Category Archives: Multimedia

Safety and Security


[Image credit: http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com]

According to a recent Chicago Tribune article, there were 581 reported CTA robberies in 2010 and 294 robberies from the time period of January through May of this year, resulting in a 23 percent increase. This information was received from the Chicago Police Department and includes reported crimes located in CTA parking garages and lots, trains, buses, and platforms. Many people attribute these rising crime rates to the popularity and demand of smartphones. According to officials, the act of stealing smartphones from people waiting for trains and buses is typically referred to as “Apple-picking.”

When asked about the increase in robberies on CTA premises, CTA president Forrest Claypool responded, “This is the reason the Chicago Police Department is deploying more undercover officers, a visible wolfpack deterrent that can move between trains, and why the CTA is speeding up the installation of security cameras. We are trying to be agile and effective in responding to criminal activity and hooliganism, and making sure our riders can feel safe and secure on our system.”

One of the CTA concerns that has improved tremendously throughout the years has been safety and security, and although crime is still high, the city and CTA officials are actively working to provide safer transit. Securing the safety of passengers is a goal that the CTA has tried to accomplish through various means, such as installing security cameras in buses and train platforms, assigning more policemen to patrol platforms and transportation. Some other attempts at covering safety issues are posting a security tips brochure on their website and placing emergency instructions in each train car.

The Chicago Transit Authority’s YouTube Channel continues to update their channel with video postings on current efforts to build a safer travel environment, such as this video on safety tips and evacuation procedures. But how effective can a security tips brochure, emergency instructions and safety buttons be in ensuring a safe, hassle-free ride for CTA customers?

Our guess is not so much. But there is hope.

The following YouTube video explains how the Chicago mayor and CTA officials plan to improve safety conditions on CTA property through various means such as an increase in high-tech security cameras as well as more patrol by police officers:

Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and CTA President Forrest Claypool have looked into the CTA safety problems and implemented a new plan to install double the amount of current cameras on CTA premises by the end of 2011. The new cameras that have been installed since June of this year have aided in capturing 13 criminals thus far.

According to an article from ABC’s local news website, the city is spending a reported $15 million to install an additional 1,500 cameras, totaling 3,000 cameras across Chicago. One controversy that has sparked out of CTA’s technology budget has been the implications on CTA customers in regard to increasing fare hikes and cuts in bus and train services. Mayor Emmanuel responded to the controversy by replying, “We have some choices to make. And they’ll lay out their budget, but it’s clear that we’re investing and making sure that the dollars do not sit in the bureaucracy — they go right to the platform, right to the bus shelter.”

Although the security of passengers remains a significant concern regarding the CTA, improvements and future goals are actively being pursued within the realm of CTA safety. Until then, it is up to Claypool and other CTA officials to decide how to pursue these goals within the company’s budget.

We’d like to ask our readers: What do you think about the new spending plans on high-tech security cameras on CTA premises? Will this benefit consumers in the end, or will there be larger implications?

By Diana Park

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Filed under Budget, Finances, Improvements, Multimedia, Safety

CTA Route Cuts

Even CTA consumers that are uninterested, unhappy, or just plain unaware of the CTA’s recent management fiasco and budget crisis have found it difficult to ignore the inconveniences created by route cuts. Since of February 6 2010, the bus service has been reduced to 1/5 of its original size. In addition, train operations have also been reduced 9% since the CTA made its route cuts to reduce the budget deficit. Consequently, these decisions have left about 1100 CTA employees out of work and many more CTA consumers unhappy about their longer commutes. Many public transportation commuting Chicagoans are still expressing their discontent through blogs, YouTube Videos, and some opinions have even made it to the pages of many newspaper articles of papers like the Chicago Tribune. In consequence, I will share with you a few details about the infamous CTA route cuts that I have come across.

First, one of the biggest hits to the bus route system was the closing of the 103-year-old Archer Garage located at 2600 W Pershing Rd, which once operated 22 bus routes on its own. On the upside, all of its bus routes did not just cease to exist, but have been distributed among the other seven remaining garages within Chicago. Also, bus operators and maintenance personnel who had worked at the Archer Garage still hold jobs within the CTA in its other garages. The only Archer Garage bus route that was eliminated as a whole was the X49 Western Express. However, as a whole there were nine express bus routes cut from the system. As a sad reminder for many commuters, the Archer Garage now sits as a storing space for old out –of- service bus batteries and their drained fluids.

Furthermore, the closing of the Archer Garage has brought other conversations such as environmental concerns and local economy to the table. Folks residing within the garage’s neighboring area feared that the garage would have environmental effects on the community. This is a reasonable fear since the garage currently has six tanks filled with either diesel fuel or lube oil underground and has already had an oil spill incident that left oil residue stuck in the soil. However, the Illinois Environmental Protections Agency (IEPA) has been working with the garage to monitor leaks and contaminations.

According to a project manager working with IEPA, soil contaminated with oil should not affect the community’s drinking supply because they should be receiving their water from the public water supply that is not affected by the local soil. In addition, local businesses are not particularly happy either since the Archer Garage bus routes brought much revenue, but will now reduce local business costumers considerably.

