Wednesday, January 27, 2010


In a world that becomes more unrecognizable every day, there is a certain comfort in the realization that some things are as eternal as sunrise and Lego. I speak of the recently-announced Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) fare-hikes and service cuts (the latter of which was cunningly announced after the fare-hikes were approved).

One of the things I relished most about Chicago was its largely-functional network of buses and trains, which allowed you to navigate the city without the hassle and expense of finding a place to store your car at the end of a trip.

Even in the eighties and early-nineties, parking a car was an expensive and time-consuming proposition. The uncluttered ease of arriving at a destination sans automobile was one of life’s small joys. As was catching up on reading and sleep on the way home.

Sadly, the CTA is probably the best argument against government-run health care in the nation.

Here is a government entity with a virtual monopoly on public transportation in a metropolitan area of eight million people, yet one which seemingly needs an inhaler at the mere mention of black ink.

In the hyphen-happy language of the digital age, the CTA is profit-averse.

Unless you’re one of the unfortunate folks waiting at a slushy bus stop on a grey morning with a wind chill index of about ten, it’s almost the stuff of a Coen Brothers movie, with red ink replacing the blood.

It would be understandable if their monopoly were on curling equipment rentals. Or public appearances by nineties boy band 98 Degrees. But public transportation? In a metropolitan area recently named the third-most congested in the nation? Please.

I suspect the CTA is top-heavy, encrusted with dozens and dozen of politically-expedient appointees who draw six-figure salaries for being able to show up at the same address five days in a row and not much more.

And like our domestic automobile manufacturers, the CTA has perhaps been a tad too generous to its unionized employees.

The CTA rolls out its bi-annual argument that ridership is declining. But to anyone who’s ever waited on a subway platform, or stood in line at a bus stop only to stand on a bus, this argument is unconvincing.

More likely, the CTA is one of the city’s few remaining profit centers, and CTA patrons are paying-off Mayor Daley’s civic excesses, which include his bungled (and very expensive) Olympic bid.

Just when it's needed most, Chicago's public transportation is disappearing. And like so much else, this impacts the poor disproportionately. At the current rate, you have to wonder how much CTA riders will be paying to go nowhere at all.

Which, when you think about it, sounds like the CTA itself.

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