Will a livestream of Blue Line crowding finally shame CTA into providing better service?

A screenshot of the livestream on the morning of Wednesday, March 1.
A screenshot of the livestream on the morning of Wednesday, March 1.

Update 3/2, 1:30 PM: Streetsblog shared the tweet below expressing concern about the livestream facilitating stalking and other crimes with the CTA. We also shared another reader’s tweet: “I really wanna know about the hardware and software stack behind this. How much are we paying for this? How long is video archived? Where is data being stored? How many full-time employees are assigned to this?” A CTA spokesperson provided this statement:

The costs of implementing this new livestreaming tool are negligible as we used existing materials and in-house resources to install.

As noted in the bottom left corner of the livestream, “Real-time platform cameras provide live views only and do not record any footage.”

As you’ve seen, the livestream feed was set up with a low resolution, making it challenging to discern identifying features of riders. The video quality is enough to provide a sense of platform crowding—which is its intended purpose.

Also, CTA is a public space, and many public spaces across the country have cameras that offer livestreaming.”

Update 3/1/23, 9:30 AM: Commentators have pointed out that the livestream raises privacy and personal safety issues. It will be interesting to see how long the feature stays up before the CTA is overwhelmed with complaints. At the very least, it might make sense for the agency to blur out people’s faces in the video if possible, Google Street View-style.

As we recently discussed on Streetsblog, the Blue Line is a mess right now, especially on the Near Northwest Side, where many people are still commuting to downtown jobs despite the remote work trend. Even after scheduled service was cut last fall to better align with available staffing levels, by the end of the year roughly a third of scheduled Blue runs were still being skipped because there was no one to operate them. At the beginning of February, the agency quietly cut scheduled service again, which improved reliability numbers somewhat, but nowadays roughly one in five scheduled trains still aren’t showing up.

Moreover, as Christina Marfice and Morgan Madderom, members of the grassroots advocacy group Commuters Take Action, pointed out in a recent letter to the Tribune, while “ghost trains” may be somewhat less of a problem on the Blue Line this month, actual service is worse than ever. “The new cuts mean Blue Line service is now reduced by 39 percent compared with pre-pandemic levels. Rush hour service has been cut by more than 50 percent… The CTA is carefully crafting statistics that paint a rosier-than-real picture of its own progress, obfuscating the truth that anyone who uses Chicago’s public transit already knows: CTA service remains inconsistent and unreliable.”

Especially in transit-oriented communities like West Town and Logan Square, the reduced morning Blue Line service has resulted in long waits for trains, crowded platforms, and railcars that are so packed customers often have to let one of more trains pass them by before they can board. Needless to say, local straphangers are at the end of their ropes.

Since the transit agency has been less-than-transparent about Blue Line service, it was surprising this morning when the CTA announced that it would be laying bare the Blue Line crowding problem with a morning livestream of platform conditions at Near Northwest stations. The live video feed will air on this page of the CTA website weekdays from 7-10 a.m, including the Logan Square, California, Western, Damen, Division and Chicago Avenue stations of the O’Hare branch. The agency says the real-time info will help riders decide when they should catch the train.

“Through our Meeting the Moment action plan, we’ve been working to provide more consistent and reliable bus and rail service as well as expand and improve trip planning and communication tools for customers,” said CTA president Dorval Carter, Jr. in a statement. “These new live streams are part of CTA’s larger efforts to provide tools to help CTA customers plan and manage their commutes.”

In a news release, the CTA promised it’s laser-focused on improving morning Blue Line service and rider experience. The agency said this includes adding extra two runs to the line, deploying them from Jefferson Park at times when there have been long service gaps. But, again, scheduled rush-hour Blue service is still only half of what it was before COVID.

The CTA said it’s also assigning more staff to keep a close eye on peak-hour service, allowing them to respond more quickly to problems. The agency added that there are more frequent platform announcements to inform passengers about the status of trains, including the location of the next run, and when extra trains have been added. The release also noted that the CTA ridership dashboards rolled out during the depths of the pandemic are still available on the website, providing average weekday or weekend ridership trends for all ‘L’ stations and bus lines for each hour of service to help riders avoid crowded vehicles.

I’m optimistic that the Blue Line livestreams will create a win-win situation for riders. Either crowding will improve, possibly in part because customers will use the livestream info to avoid the busiest times. Or else the publicly available images of Tokyo-like packed train platforms, minus the excellent service, will be so embarrassing for the CTA that the agency will have no choice but to add a lot more morning Blue Line runs.

View the livestream on weekdays from 7-10 a.m. here. 

donate button

Did you appreciate this article? Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to help fund Streetsblog Chicago’s next year of publication. Thanks!


Waiting for the Red Line at Lake Street. Photo: John Greenfield

At CTA meeting, Commuters Take Action calls out “misleading” reliability claims

Update 3/10/23, 10:40: Here’s Commuters Take Action’s full statement on the CTA’s March Meeting the Moment Scorecard.  Commuters Take Action (CTAction) is once again disappointed in CTA’s lack of contextualization in their “Meeting the Moment” updates. In these monthly press releases, CTA praises itself for the continued improvements it’s been making. While the need for more […]

CTA Will Begin Off-Board Fare Collection Pilot, But Not on the Loop Link

The Chicago Transit Authority plans to test off-board fare collection – where riders pay on the sidewalk before boarding the bus – in an unexpected location. Previously, the CTA and the Chicago Department of Transportation announced they would pilot prepaid fare collection at the Dearborn/Madison station on Loop Link. Instead, the first off-board fare collection will be […]