Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Woe is Chicago

I met with my friend from Chicago this week for coffee and it wasn't long before we aired our grievances with our respective transportation. In all, the main difference for us is that waiting for thirty minutes for a bus seems normal to me (usually the 8, which should arrive every ten minutes), while it seems like a serious offense to him. In his defense, he has several more hurdles to suffer through after boarding the bus.

Suffering a "funding crisis", the CTA has (or will, sources vary) cut 81 (of 154) bus routes, increased fare (to $3.25 a ride at its highest), and cut 2,400 employees. Though CTA proposed service cuts wouldn't take until February, commuters (who have long been suffering) are already seeing changes. The newest deadline ("doomsday") is January 20. The proposed solution is a gasoline tax.
In theory, the tax would bring $385 million, but the means--and potentially rising costs--seems ridiculously unfair to add to the already outrageous gas prices. Hello? Gas is expensive "because of the war" and quickly becoming a luxury. Taxing motorists will only add to the secret animosity between the two sects.
I was a passenger in a car today wherein the driver called 20+ MTA riders "suckers" because they had to wait for a bus. Public transportation is cheaper than car insurance + car payments, semi-reliable (depending on the weather and one's mood), better for the environment, roads, and crowded roads than all passengers driving, and already a luxury. No, really, I can not stress enough how impossible it is for me to "just go out and buy a car" (as suggested by several people in the last month--notably not the aforementioned driver).
Imagine how much easier it would be to park in Chicago if there were less drivers. How the commute--for passengers and drivers--would improve if there were less cars. Would the air be cleaner if 1/3 of all drivers and riders rode a bike?
But back to the poor riders.
In addition to the agony caused by on-going brown and red (EL) lines, trains continue to share tracks, my friend says (without apparent notice of construction) as CTA pulls together its slim resources and stay on track.
Any commuter can refute this as average--routes are changed in every city without visible reason and for the simplest reasons, but my friend has noticed that the usual routes seem rarely used. And in a city like Chicago, when a stop is missed on a local train it can take buses and switched El lines to get back to the original intended stop. In short, it's a nightmare for out towners and a headache for locals--who not only suffer through changes but must guide the hip-pack'd-camera-toting-newbies to safety. Boo.
Or maybe I should take a deep breath and walk away; at least they're trying.

Our final concession was a notice of different attitudes in the cold weather. Chicago is arguably colder than Baltimore given its midwestern lakefront location. He says that when the buses finally arrives riders clamor and fight to get on the bus and out of the cold. Maybe it's a hospitality thing, but Mobtown riders seem more gracious and friendly when the weather gets colder, quietly lining up single file and insisting, No, you first when the bus arrives.

...Also in the mire is the death of a woman yesterday after she was hit by a bus. The bus driver has been cited with negligence after striking 59-year-old Ludwika Szynalik.

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