October 20, 2004 -- As the Chicago Transit Authority Board threatens massive service cuts and fare increases, Chicagoans speak out.
Some 300 to 400 Chicagoland residents attended the second of three Chicago Transit Authority Service Cuts hearings this past Tuesday, on the South Side at Chicago State University on 95th Street. Almost fifty of them spoke in the hearings which are formatted for two and a half hours of community voices and without response from the CTA Board, which sits in the front of the room, led by CTA President Frank Kruesi, Chairwoman Carole Brown, and Vice-Chair Susan Leonis.
The fifty speakers lashed out at what they called confused priorities, and focused on specific complaints about different bus routes and the proposed elimination of some of them, what many deemed a racially and economically-motivated focus of proposed cuts on the south and west sides of the city, anger at the perceived corruption and bureacracy of transit management, and an overall frustration at the proposed budget. Most of the evening saw lots of loud jeers directed at the board and what could be a consensus of public outrage, with one speaker breaking down in tears, and disabled and poor riders crying foul.
The evening began as people signed in or to get on the speakers list, while Kruesi spoke to four television news cameras and other reporters, for three minute allotments, most of whom left within the first forty-five minutes of the hearing. Spanish and hearing-impaired translators were prepared, and the evening was transcribed by a court reporter. The evening's moderator, Greg Larkin, called the first speakers up by 6:45pm.
The first few speakers at the crowded Jacoby Athletic Center spoke of the exact routes which, if cut, would severely effect them and their families. The second speaker, of Mt. Greenwood, has a hearing-impaired daughter, and in-toned that the CTA Board was holding its massive ridership "hostage" even though finances are the Board's responsibility. The next speaker, of West Englewood, exclaimed that the "city needs mass transit," and stated that he saw the cuts that were chosen as "racially and econmically motivated." Rider Jacqueline Lewis called it an "attack on the minority neighborhoods," while a rider from the Chattel Center proclaimed to the board members must be "You must be out your ratted-mind," as he conjured up images of riots in 1968 over public transit issues. Several riders referenced the possibilities of Fare Strikes, protest, and rioting if the service cuts and rate increases go through.
One 101st Street resident, whose commute to his job at O'Hare can take up to two hours, demanded to know, "Which one of ya'll ride on the bus? Ya'll probably ride cabs." He then said that if any cuts should be made it should be on express buses to sporting events, not local bus routes or L that get people to and from work. Later, Calvin Sandridge coined in that he doesn't "appreciate decisions being made by people who will never ride the bus or train." Sandridge then shouted that city residents all ready pay too many taxes and "shouldn't even have to pay a fare to get on the CTA in the first place. Public transit should be free."
The first hearing in Humboldt Park had been described by very rowdy by participants, and this time there were more police. The CTA Board also organized a FAQ sheet answering some of the questions from that first hearing. At this second hearing there were cheers and supportive shouts for most of the things said by every speaker, and jeers against the Board. Jeers were also made at the very mention of Mayor Richard M. Daley's name, who recently is moving to a new condo in the Loop so that he can have a quicker walk to work.
Many CTA workers were present, and some spoke, including Keith Keiser, a nighttime busdriver whose job will certainly be effected if the CTA goes through with the up to 1200 proposed lay-offs. Initially, many riders criticized bus drivers and L operators, but they gave their full support to workers and relatives who took to the stage. One woman, whose husband and son are both retired CTA workers, got a lot of support as she wondered why the board members sat looking "stoic" and "like wooden-figures," as people criticized them, and said pointedly to Black members of the board that "you are house servants, and you know what I mean."
Riders raised Martin Luther King's history in fighting for just such causes, issues of racism, and many environmental ramifications which will plague the city. One Bronzeville resident decried a policy that he said would negatively impact traffic, the ozone, and road rage problems. Many people stated that they were entirely dependent upon the CTA for movement around the city, either because they are legally blind or disabled or too poor to drive or ride taxis. Patsy Pulien was among those who stated that the cuts would increase crime and violence in effected communities, and one South Sider, who said he was unemployed because of the twenty-five cent fare hike enacted in January of this year, called for the resignations of the members of the board.
Many riders pushed disabilities issues, including members of groups like Access Living and several people from the Metropolitican Senior Citizens in Action. Brian Johnson of a statewide blind civil rights group ended with "the CTA giveth, and the CTA taketh away." A non-disabled community activist later inquired why there weren't any disabled members of the board.
Members of groups like Midwest Unrest, the Blue Line Task Force, Campaign for Better Transit, and the Green Alliance also spoke at the podium, often with thunderous approval. Alderman Howie Berkins Jr., of the 21st ward, and Alderwoman Freddrenna Lyle, of the 6th ward, gave more moderate speeches. One member of Midwest Unrest responded to the faulty answers given by the board in its FAQ packet, and another got the crowd riled up to its highest point in the evening as he unfurled an L sign that said "If you see something, say something," shouting that "We see something, and we're gonna do more than just talk." Towards the end of the evening, a sobbing middle-aged woman came to the stage, "barely able to state that the "CTA is my only transportation to get to work."
The hearings are being held because of the CTA's proposed budget that threatens to elminate thirty bus routes, reduce sixty-four more, cut Red and Blue Line overnight service and reduce all of the other L lines, while simultaneously hiking rates for transfers, U-Passes, disabilities access, and potentially even the standard fare. The CTA board alleges that lobbying the state for more funding is their only alternative, but critics disagree, citing that the city spends only $3 million per year on the CTA, while frivolously spending $250 million on Millenium Park and other unnecessary projects and giving tens of millions in tax subsidies to large corporations like Boeing. Some CTA workers claim that the new stations around 54th St. costed up to $500 million, while the new offices were $119 million, each more than enough to pay for the estimated $82.5 million budget shortfall the Board estimates it will see next year. And many riders referenced the funds spent on the Dan Ryan, the proposed Silver Line, and the oncoming renovation of the North Side-only Brown Line.
The final speaker of the evening, Donna Harper, an alma mater of Chicago State University, told the crowd that the board were as bad as the bin Ladens in their impact, and called the root of the problem something that went up to corporate levels. "Wake up, cuz it's time to wake up. Take it to the Mayor because he's the top boss." Larkin then abruptly cut the speakers list off with twelve minutes still remaining.