundraisers. No soliciting means NO SOLICITING! One of these days, I'm going to snap - grab the solicitor by the scruff of the neck, threaten to drag them off the train and to the nearest police officer or security person, and fine them to the full extent of the law. That is, of course, unless they pay me some hush money. The irony alone of hitting up solicitors for money as a threat is delicious enough to make it worth trying at least once.

6) More buses, more trains.

As long as they're all borderline-functional, why not drag out the rest of the monstrocities hiding in storage or CTA garages? If what they've got on display now is the cream of the crop, how far down could their B-team of vehicles really be? Get more trains and buses out there, especially during rush hour, and this will alleviate a huge portion of the crammed-full trains and all of the problems it brings to commuters. It does no good being in a seat if three stops later, every pathway is stuffed to capacity with people blocking any chance of exit, and you're literally SHOVING people out of the way because they don't understand that this is your stop and they CAN step out of the train momentarily to clear a path and then GET BACK ON! Between 4:45pm and 5:45pm, there should be a non-stop flow of trains rotating around the Loop. Believe me, even if the duration between trains were the two minutes for it to pull out, have the other line's train pull in and pull out, then have the next train pull in - by the time they left the Loop, they would be 3/4 full. And 3/4 full allows for room to wiggle your way out of the train with few problems, unlike sardine-stuffed trains.

These are just a sampling of the numerous suggestions one could make on improving the CTA. Feel free to print any/all of them - the faster they can reach Ron Huberman, the better!

Aaron Samuels, 23, Bridgeport

Like I said, I submitted this yesterday, and nothing in today's paper. Maybe tomorrow. We'll have to wait and see, but I thought I'd at least throw it out there for you readers, just in case.


Been there said...

CTA already has #4, and has been crunching the data in charts you wouldn't believe, for a good period of time. If it were as simple as you would have us believe, CTA and every other urban center transit agency in the world would have fixed bus bunching long ago.

Short of a separate right of way (e.g., light rail), it's much more challenging to implement than you would think.

Anonymous said...

Just chiming in about #4. There is no simple fix to bunching.

Three things would help significantly:
1) signal priority, meaning that the light turns green for late buses;
2) for everyone to get a Chicago card so they can board more quickly; and
3) for people to exit by the rear door when anyone is trying to get on the bus.

Bus bunching is essentially a downward spiral -- a bus gets a little late, which means that it has to pick up more than its share of customers, which makes it later, which means it has to pick up more customers. The only ways to break that cycle are to speed up that bus and to diminish the delay involved in picking up a passenger. Signal priority speeds up late buses. The other two suggestions diminish the delay, meaning a late bus will be made a little less late by each additional passenger who makes it to the corner before it arrives.

AaronBSam said...

I still think it's easier than everyone thinks. Even the simple solution of adding a radio to the buses so in a 2-bunch of #8 buses, one can communicate to the other, "Hey, wait one minute and let my 3 passengers transfer to you, since I've been following you and there's nobody waiting." The follower would transfer the 3 passengers, then go 'Not In Service' and hurry down the route making no stops for a mile or two, and then resuming function between the very-late bus and the one that last passed these stops 20 minutes ago, so they don't have to wait another 15 minutes for the very-slow bus.

Again, this all works in MY mind, and it's all VERY simple. The best solutions usually are.