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Retired CTA supervisor Kevin Majors has some advice for current leadership

Kevin Majors behind the wheel of a shuttle bus he drives for a senior center, his current job. Photo: provided

The CTA is at a crossroads right now, as the agency struggles to improve reliability, tackle the "ghost run" problem, get its workforce back up to pre-pandemic levels, and improve safety. At a time like this, institutional knowledge of the transit system is helpful, so Streetsblog checked in with retired CTA supervisor Kevin Majors, 66, to get his take on recent events.

Majors, who currently lives in South Shore, dreamed of working for the CTA ever since he was four years old, when he lined up chairs in his family's kitchen and proclaimed to his mother that he was a bus driver. Although he left the agency in 2002, he said he still gets calls on a daily basis from transit workers looking for advice. "I'm always here to help the people," he said.

The CTA veteran argued that the most important thing for addressing all of the CTA's current woes is to hire enough operators to run the system at full strength. At a City Council hearing last Thursday, CTA president Dorval Carter Jr. said there are currently about 1,000 job openings. "When they get the people, they will be able to bring back the service," Majors said.

He added that the CTA didn't provide enough incentives for bus and train operators to stay on the job during and after the worst of the pandemic. "Everybody I talk to, they've got their retirement date circled like it's the day they get out of prison. Nobody wants to stay." Even though the agency gave its workers raises and retroactive hazard pay earlier this year, Major said employees are worried about their safety, given the increase in attacks on transit workers during COVID.

The vet also argued that the CTA employee discipline system is unfair. "If someone calls in and says an operator was rude to them, no one believes the operator. You get written up."

A 1989 article about Majors helping to bust a counterfeit CTA pass ring. Click to enlarge.
A 1989 article about Majors helping to bust a counterfeit CTA pass ring. Click to enlarge.
A 1989 article about Majors helping to bust a counterfeit CTA pass ring. Click to enlarge.

Majors argued that it's unacceptable that Carter recently got a 33 percent raise to $350,000 when the CTA is currently underperforming. "How can you pay someone this much money for this much failure?"

In terms of security, the transit veteran said he favors more policing of the system. "You need a full-time transit police force, or you need to hire more [Chicago Police Department] officers and put them on dedicated transit patrol... It was really distressing when [former mayor] Jane Byrne fired the CTA police force."

Majors said the old CTA conductors, a program that was discontinued in the early Nineties as a cost-saving measure, served as a crime deterrent. But he's not impressed with the current generation of unarmed security guards. "People know these guards can't detain people."

However, he added that he'd be open to the idea of better-trained, unarmed Transit Ambassadors, similar to the successful program on the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. "That might be worth trying in some stations."

He added that when police encounter minor offenses of the 'L', such as smoking, it makes a lot more sense to ticket the offenders than jail them. "If we lock them up, it's going to cost way more money to process them."

Major's overall message was that CTA leadership needs to identify the systems weaknesses in terms of reliability, staffing, and safety, and attack them with a vengeance. "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."

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