Where There’s Smoke, There’s Ire: A CTA Rider Rails Against Cigarette Scofflaws

Photo: CTA
Photo: CTA

A Streetsblog reader gave us a heads-up about a complaint he recently sent to the CTA about people illegally smoking on ‘L’ cars. “I ride rush-hour trains as well as non-rush-hour trains,” he wrote. “It has been my observation that passengers are smoking on trains  much more often than I ever saw before. In fact, I think I see this on trains 1-2 times per week nowadays.”

The straphanger said he usually politely asks the passenger to snuff out their cigarette out, and they often do. “But is this really the best solution to this problem?” he asked the CTA. “I’ve observed that most passengers are not willing to speak up to smoking passengers — likely out of fear of a potential violent response (we all read about frequent acts of violence on the CTA.) Should this smoking ban really be enforced by fellow passengers? What happens when the smoking passenger doesn’t respond to a request to put their smoke out?”

The rider said this happened to him on a recent Saturday night on a Red line train, and he ended using the intercom system in the car to call the driver. “At the next station, he parked the train and left his post, delaying the train, and walked to our car,” he wrote. “I told him what I saw happening and he warned the passenger to not smoke again or he would be kicked off the train. But, in reality, I know that this passenger could simply do it again and would probably not get caught, and I think they know that.”

“There has got to be a better solution to this growing smoking issue,” the customer wrote. “Please at least tell me that the CTA is aware of this and is working on a better solution. As things currently stand I, and I think others, feel isolated, helpless, and scared of these situations with frequent smoking passengers, and that isn’t right. We shouldn’t have to put up with smoke in our train car, or have to move to another car every time this happens.”

He added that he rides both during rush hours and other times of day, and most often witnesses smoking on the Forest Park branch of the Blue Line (which runs between the Loop and the western suburbs in the median of the Eisenhower Expressway) when he boards at Racine for his evening commute. “The smoking passengers usually smoke until Jackson, unless I ask them to put it out, then they stop or exit the train as it starts to get more crowded,” he reported. “It is probably more difficult for them to flout the smoking ban around so many people. I’ve seen young and older people smoke in the cars, and both those who might be homeless as well as those who are clearly not. It is clear to me that they know they can get away with it and they do not care about their fellow passengers or any possible repercussions.”

The CTA responded by noting that the agency continues to remind riders that smoking (including e-cigarettes) or carrying  a lighted cigarette, cigar or pipe on system property is prohibited. “In fact, we recently began a customer-awareness campaign to inform riders about our Rules and Regulations, which strictly forbid smoking of any kind.  The CTA has also placed extensive signage throughout its properties designating them as smoke-free areas.” The spokesperson said the rider’s concerns had been forwarded to management.

The rep asked the rider to provide a detailed description of any such incidents to the CTA as soon as possible. They also recommended using the intercom to notify the train operator (as the customer had said he’d done.) “If you feel uncomfortable using the intercom in that car, switch train cars at the next stop and notify the operator.” The spokesperson also suggested reporting the incident to a customer assistant after you arrive at your stop, and noted that you can push a call button at the station if you don’t see any CTA staff. “If you feel immediately threatened, please do not hesitate to call 911.”

It’s worth noting that new Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker has voiced support for legalizing recreational marijuana as a strategy to decriminalize behavior that most Americans believe should be legal, as well as to raise tax revenue. A byproduct of that progressive policy would likely be a higher incidence of Chicagoans “sitting downtown in a railway station, one toke over the line,” as the old song goes. But hopefully these future CTA stoners will comply with the system’s rules of conduct, so we won’t see a corresponding increase in hot-boxed ‘L’ cars.

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