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The CTA finally answered my FOIA on its board’s low ridership – on the day I was put in a coma

5:38 PM CDT on May 24, 2023

CTA President Dorval Carter (bottom left) and board members at a board meeting on May 10, 2023. Image: CTA

I'm very grateful for all of the kindness I received after I was riding my bicycle from Carbondale, southern Illinois, towards Garden of the Gods on Friday, April 21, and was struck by a culvert pipe transported by a pickup truck driver. The collision resulted in about a week-long medically-induced coma, followed by a few more weeks of hospitalization. I've been back home in Uptown for a few days, and though I still have some symptoms to work through, I'm really happy about the progress I've made, and thankful to those who've helped me.

That said, there have obviously been some annoying things about this scenario. One of them is that on January 19, 2023, I sent a Freedom of Action Information request to the Chicago Transportation Authority requesting "the number of times [CTA President] Dorval Carter and all CTA board members used their CTA-issued Ventra cards in 2022." According to FOIA rules, I should have gotten an answer a few weeks later. Instead, the agency dragged its feet for more than three months, and finally emailed its response on April 21. That was a couple of weeks after Chicago's runoff election, and the very day I was put out of commission for roughly a month.

Don't get me wrong, the CTA Media staffers are very nice people. They even sent me a get-well card while I was at one of the healthcare centers I stayed at, which I greatly appreciated.

Still, after I regained consciousness in May and began checking emails, I realized that I had missed the boat (or bus) on this story, which was a bummer. Talented Block Club Chicago writer Mack Liederman published his own article on the subject on May 1, ten days after the CTA emailed details to unconscious me. No worries Mack – I wouldn't have written my piece anytime near the beginning of this month, and it's good that a local publication got the word out. It's just a little irritating that the CTA delayed its response for so long, even though I nagged them about the subject on a regular basis, and threatened to get Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul's office involved.

So what did I learn about Dorval Carter and CTA board members' 2022 use of the semi-functional system they run from the agency's response? As you might guess, it was generally pretty minimal, or even non-existent.

Image: CTA
Image: CTA

CTA FOIA compliance staffer Brigett R. Bevan provided a short letter explaining the agency's tactics along with the response they sent me the day I was rendered unconscious.

"In response to your request, CTA is providing you with a spreadsheet that contains information from CTA's electronic data that shows the total number of Ventra CTA identification card uses in 2022 for Dorval Carter and Chicago Transit Board members Neema Jha, Rosa Ortiz, Michele Lee, Alejandro Silva, Johnny Miller, Lester Barclay and Bernard Jakes," Bevan wrote.

"As requested [by Streetsblog Chicago], the data being provided is in a format similar to what was provide to the Chicago Tribune in 2014 and solely reflects uses of any Ventra CTA identification cards by these individuals during the period indicated in your request," Bevan added. "Please note that board members Jha and Lee joined the Chicago Transit Board in 2022, so their usage does not reflect a full year. Additionally, CTA employees and Chicago Transit Board members are not required to utilize their Ventra CTA identification cards for travel, so the data being provided may not reflect all travel on CTA by these individuals."

OK, so why then did three of the people making decision about Chicago transit - Ortiz, Silva, and Jakes – use Ventra only three to zero times last year?

If you want to take a closer look at this issue, I recommend checking out the Block Club article. But I just felt the need to point out the irony that the CTA didn't provide a FOIA response for months, and then finally did so at a time when I was unable to read it.

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