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Here’s how to help un-block the CTA oversight ordinance thwarted by Lightfoot allies

CTA president Dorval Carter Jr. has a habit of skipping City Council hearing on the CTA. Is this his favorite board game?

On Sunday a small group of transit advocates met with Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) to discuss how to move forward with an ordinance that would hold the Chicago Transit Authority accountable to the City Council. On September 14, CTA president Dorval Carter Jr. ghosted a City Council hearing meant to provide answers to alders on service unreliability (including the "ghost run" problem), safety concerns, and the bus and train operator shortage.

Frustrated by a lack of public accountability and transparency, last week Vasquez introduced legislation that would require CTA officials to meet with the Council on a quarterly basis. If CTA officials, including the president if their presence is requested, fail to show, the legislation would require funding for CTA projects to be put on hold for that quarter until CTA officials make themselves available to the council.

Soon after Vasquez introduced his ordinance, which was supported by 42 cosponsors, it was assigned to the Council's rules committee by Alders Jason Ervin (28th) and Scott Waguespack (32nd), allies of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who appoints the CTA president. When legislation is sent to the Rules Committee, it’s typically a tactic meant to kill the bill. Lightfoot later told Streetsblog that the notion this legislative maneuver was done because she'd prefer not to give alders more power over the CTA is "ridiculous."

Conspicuous by his absence among the 42 ordinance supporters was Ald. Daniel La Spata, who's usually an outspoken transit advocates. La Spata later released a statement explaining that he “does not believe that City Council can improve CTA service by withholding investments in transportation. I believe the opposite: that City Council can hold the agency accountable by investing in the system wherever possible to expand or improve service, and using the power of intergovernmental agreements to build accountability metrics.”

My statement on @40thforward proposed @cta Ordinance: I support holding regular hearings at City Council.

I cannot tie crucial investments to these hearings: this could delay future projects like the California Blue Line ADA accessibility funding, and the Red Line Extension.

— Alderman Daniel La Spata (@AldermanLaSpata) October 27, 2022

La Spata added that he believes investments he supports in his own ward and the south Red Line extension project could be “delayed indefinitely” if Vasquez's ordinance lead to alders holding up transit funding in response to CTA officials ghosting Council hearings.

Vasquez later said that under his ordinance, funding would not be delayed “indefinitely,” but rather the money would be released once CTA officials meet with alders. He argued that the Council needs to take a carrot-and-stick approach to holding the CTA accountable, and currently there are no “sticks” or penalties.

We had a great meeting with @ctaaction, @streetsblogchi and more today at @BlackSheepChi and of course the Reprot #GhostBusCostume had to make an appearance!!

— Ald. Andre Vasquez, Political Account 🌹 (@Andrefor40th) October 30, 2022

At Sunday's gathering, Vasquez encouraged the advocates to email rules committee chair Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) and ordinance blocker Scott Waguespack, who's also on the committee. He also suggested writing the other alders who didn't voice support for the legislation: Walter Burnett (27th), Jason Ervin (28th), Jim Gardner (45th) and James Cappleman (46th), although he said Harris and Waguespack have the most clout on this issue. As chair, Harris has the power to move the ordinance back out of the committee. Vasquez added that, despite his adversarial action at last week's Council meeting, Waguespack is currently trying to work him on moving the legislation forward.

If you reach out to these reps (find their emails here), include the ordinance record number, O2022-3472. I for one hope this ordinance, or something similar, passes in order to hold the CTA accountable to the City Council.

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