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Pressure is mounting to replace embattled CTA President Dorval Carter

Here's a look at what elected officials and other media outlets have said about the issue recently.

Dorval Carter, left, breaking ground on the planned Damen Green Line station in April 2018. Six years later the stop still hasn’t opened. Background: Photo: John Greenfield

This post is sponsored by Ride Illinois.

In the last three days, there's been an increased focus on the policy failures of CTA President Dorval Carter. And there's been growing pressure on Mayor Brandon Johnson to improve the region's largest transit provider by replacing Carter. 

Specifically, under Carter's leadership, the CTA has not explained why the Yellow Line was closed for 50 days after a collision last January. It hasn't justified why a bus driver who passed out and died in her operator's chair was not noticed for nearly an hour, even though her bus hadn't moved and had missed over 50 stops. Nor has the agency been able to convincingly explain why the CTA doesn't have enough train drivers, a problem that New York City, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles transit systems have been able to resolve. 

Those are the acute problems. Chronic issues include consistent and large service gaps due to missing operators. There are wild fluctuations of service delivery between weekdays and weekends. There's been no long-term planning for network expansion or improvement even though the Red Line Extension is close to starting construction. And the amount of "slow zones" – track segments where trains need to reduce speeds due to subpar infrastructure – have increased since Carter started his job in 2015.

Let's review the pressure points:

  • 40th Ward Alderperson Andre Vasquez led the adoption of an ordinance that requires CTA leadership to appear in front of City Council quarterly. (The legislation was introduced in October 2022 and adopted in May 2023, with the first quarterly appearance last February.) Last summer, Vasquez called for Carter to be replaced
  • Around the same time, 20th Ward Alderperson Jeanette Taylor and State Rep. Kam Buckner (26th District) also described their visions of a better-run CTA that may not have Carter at the helm. 
  • Last February, 1st Ward Alderperson Daniel La Spata asked Mayor Johnson to "consider new leadership" for the CTA and the Chicago Housing Authority.
  • Earlier this month, 42nd Ward Alderperson Brendan Reilly tweeted that he agreed with Vasquez.
  • State Senator Sara Feigenholtz (6th District) replied to the same tweet as Reilly to agree with Vasquez.
  • This week 47th Ward Alderperson Matt Martin tweeted that Mayor Johnson and Governor JB Pritzker "should appoint a new board and a new president should lead the CTA to recovery."
  • On Wednesday, Block Club Chicago reported on the cardiac arrest death of the bus driver mentioned above. 
  • At an unrelated press conference Thursday evening, Governor Pritzker said, "Look, a lot of changes are going to have to take place, there’s no doubt, at CTA. And I think that’s going to take some new leadership, and additional leadership."
  • Today the Chicago Tribune and Crain's Chicago published editorials calling for Carter's ouster.
  • Later, the Chicago Sun-Times published its own editorial that "It’s time for a new captain who can right CTA’s ship".
  • On April 26, 32nd Ward Alderperson Scott Waguespack wrote in his newsletter, "the President of the CTA should be replaced by new leadership, with the CTA board beginning a process of transition."
  • And 46th Ward Alderperson Angela Clay wrote in her newsletter on April 26, "I firmly believe that now is the time to find new CTA leadership that understands the real life impacts that these unresolved problems have on our communities and City as whole. Whether you are taking the CTA to get to school, work, or a doctor's appointment, we should have clean, accessible and reliable public transportation to get there. I've reached out to schedule a meeting with the CEO of CTA and will be meeting with him in May to discuss all of our concerns in more detail and ask for a transparent plan that places the wants and needs of riders first."
A graphic showing which elected officials have called for Carter's ouster.

None of this should be construed as implying that Carter's predecessors – Forrest Claypool, Ron Huberman, and Frank Kruesi – did a better job. The CTA has long been operating suboptimally. 

Mayor Johnson, on the other hand, has said he is still evaluating Carter. Johnson himself is under pressure, to ensure that the Democratic National Convention is conducted – under intense national attention – without a hitch, and shifting leadership of a major transportation agency between now and August 19 may not be the right move. Johnson may also want to support Carter until federal funding for the Red Line Extension is finalized.

It's also possible that Johnson may continue with business as usual for the rest of the month, maybe the rest of the summer. That way when he does replace Carter, the mayor can say it was because he chose to do so, not because he was pressured.

If and when Brandon Johnson does get around to firing Dorval Carter, I believe there are likely one or two leaders within CTA who could serve as acting president and run the nearly 11,000-person agency smoothly until a permanent replacement is hired. But obviously the mayor should rip the Band-Aid off sooner than later.

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