Additionally, train lines have faced cuts as well. In fact, all the train lines except for the yellow line have been reduced. Consequently, waiting for train rides has increased significantly and have made the commute much more crowded than before. Many CTA riders are avidly complaining that their commutes have increased up to a half an hour or more. Other riders are completely annoyed by the crowdedness of their train rides, in which they not only have to stand, but must also get out of the train to let fellow passengers out. However, there are other CTA riders who do not feel that it has been as significant of a problem that some are making it out to be. The more optimistic passengers are simply relying on bus tracking systems to make their commutes a little more reliable.

CTA route cut problems do not end with long, crowded, and nonexistent routes, but have also brought about discussion on the inequality of such cuts. The YouTube video above entitled “Rev. Jesse Jackson calls for end to inequality in CTA bus routes” illustrates some of the issues that have risen out of the CTA bus route cuts. CTA riders are speaking up against CTA decisions to cut routes important to certain communities and are claiming that it is due to the favoring of certain neighborhoods over others. Evidence that the south side of Chicago is being left out in the cold comes from buses like the Dan Ryan terminal from the south side, which makes about two or three roundtrips and for the rest of the day turns into and stays as a 151-bus route for the north side.

Rev. Jesse Jackson along with the Rainbow coalition is backing union leaders in asking that the CTA redistribute bus routes equally. With all the arising bus route issues, CTA President Richard Rodriguez has much to consider.

By Yaxal Sobrevilla

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Filed under Budget, Budget Problem, CTA employees, Multimedia, Routes

Introduction to Pension Plan Issues

Pension Problems:
CTA financial crisis arises due to the open promises made in their pension plan

Ameya Pawar argues that elected officials have not done their job in funding the CTA pension plan throughout time. These promised benefits were brought out by the government; therefore it would be unreasonable to blame the retirees and union members for the evolving Chicago Public Transit problems.

The first problem stems on what actions the city of Chicago should take in order to regain ground. Pawar explains how money is being distributed ineffectively, while half of the property tax payer’s money goes toward service debt and service pensions. Obviously, the money is scarce and Pawar argues that in order to free up some money, the service must be sustainable and efficient. By improving the system, it will allow money to go toward the pension. It is unethical to increase fares on a system that clearly doesn’t work anymore. The main priority should be getting labor and union workers on board through an improved system, while avoiding the taking away of benefits from individuals who have bought into the plan. This is a government problem, so therefore why are the residents of Chicago being penalized with increased fares and union workers with cut benefits?

An Overview:

According to the CTA Retiree Health Care Trust (RCHT), as of 2006, the CTA Retirement Plan was only 30% funded at this time. This suggests that retirees were only receiving 30% of coverage on expenses toward health care and pension payments. Through time, the CTA retiree health care plan was seen as extremely generous when compared to other public or private employers. Holding many uncommon characteristics of formerly known pensions, the CTA offered plans that were free for retirees that included a fixed premium rate for dependent coverage regardless of the number of dependents being covered in the first place. Increased health care costs caused the retirement plan to plummet, providing an even larger portion of funding for future health care costs. Changes were needed to make the design more practical.

The Illinois legislative approached the problem by passing two laws in 2006 and 2008. The first public act called for the CTA to separate the funding for retiree health care benefits from the funding for pension payments. The second public act passed in 2008 modified section 22-1018 of the Illinois Pension Code, as well as section 3-2.3 of the Illinois State Auditing Act. Some of the changes are as follows:

  1. The CTA Retiree Health Care Trust (RHCT) must be independent in providing health care benefits to retirees, their dependents and survivors. Also, the Trust must be run by a board including three union representatives picked by the CTA. The RHCT is expected to assume responsibility after January of 2009.
  2. To be eligible for a retiree health care coverage, the CTA employee must be 55 years of age and have at least ten years of service before that individual can decide to retire.
  3. Once the RHCT declares financial responsibility for retiree health care after July of 2009, then the program can not offer any plan that includes co-insurance levels higher than 90% coverage for in-network services and 70% for out-of-network services.
  4. The retiree health care benefit program must be reviewed annually to determine if there are sufficient funds to cover future responsibilities. If the current funds happen to be insufficient, then contribution increases (increased premiums) and benefits decrease (reduced coverage) to help balance the shortage within a ten year span.
  5. The total contributions received from participants, including all retirees, dependents and survivors, cannot exceed 45% of RHCT expenses in the prior plan year.
  6. Active employees will be required to contribute at least 3% of their salary to the RHCT after January of 2008.

The CTA retiree health care trust plan was established in May of 2008 and was first funded with about $529 million dollars from CTA’s pension obligation bonds. It also receives money from the following:

1. Retiree/ dependent/ survivor premium contributions: As of July 2009, the RHCT began collecting premium contributions from retirees for their coverage, while before the retirees’ only use to pay the premiums for their dependents.

2. Payroll deductions from active CTA employees: By January of 2008, all active CTA employees had a 3% cut to their gross salary.

3. Investment Returns. The trust fund balance will be invested and the income from those investments, including all of the net losses and expenses, will be returned to the fund.

The CTA RHCT was said to take full responsibility for the funding, payment and administration of health care benefits for the CTA retirees, dependents and survivors as of July 2009. While they say they are committed to offering their expertise for the best benefits for their employees, CTA still suffers problems in the present year of 2011.

By: Gia Donofrio

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Filed under Budget, Budget Problem, CTA employees, Finances, Multimedia

POLL: What are you most concerned about?

Listen to Our Mission Statement Podcast!

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Filed under Charts/Graphs, Multimedia, Podcasts