Commuters Take Action plans protest this Wednesday before CTA Board Meeting

A Commuters Take Action sticker in the wild. Photo: CTA
A Commuters Take Action sticker in the wild. Photo: CTA

Over the past year or so, many Chicagoans have taken to social media to share their experiences of waiting 30 minutes to an hour for a CTA bus due to pandemic-related labor shortages. There have also been issues with service gaps on the ‘L’. For example, one analysis found that only half of scheduled Blue Line runs were actually materializing. In august the transit agency unveiled a new action plan for improving reliability, safety, and customer experience, titled “Meeting the Moment: Transforming CTA’s Post-Pandemic Future,” but many riders says they’re still experiencing delays

In response to this diminished service, a new advocacy organization called Commuters Take Action (not to be confused with the longtime local grassroots group Citizens Taking Action) has sprung up to help riders make their voices heard. The new org asks transit customers to report missing train and bus runs, and encourages them to contact the CTA and alderpersons about poor service. The group is holding the I’m Late protest this Wednesday, September 14, from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. at CTA headquarters, 567 W. Lake St. to draw attention to rider frustration with unreliable service. I talked with Commuters Take Action member Olivia Gahan to learn more about the group and its upcoming rally. 

Courtney Cobbs: Hi Olivia. Can you tell me more about your involvement with Commuters Take Action?

Olivia Gahan: So my origin story began with the public comment period during an April CTA board meeting. I spoke up at the meeting and Fabio Gottlicher, who founded Commuters Take Action, reached out to me. Fabio introduced me to other transit enthusiasts and there’s a group of about five of us working with Commuters Take Action. Fabio started tracking the Blue Line runs since he lives off that line. He found that half the scheduled blue line trains were running. 

We’ve submitted public comments at three CTA board meetings. After conversations with Ald. [Carlos] Ramirez-Rosa (35th), we realized the next step we could take was to organize a protest to pressure the CTA president to have a meeting with the Chicago City Council. [In June Ramirez-Rosa introduced a resolution signed by 35 other alders calling for a public hearing on CTA service.]

CC: Can you share a bit about the timeline of Commuters Take Action?

OC: Commuters Take Action has been in existence for eight months. In May, we hung up train car announcements to reach transit riders to get them to share their experiences with late or missing trains and buses. In June we had 2,500 stickers made with a QR code so that folks could report missing trains and buses. In August we toyed with the idea of doing a protest. After a meeting with Ald. Ramirez-Rosa, we started planning the upcoming protest.

CC: Do you have an idea of how many people have taken action through your QR code?

OG: We’ve had 1,150 people take action, either through reporting a missing train or bus, submitting a public comment, or emailing their alder.

ImLateProtestCC: What’s the plan for Wednesday’s protest?

OG: We’ve had two groups of folks who said they’re going to attend: The Democratic Socialist group from [the University of Illinois at Chicago] and Chicago, Bike Grid Now. [CBGN is leading two different Bike Bus rides down Milwaukee Avenue and Halsted Street, which will both end at the protest.] We’ve been promoting it on social media and with some flyering. Alders Ramirez-Rosa and Matt Martin (47th) will be speaking. [Transit organizer] Jose Manuel Almanza, Jr. from Chicago Jobs with Justice. A few riders will also be speaking as well.

[Courtney Cobbs is a co-founder of the local transportation advocacy group Better Streets Chicago. After this interview was conducted, BSC signed on to be part of Wednesday’s protest.]

CC: What would you say is the goal of Commuters Take Action?

OG: The specific goal for the 14th is to demonstrate public pressure for the CTA board and to show public support for alders who are working to get the CTA to meet with them. We want to show that riders want improvements.

The general goal of Commuters Take Action is to be a place where commuters can voice their frustrations, and we want to pressure the board to have increased transparency in their hiring practices, what work they’re doing to meet the goals they’ve publicly shared, and getting the CTA to update the bus and train trackers so that they’re reliable and accurate. Commuters Take Action initially formed around a goal of an accurate tracker. Lastly, very broadly, we’d like to support the safety of CTA bus and rail operators. 

The 63rd Street Red Line platform. Photo: John Greenfield
The 63rd Street Red Line platform. Photo: John Greenfield

CC: Would Commuters Take Action ever have a goal of having more rider representation on the CTA board?

OG: It’s not something we’re actively campaigning for, but it has come up in conversations with alders. Fun fact: I’m learning a lot about the CTA. The board president is appointed by the mayor. Four members are chosen by the City Council and three members are appointed by the governor. Currently there is one open seat on the board.

A CTA spokesperson has mentioned [the possibility of] a CTA Advisory Board. Currently this board does not exist. We are open to campaigning for more rider representation but the immediate issues are a meeting with City Council and improved tracker reliability.

CC: Do you see this group turning into a riders’ union?

OG: There is a riders’ group being organized by Jose Almanza with Chicago Jobs with Justice. There’s a lot of close collaboration with them. Commuters Take Action takes a more guerilla approach. There’s a lot of flexibility with Commuters Take Action that allows us to respond to issues that arise.

CC: Anything else you’d like to share?

OG: We’d love to have more riders submit their comments to the CTA board. We get a lot of submissions which we submit to the board but we think it would be more impactful if people submitted on their own. The process isn’t all that intuitive but we’ve seen some success with submissions.

CC: What are the successes you’ve seen?

OG: We’ve been interviewed alongside the CTA itself. Fabio was on a live radio program on WBEZ along with Jose Almanza. A CTA spokesperson was there as well. 

The CTA board has released their “Meeting the Moment” document. The CTA has made improvements to the bus and train tracker. They’ve also acknowledged that there is a lapse in service or at least a lapse in hiring folks. Six months ago they weren’t acknowledging this. With all of that momentum, addressing this on a city level will be a great next step.

CC: You’ve mentioned working with Ald. Ramirez-Rosa. Are there any other alders who have been responsive?

OG: Every alder we’ve spoken to has been responsive. Ald. Ramirez-Rosa’s resolution to have the CTA board meet with City Council received the backing of 35 other alders. There is support within the council for a conversation. They’re getting complaints from their constituents so it makes sense. Many people don’t know where to go with their frustrations. 

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