I start by saying I do understand the Chicago Transit Authority’s staff shortages and resource difficulties.
That said, it’s very clear that, to get riders back, CTA must police its transit facilities, particularly its trains. I can’t tell you how many friends and family are anywhere from disgusted to extremely fearful riding on CTA trains right now. Trust in CTA’s system is fast disappearing.
It isn’t just criminal activity. It’s what seems to be a growing defiance of appropriate public behavior and in-your-face violation of the CTA’s own rules for riders. There was a time when I would personally tell people to stop smoking. I don’t dare do that now. And nobody else does either. When does smoking occur? On, for example, every trip I take in the midday heading downtown from Harlem on the Green Line. Every trip. People get on the train and head for the cubbyholes at the ends of cars, hike themselves up on the window ledge, and smoke away. I emphasize: every trip, not just occasionally. People are also visibly shooting up in those cubbyholes.
There is constant passing back and forth between cars, with people calling codes indicating drug sales on the Green Line. The line has become an open drug market.
On the Red and Blue lines, friends and relatives who have depended on those services for transportation to work, medical appointments and other important things now refuse to ride those lines because of the behavior they encounter on every trip — not just on the occasional trip, every trip. It’s important to note that most of the riders I know have alternatives. I can’t imagine how people who have absolutely no choice must feel when they must constantly ride in that threatening environment, never mind in fear of crime and violence.
I haven’t seen a single instance in the past several months of anyone pushing the button to call the operator to report the activities we all observe. For one thing, the train would be constantly delayed while the operator dealt with the situations or while waiting for the police to arrive. For another, people — me included — have no idea how a miscreant would react.
And let me add that the Blue and Orange lines are significant modalities of introduction to our city for visitors from outside Chicago, including travelers from abroad. I cannot imagine how terrible their first impression must be.
It’s time for CTA President Dorval Carter to cease issuing the usual boilerplate “the safety of our customers is paramount” memoranda to the public — as he has to me when I’ve written on this topic to CTA directly. If our safety is paramount, take measures to provide safety!
Unarmed private “security” people make no difference at all, never mind that we’ve never seen one of them. Even if CPD/Transit Police are currently highly stressed and short-staffed, even if neighborhood gun violence is atrocious, some attention must be paid to the city’s transit system so that people can trust it again and so that visitors don’t go away warning people away from Chicago.
Ed McDevitt is a resident of River Forest.