December 15, 2004 -- Thousands of people rode the "L" and the bus for free today. This was part of a city-wide protest against the proposed CTA service cuts, job eliminations, and fare hikes.
The fare evasion campaign which has received support from community groups such as the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and Citizens Taking Action for transit dependent riders, was called by local anarchist group Midwest Unrest.
The proposed Doomsday budget will be discussed at tomorrow's CTA board meeting. A Sun-times article today claimed that "the CTA board is poised to delay massive service cuts and layoffs for at least six months when it meets Thursday". The CTA later refused to comment about whether or not a deal had been struck.
Cathy McNish, a Bridgeport resident and spokeswoman for Midwest Unrest stressed "this (delay) is a just rumor and not a guarantee that they will announce in tomorrow's meeting that all cuts will be delayed six months. The fact that this came out unofficially the day of the fare strike makes us very skeptical that it will be the actual decision reached tomorrow."
On the other hand, Midwest Unrest has said they will take an official announcement to delay the cuts and final decision six months as a partial victory. "Clearly the CTA is afraid of the resistance mounted against them by people across the city". Reference was made to the CTA getting the FBI involved after a bogus press release announcing a "fare holiday" on December 15th was sent out in CTA president Frank Kreusi's name, early Tuesday morning.
CTA has named Midwest Unrest as the party behind the hoax in public statements. Midwest Unrest denies any involvement although they do admit they found it humourous and appreciate the media attention the stunt brought to the fare strike.
About the strike, the Midwest Unrest website states, "We are calling on all CTA riders to ride their routes like they do everyday but without paying. The CTA depends on us paying and collecting fares. This is where our power to pressure them lies."
"We are not calling on people to get arrested," said Michael, a member of Midwest Unrest. "We are not trying to make a moral point by chaining ourselves to the fare boxes and getting symbolically arrested. We want to hit the CTA in their pocket-books." Michael added that he rode both the bus and the L for free today. McNish added further that while the CTA appeared to beef up some security, it was really obvious and that, "farestrikers either got free rides or when they didn't, money was spent on the added security. Either way our tactic of economic pressure is succeeding."
One rider got in touch to say he rode an entire route seated at the front handing flyers out to everyone who got on, getting about 200 people on for free. Another rider on that bus who had already payed got off and then back on again so he too could feel like he got a free ride.
"We consider it a theft of service," said CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney. "It does take money to run a transit system, and if their complaint is with the service, encouraging people to break the law and not pay is not going to help"
"What's the real theft?" asked one angry young man. "Somebody getting a $1.75 ride for free or the CTA taking money out of regular services and putting into their ego-stroking projects."
The Amalgamated Transit Union, which claims to represent both CTA bus drivers and train operators, advised its members to follow all CTA rules.
"The Union is just a part of the company," said one bus operator who asked to remain anonymous.
"The best part of all this is that despite all the intimidation, we have not heard of a single arrest for fare evasion today," said Michael. He said that today's fare striking was a good start "We have to keep it up. If we can build on today's successful actions. We have the potential to create a real disruption in the management of the transit system. When that happens, bureaucrats in the CTA, the city and the state legislature will be scrambling over each other to offer concessions."
Ms. McNish added that their group is planning a protest at 12 noon at 567 W. Lake St. before the CTA board meeting. She also said they were hoping people would call their voice box or email them with stories of successful fare striking.