As I rode the #6 bus the other evening I could not help but marvel at the wonder of the CTA. Many of you may think I am being sarcastic, but honestly, we need to realize how great the CTA is and how it is working to get better. Before anybody writes a letter to the editor about how they had to stand in the snow for 6 hours for a bus that was canceled without any warning, please hear me out. We need to be realistic and recognize that the CTA is not perfect, nor will it become so overnight, but it is definitely working toward that goal and moving in the right direction.
First, we need to keep in mind that the CTA is the second largest public transportation system in the country serving not only the City of Chicago, but also 40 suburbs. As the CTA website so clearly points out, the CTA provides nearly 1.5 million rides across a network of seven rail lines and 150 bus routes. With this in mind a cash fare increase to two dollars is not unreasonable. Those who utilize the Chicago and the Chicago Plus swipe cards will have no increase from the past fare of $1.75. Additionally, the five dollar purchase fee for the cards has been waved until March of 2006. Nobody wants to see fare hikes, but the buses still need to run on gas, and improvements to the lines are not free.
Those who argue that this increase is unfairly targeting the poor must realize that the CTA is currently working on a $282.6 million improvement project for the Red Line, scheduled to be completed in late 2006, with the entire project taking place along the Dan Ryan Corridor from Cermak to 95th Street. Also, keep in mind that the Red Line will be operational during this project. When many cities do such extensive work on the light rail system, frequently the entire line needs to be closed; not the case with the CTA. By phasing the work, the CTA was able not only to move forward with the project in a timely manner and maintain the train schedules, but also to have only a marginal impact the traffic of the Dan Ryan Expressway, which is undergoing its own reconstruction. Can you imagine the traffic if the Red Line were closed and the Dan Ryan were being reconstructed? Oh and the fare for para-transit, the service that has door to door service for those with physical disabilities, is staying at a buck fifty, not increasing to three as previously announced (and all of the buses are now handicapped accessible).
When it comes to the future, the CTA is making amazing strides. Although the CTA is constantly improving its buses, trains, and routes, the main item that is buzz worthy is the proposed Circle Line (I know, I wanted another color too.) The Circle Line is a plan that would run north south, connecting the El with many of the Metra lines entering the city. Say you need to get from Bucktown (northwest side) to Pilsen (near south west side) by El. Instead of having to go into the loop, where you would have to pick up another line, the Circle Line would allow you to avoid having to go downtown to make transfers by going directly south along the Ashland corridor. As a phased project, the line would have a minimal impact on neighborhoods and bring Chicago closer to having an integrated light rail/commuter rail/ bus system. Although a large amount of federal funds have been secured, there is still work that needs to be done on the states end, and therefore any time frame is speculative. Even though it may not be in place soon, if completed, it would be one of the most significant advancements in this citys transportation infrastructure.
So maybe the CTA doesnt have helicopters that leave from 57th and University, or even jet powered buses, but what they do have is a commitment to constant improvement and service to the city. It is easy to compare and contrast other metropolitan mass transit systems, but when you look at all of the facts (the size of the system, the area covered, the funding, the weather, etc.), it is fairly clear that the CTA is arguably the best public transit system in the United States, and possibly the world. So next time you are on a bus or El, take a look around, and thank your lucky stars that your bad experiences have been so few and far between.