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Politicians and activists say Dorval Carter should be replaced, CTA responds

Records show Carter has barely ridden the CTA in the past two years, when conditions have declined. Should he keep his job?

2:27 AM CDT on August 1, 2023

A crowd waits for outbound trains at the Lake Street ‘L’ station during evening rush hour last Thursday. Photo: John Greenfield

On May 1, Block Club's Mack Liederman published a piece on how records show CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. had rarely used his Ventra fare card in the past two years. This caused Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) and the grassroots transit advocacy group Commuters Take Action to call for Carter's dismissal.

Dorval Carter. Image: CTA

[I also sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the CTA on January 19, 2023, requesting Ventra use records for Carter and the transit agency's board members for the previous year. While FOIA rules dictate that I should have gotten an answer a few weeks later, the agency dragged its feet for more than three months, until a couple of weeks after the April 4 Chicago runoff election. The CTA finally emailed me its response, showing low or nonexistent 2022 Ventra use by Carter and most board members, on April 21. Unfortunately, that was the same day I was put in a week-long coma after I was struck in the head by a culvert pipe transported by a pickup truck driver while riding my bicycle in southern Illinois. I published my piece on May 24, a few days after I got out of healthcare centers. - John Greenfield, editor]

2022 Ventra use records for Carter and the CTA board members the agency provided to Streetsblog in response to our FOIA request, published on our site on May 24, 2023. Most of the figures are dismal. Image: CTA

In a follow-up article on July 14, Liederman detailed how eight of the CTA's top and highest-paid executive don't regularly use public transportation themselves. Each used their Ventra cards on less than 50 days total in 2021 plus 2022.

According to Block Club, over the past two years Carter has swiped into the CTA system 24 times. Nancy-Ellen Zusman, CTA's chief safety and security officer, used her work card for 46 days. Veronica Alanis, chief operating officer, used her work card for 34 days. Brian Steele, vice president of communications, used his work card for 33 days. Jairo DeJesus Naranjo, vice president of bus operations, swiped in 13 days. April Joy-Mari Morgan, chief of staff for the CTA board, didn't use her work card at all, nor did Nora Leerhsen, chief of staff for the CTA president.

Once again Ald. Vasquez and Commuters Take Action (CTAction) told Block Club that Carter should be fired, because people who are running the transit system should also be riding it on a regular basis, to get a better sense of how well or poorly it's working. Joining Vasquez and CTAction in the call to replace the CTA president were Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) and State Rep. Kam Buckner, who co-chaired the transportation committee for new Mayor Brandon Johnson's transition team.

Ald. Vasquez protests "ghost" service – scheduled buses and trains that don't show up – at City Hall last October. Photo: John Greenfield

"At Commuters Take Action, we believe that in order for the Chicago Transit Authority to improve, Dorval Carter needs to be fired," cofounder Fabio Göttlicher told Streetsblog. "Additionally, the Chicago Transit Board and top brass at the agency should also see major personnel changes

When Streetsblog reached out to the CTA media department for a comment on calls for a new agency president, a spokesperson responded by listing what are seen as Carter's accomplishments at the job. They credited him with generally helping the organization recover from the COVID-19 pandemic via the "Meeting the Moment" plan; overseeing modernization. Here are some additional "improvements across the board" according to the representative:

  • Improved service reliability and a dramatic reduction in excessive wait times for trains and buses
  • Greatly expanded recruitment and hiring efforts to address an industry-wide shortage of bus and train operators
  • A reduction in serious crime, thanks to a strengthened partnership with the Chicago Police Department, which provides law enforcement for the CTA. During the month of June, violent crime on CTA properties was down 22% month to date and 12% year to date. Overall, crime on the CTA system is down 8% year to date.
  • An expanded cleaning regimen for buses, trains and train stations
  • Increased transparency, via a new, interactive performance metrics dashboard

The CTA spokesperson also wrote that Carter's efforts are reflected by "consistently increasing ridership and improved customer satisfaction." But they said he recognizes that more work needs to be done and is also committed to improving customer experience.

"But at CTAction, we'd argue that most of this is not true," Göttlicher responded. "Meeting the Moment was unveiled almost a year ago, but not much has gone into fruition since. Bus operator headcount has barely increased, with annual attrition continuing to hover around 10-15 percent. The rail operator count is actually lower than ever at this point. This leads to the number of daily transit trips not increasing in any measurable capacity over the past year. The only way Carter's leadership was able to increase [the percentage of scheduled runs delivered] was by cutting scheduled service."

Göttlicher also argued that cleanliness has not improved. And he said if the CTA is going to claim that crime has been reduced due to hiring private security and guard dog units, their performance needs to be studied more closely.

"We want better for the CTA: a robust, reliable, clean and safe system that works for all Chicagoans," Göttlicher concluded. "Unfortunately, under Dorval Carter's leadership, we have allowed the CTA to dwindle."

Read Block Club's July 14 article on the ridership habits of CTA executives here.

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