Mayoral allies block CTA oversight ordinance, Lightfoot denies it was a power move
It was an interesting day for transportation issues at City Hall, to say the least.
This morning in advance of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s 2023 budget address, a couple dozen people showed up for Chicago, Bike Grid Now’s City Council Bike Jam, blocking traffic in front of the municipal headquarters. The purpose was to call attention to the need for a citywide network of bike-priority streets, something several alders voiced support for during Monday’s Chicago Department of Transportation budget hearing. “Our city doesn’t need more car-centric infrastructure or piecemeal improvements,” the group tweeted prior to the blockade. “Our city needs elected official with the vision and will to give us a Bike Grid. We DEMAND it.”
State rep and mayoral hopeful Kam Buckner previously indicated on Twitter that he was planning to participate. He added his voice to the chorus calling for a network of safe, comfortable bikeways across Chicago.
A connected, protected bike grid in Chicago won’t happen by osmosis.
Leaders lead. See y’all at City Hall.
Let’s do the work. @bikegridnow pic.twitter.com/oef8N10klG
— Rep.Kam Buckner ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ (@RepKamBuckner) October 26, 2022
There were more hijinks inside City Hall as 40th Ward alder Andre Vasquez showed up for the meeting dressed as a CTA “ghost run,” a bus or train that shows up on the Transit Tracker, app, or platform display screen, only to vanish before it appears at the stop of station. His costume may have also been reference to the fact that agency president Dorval Carter Jr. ghosted his own Council hearing on unreliable transit service on September 14, infuriating alderpersons and advocates.
Vasquez was planning to introduce an ordinance requiring CTA officials to meet with the Committee on Transportation and Public Way on a quarterly basis to discuss service levels, operations, and security. The agency president would be required show up to these hearings if alders deem it necessary.
— @ward40 (@40thforward) October 26, 2022
But it a moment of pure-Chicago legislative jiu jitsu, during today’s meeting Lightfoot allies Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) and Scott Waguespack (32nd) thwarted Vasquez’s attempt to hold the CTA accountable. They moved to assign the ordinance to the Committee on Committees and Rules, which Chicago Reader politics columnist Ben Joravsky has called the place “where good legislation goes to die.”
“It’s beyond unfortunate that at a time when the whole public has concerns about safety and reliability as it pertains to our public transportation system, that anyone would block a regular reporting conversation about accountability,” Vasquez told Streetsblog after the meeting. “Our city deserves better.”
Asked if he has any idea why Carter ditched last month’s hearing, Vasquez said, “No, and it’s not the first time he’s done it. I don’t know if it’s being flippant, but clearly it’s not being responsive in a way that one would expect from an elected official who makes as much money as he makes out of the public dollar [In December of last year, Carter got a 33 percent raise to $350,000.] It’s embarrassing and shameful, and I think we need someone better, who’s willing to step up and answer tough questions, rather than duck and evade the Council.”
Ervin insisted to Streetsblog that “It’s not true” that he blocked Vasquez’s ordinance by moving it to the rules committee.
It is a shame that my colleagues Alders Waguespack and Ervin threw the CTA Quarterly Reporting ordinance into the rules committee. In a time when the public is concerned about the safety and reliability of @cta, transparency and accountability are minimum asks.
— Ald. Andre Vasquez, Political Account 🌹 (@Andrefor40th) October 26, 2022
Vasquez responded, “What occurs is, if somebody says that [proposed legislation] shouldn’t go to the same committee, they shout out a different committee, and if there’s a conflict it goes into rules. Now I would argue, if you’re talking about the Chicago Transit Authority, transportation is where it should go to. I don’t know why people would disagree.”
At a press conference following the meeting, Streetsblog asked the mayor, who appoints the CTA president, what she’d say to those who might suspect her allies obstructed Vasquez’s ordinance because she’d prefer to maximize her control of the CTA, and not have alders have additional say in how the agency operates.
“I would say that’s a ridiculous suggestion, frankly,” Lightfoot replied. “Transportation’s absolutely critical to our city. The CTA, like almost every organization that I’m aware of, has significant challenges in hiring and filling vacancies. Yes, of course, there needs to be more communication across the board, not just with members of the City Council, but with riders to give them confidence that they can get on the CTA. It’s absolutely essential to workers who don’t have their own vehicles. As the CTA goes, our city goes.”
“So we’ve got to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to keep the CTA vibrant,” the mayor added. “Dorval Carter and his leadership team, along with the two [transit operators] unions… have done a significant amount to have hiring fairs and so forth, but we’ve got to more people that are willing to be drivers, to become mechanics, and the folks that really keep the CTA running, so that we don’t have these delays. But the communication, I think, has to be better, I’ve been very clear about that to the chairman of the CTA board [Lester L. Barclay.] Dorval Carter reports to a board, and we’ve just to make sure that the communication is clear.” The Chicago mayor gets to choose four of the seven CTA directors.
“There’s been significant progress this year, particularly around public safety on the CTA, but there’s more work of course that needs to be done,” Lightfoot concluded.
Welp, it looks like Vasquez’s ordinance, like a CTA bus stuck in a single occupant vehicle-created traffic jam, is going nowhere fast. And Lightfoot doesn’t seem to have a serious problem with her transit chief skipping his own Council hearings. So it looks like we can expect more ghostly behavior from Carter in the future.