“We’re a tight rope kind of walking organization but we do well and again our customers see that. They do see that we are a caring organization. We have a tremendous staff and support that just believes in transit and believes in CTA.”
Every agency is faced with challenges particular to its location, economic and/or political situation. CTA is no different. Brown says the amount of unfunded dollars facing the agency has stunted its ability to increase its technology side quickly.
“We’re trying to take those dollars and spend them wisely in the areas where we will get the most bang for our buck,” says Brown who uses the example of having to halt one train to allow another to proceed while other agencies are now able to move multiple trains in different directions at the same time without interrupting service.
“We have great ideas we’d like to see implemented if dollars were available to get them done,” Brown admits.
One of CTA’s particular challenges is its elevated structure, the famous ‘L’ that services much of Chicago, and in particular loops the downtown area and is the oldest part of the system.
“[All of our lines in the Loop] run on the elevated structure, which is challenging to keep our employees trained and abreast of our safety rules and regulations. And ensuring that they are following those safety rules and regulations where they are putting the lines out for the different routes to take,” Brown says.
“Again our elevated line being the oldest we would like to see a lot of modernization with our stations with our track structures.
“We did do some work last year on the elevated, but of course there is more to do. It’s money. It’s all about the dollar. So with those dollars we could do a lot for Chicago.”
With these challenges, I asked Brown how CTA managed to keep up with ridership demand — a demand that has increased 10 out of the last 11 years — and she said it’s all about being creative and making sure the unfunded buck stops internally with them, not the customer.
“We are always looking to upgrade our system to meet customer demand and our ridership being 1.7 million people we have done, with the assistance of all the departments, we’ve done a tremendous job in maintaining our systems so none of that impact is felt by our customers,” Brown says.
“We have been challenged with a lot of things lately with the economy that has just not favorably worked out for us. So with those challenges and the assistance of the departments that support me it’s just a very challenging so our 1.7 million riders don’t feel that impact to their daily ride.”
Brown says the agency has been banging the drum for transit, encouraging people to take it as often as they can. Last summer its efforts were boosted by the skyrocketing gas prices, which in turn gave way to the economic downturn. The resultant ridership growth has continued, which has its own problems.
Brown says CTA had to be creative when that growth impact hit, “We took out a lot of the slow zones on the Blue Line. Once those slow zones were removed because of the track renewal work that we were able to do up there, the Blue Line ridership went up tremendously.
“Then we took out some things on the Brown Line. All of the stations on the Brown Line now are eight-car trains. Impacting that ridership was increasing from a six-car to an eight-car. That ridership was increased. So we have seen an increase in ridership and we’re hoping for that to continue to grow.”
The system currently has the capacity to handle this growth CTA’s Wanda Taylor explained to me. And as she states it, with an agency like CTA, there is always room — and a need — for more.
“Certainly new cars, new buses all of those things are needed. They’re needed partly because of the increase in ridership but primarily because of the age of our fleet whether it be bus or rail,” Taylor explains.
“That’s the thing. Regardless of when the economy improves and the sales tax increases and we actually get the revenue that we are anticipating from those sales, that is operating mind you.