CTA Using Ride-Share Fees to Add 1,000 New Security Cams, Upgrade 3,800 More

A security camera on a CTA train. Photo: CTA
A security camera on a CTA train. Photo: CTA

Today the city of Chicago announced that the CTA will be using revenue from the recently passed new tax on ride-hailing trips to fund a $33 million initiative dubbed the “Safe and Secure” program, including thousands of new and upgraded security cameras.

The fee, approve by City Council in November, added a 15-cent surcharge to the existing city ride-hailing fee of 52 cents per trip, 67 cents total, this year. The surcharge, which affects Lyft, Uber, and smaller competitors, will be increased to 20 cents, to 72 cents total, in 2019. The city projects this fee will raise $16 million in 2018, and $21 million in 2019.

Earlier this month the city announced that the ride-hailing revenue will help pay for a $179 million multiyear, citywide rail, railroad tie, and power upgrade project dubbed “FastTracks.”

As part of this latest initiative, the CTA will install 1,000 new cameras and upgrade more than 3,800 older-model cameras throughout the system to high-definition video. In addition, the city says that new lighting, repairs and other improvements will enhance safety at all 146 CTA rail stations. Cameras will also be installed at more than 100 CTA bus turnarounds and video monitors will be added to all CTA rail stops to help staffers keep an eye on the station.

Emanuel with a Chicago Police Department rep, CTA president Dorval Carter Jr., and 24th Ward alderman Michael Scott Jr. Photo: CTA
Emanuel with a Chicago Police Department representative, CTA president Dorval Carter Jr., and 24th Ward alderman Michael Scott Jr. at today’s announcement at the Central Park Pink Line station. Photo: CTA

“In Chicago we are investing in a world-class public transportation system that provides a comfortable, safe and secure experience for transit riders,” Mayor Emanuel said in a statement. “Chicago is the first city in the nation to create a ride-hailing fee dedicated to transit, making it possible to continue to invest in the latest technology and improvements that enhance commuting and improve the quality of life in our city.”

According to the city, the CTA’s security camera network has doubled in size since 2011. The cams have been installed in every rail station and on every bus and train. The newest buses have 10-14 cameras per vehicle, depending on the size of the bus. Officials say that since June 2011, transit camera footage has led to more than 1,300 people being charged for violations on the CTA.

While one can debate the pros and cons of having nearly ubiquitous surveillance on the CTA, the cameras do seem to be resulting in more arrests for violent crimes on the system, while reducing the possibility of innocent people being charged due to mistaken identity. For example, yesterday police announced that they made three arrests for a string of recent Loop subway pedestrian tunnel robberies based on security footage. Using high-definition cameras that provide clearer footage will further reduce the potential for unjust arrests. But hopefully increased awareness of the fact that there are cameras everywhere on CTA property will serve as a deterrent, so that violent acts will be less likely to take place on the system in the first place.

Update 3/1/18, 1 PM: In response to a query about why the 1,000 new cameras are needed, CTA spokeswoman Irene Ferradaz provided the following statement. “To clarify, not all 1,000 cameras are going into rail stations. A good portion of these new cameras also will be installed at our approximately 120 CTA bus turnaround areas, which are where riders board and alight buses, and also where our some of our employees take their breaks. The cameras being added to rail stations are to help improve the areas of coverage at the facility in areas with limited angles/views, including some areas outside of station entrances.”

  • Courtney

    Well, this is pretty disappointing. Here I am thinking I am truly helping the CTA to one day upgrade to gold-standard BRT or invest in maintaining the system better but no…more security cameras. *eye roll*

  • rohmen

    It’s a tough call. Part of me wants to call if a needless use of funds,
    and buck against cameras as another example of the general erosion of
    privacy. But, I ride the Forest Park branch of the blue line, and for
    whatever reason attacks on that branch have been on the rise (or at least you hear about them more).

    While I push back on the idea of going full-London and rigging cameras literally everywhere in public, I do kinda
    get the push for cameras at stations and on trains given the fact that people are rather
    isolated and vulnerable, especially late at night.

  • Bill R

    Yet more wasting of precious money. The only way to deal with thugs is lock them up or dissuade them from doing their crime. Sadly no one in Chicago has the stomach for the dissuading anymore. As for the piss bums and other such crap we deal with on CTA, making it tough on them and kicking them off is how to deal with it. Cameras don’t do anything other than waste money buying them, installing them and setting up data storage.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Good point, the entire Morgan Green Line station was built a few years ago for $38 million, and the money being spent on Safe and Secure is only $5M less. Upgrading existing cameras to high-def seems to make some sense, because they images they currently produce are somewhat grainy. But I’m asking the CTA for an explanation for why another thousand cams are needed, when the system already seems pretty saturated with them.

  • Courtney

    I hear ya.

    I think a big reason for these petty crimes is people feeling desperate financially or taking anger out on an innocent bystander. Transit projects create more jobs. Security cameras don’t. I’m not denying the need for them but this feels excessive and such a waste of such a big opportunity.

  • Anne A

    I can see both sides on this. It’s a tough call.

  • Laur

    So the Uber family investor Rahm , promoted a business model called “ride-share” which shares nothing but takes riders off the L or CTA……and now bang…big news …the $16 million projected will buy cameras…… Its all a joke. Hope this joker will be voted out soon

  • Kelly Pierce

    It is a fair question to wonder why so much money on cameras.
    We have aging L stations that need an upgrade or replacement and rather than the
    ride share money going to key infrastructure, it is going into security
    cameras. It could be that the CTA is anticipating federal matching grants on
    some infrastructure projects and does not want to fully fund projects with
    local money on things the federal government could partially pay for.

    The Illinois General Assembly has prohibited the carrying of
    firearms on public transit, depriving CTA riders of their constitutional right
    to keep and bear arms. People can carry pepper spray though. High potency,
    police grade pepper sprays can instantly place criminals in an inescapable cloud
    of pain and devastation, dropping them to the ground. While using them is likely not a good idea in
    a confined L car with other people, it might be an option if someone is the
    only passenger with the criminal on an empty car between Forest Park and
    Halsted on the Blue Line. Roman’s concern is what happened to a DePaul student
    a few years ago along the same part of the line.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Haven’t heard back from the CTA yet but, as stated in the article, 100 bus tunrarounds will be getting cameras, so I guess that helps account for how some of the 1,000 new cams will be used.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    “The Illinois General Assembly has prohibited the carrying of
    firearms on public transit, depriving CTA riders of their constitutional right
    to keep and bear arms.” I know, right? Why shouldn’t CTA riders be allowed to defend themselves by firing at assailants on crowded buses and trains — what could go wrong?

  • Kelly Pierce

    A shoot on a crowded train would likely be an irresponsible
    gun use. I was speaking about the instance of an armed robbery on an empty
    train like those between Halsted and Forest Park on the Blue line.