“That’s not money that would be used to expand the system or to purchase the buses or to purchase the trains or remove slow zones. So you always have to get that capital funding whether it be from the state or from the federal [government] or a combination of the two. You’re always going to have that need for the capital funds whether it’s to make improvements on the existing system or extend the rail lines, as we are looking for now,” Taylor says.
The challenge facing CTA currently Taylor explains is that — as with many other agencies — it isn’t getting the operating revenue it anticipated and it doesn’t have the capital funding at the same time. This funding drought is where the need to be creative with how you spend the funds you have comes in.
On the capital side due to the system’s age, Taylor says, “there are a ton of things that you can do with the money but since you don’t actually have the whole $6.8 billion then you identify, well what’s the priority. I got X number of dollars right now. Which projects can I do with that that’s going to make the improvement for the customers? So that’s where the big challenge comes in too.”
Particularly challenging for CTA has been the procurement of new rail cars. As all agencies are familiar with, new vehicles means new training for everyone from managers to mechanics and everyone in between, which with a funding crunch can prove expensive. I asked Brown what new vehicle training for them entailed and if it would be difficult considering the circumstances the agencies is operating under.
“All of our operators, front-line operators, supervisors and managers were required to attend training for the function of the new vehicles before they can operate them in a service capacity. So all of the operators go through some extensive training to make sure they understand the equipment. How to troubleshoot the equipment. The correct operation of the equipment. And what the equipment will help them do better in their jobs,” Brown says.
“A lot of it is automated so a lot of the information the operator will be able to communicate better to control and also there will be a feed into the control center. So yeah we will be doing a lot of training on the new vehicles before they arrive and once they arrive.
“Giving again a lot of the unfunded things that we [have] and the prioritizing of things, sometimes it becomes challenging to ensure that we have enough bodies to meet the demand that we are faced with. And with us looking at creative ways of saving money that’s not going to be an impact to our customer, we are also looking at the vacancies and can we afford to fill those vacancies now. Can we afford to increase staffing in a training department or program in the development department?
“So it’s not difficult as much as it becomes challenging to [do] with all the other things we do within the training of our operators to ensure that we’re giving them the correct information at the time they need so they can apply it.”
Brown says CTA is always looking at ways to be creative and how that impacts the customer. In fact, this positive customer impact is something she feels every agency can learn from.
“We would like to get to a place where our customers get on a train, get on a bus and they’re not even thinking about they’re on a train or a bus,” says Brown.
“They’re getting from Point A to Point B whether they are traveling to work, school or out for leisure time. That they’re on our train. They’re on our system and they don’t have to think about it. That a train is going to be there. A bus is going to be there.
“So we look at a lot of creative things to say is this a good thing for our customers and if so, let’s implement it so the customer feels that impact.”
Romayne Brown is the definition of homegrown talent. Coming into the Chicago Transit Authority at an entry-level position, she worked her way up over the course of three decades to the No. 1 position on its rail side. It’s this sort of success story that she feels other agencies could learn from and implement in their systems.
“Organizations have to look at their employees,” Brown says.
“They have to look at employees and say that we have employees within our company that we should be mentoring and grooming and bringing them up through the rank and file with the knowledge that we’ve already invested in that employee so why let that knowledge walk out the door when we can utilize that knowledge here.