CTA Changes Keep Riders On Their Toes


Editor’s Note: The following story was written by an advanced student in our Urban Youth International Journalism Program. The UYIJP is generously funded by the McCormick Foundation.

I had to register at Malcolm X College for the fall 2013 semester to continue my educational career towards becoming a paramedic. I do not care for the registration process because it takes a long time. After purchasing my books, taking my ID picture and getting my class schedule, I stood in this gigantic line waiting to get my U-Pass for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).

That was the last time I’ll have to go through that process.

That’s because like all of the city, the City Colleges are transitioning to the Ventra pass for riding the CTA. The Ventra pass for students is a blue card with your picture and a magnetic stripe on it. The way it’s supposed to work is you hold it in front of the machine and it automatically reads it and gives you the “go” signal. If there’s a problem, you get a red signal.

Ventra Headaches

During registration we got our pictures taken for the Ventra pass. Then a week later, we came back to pick it up. We sat in a big auditorium and had to take a ticket and wait to be called to get our Ventra pass. People who are not students had to respond to an email and get their card in the mail.

After that, the chaos started.

People were not getting their cards in the mail. People were mailed other people’s cards. The RedEyereported on people getting more than 100 or even 200 cards in the mail.

Sometimes the Ventra pass doesn’t scan on the first try, and you have to redo it. But when this happened, some people were still having the balance on their card reduced for both scans. And it turned out that even standing near a Ventra machine can drain the balance on the card.

My sister and I have personally experienced trouble with the new Ventra card. She’s not in school, she’s working at Walgreens at Hyde Park. So she has a white Ventra card, that gives her even more problems than mine.

Like many people, I don’t know why CTA had to switch to Ventra, it seemed like the other cards were working well. Officials said it would be faster for people getting to and from work. But when Ventra cards are causing trouble, especially on buses, it slows everyone’s trip down and people even get mad at the bus drivers. For example I was frustrated when a driver asked me to scan my card even after I had already scanned it.

While the Ventra card has caused tons of headaches and stress for people, the Red Line South reconstruction has been a different story.

The Red Line Rehab

It all started in May 2013.

That’s when the Red Line South started shutting down service to get an upgrade. CTA riders, myself included, were wondering how they were going to travel to and from work and school.

The Red Line merged with the Green Line, using the same rail line train tracks. There were new bus routes, shuttle buses and free transfers at the Garfield Green Line station.

There were some issues and inconveniences. During the reconstruction trains were more crowded and there were service delays. And the buses took people through different neighborhoods than usual, where they might not have felt safe. Buses also went on the expressway, which they don’t normally do. And there were no stops at Cermak-Chinatown or 35th-Sox Park. People going to White Sox games had to walk from a stop farther east.

Then the CTA Red Line South reopened October 20, 2013.

It was time to test it out.

I rode the Red Line train to an interview not long after it reopened. And it was a smooth ride. It wasn’t as bumpy as it used to be. The stations are also cleaner and have better service. Many people thought that the Red Line Project wasn’t going to be completed in a timely manner. But surprisingly, it worked out.

And I noticed there are now several accessible elevators and platforms for people with disabilities.

The slogan for the redevelopment was “Faster, Smoother, Better.”
So far, that’s turning out to be true.


Improvements for Disability Access

Meanwhile, the CTA has also made recent improvements for riders with disabilities. I had noticed some of these changes, and talked to Gary Arnold, spokesman for the group Access Living, to get more details.

Arnold noted that while all the lines (Red, Green, Yellow, Blue, Brown, Orange, Pink) have some accessible stations, not every station is accessible. An elevator is one of the important factors making a station accessible for people, he noted.  Riders should look at the CTA maps for reference.

There are also other things that make the stations accessible.

“The blue ripples that run along the track are a good indicator for people who are blind that they are near the tracks,” Arnold said. “They also serve as a warning to everyone that the tracks are near.  For people who are deaf and may not hear an announcement, when a train runs express, the cars flash a red light.  If an elevator is broken at a particular station, the CTA is required to post that information at other stops so travelers will know where the elevators are down.  I believe bus drivers are required to take a disability awareness training so they will be better equipped to accommodate riders with disabilities.”


Still Room for Improvement

Last year, the CTA also got some new rail cars where riders face each other. Many riders feel uncomfortable with the new arrangement of seating where they have make constant eye contact with strangers. It was designed to make more space for passengers, since there is more room for people to stand. It also has more space for wheelchairs and bikes. The improvement was that it does hold a larger capacity of passengers even though it has its drawbacks.

Since the Red Line has been rejuvenated, now the Blue Line has been in the spotlight. One of the operators fell asleep at the controls early in the morning on March 24 and ended up in a major accident at O’Hare Airport where it slammed into escalators and injured about 35 passengers. This will cost CTA about $9.1 million.

The city is now improving the Blue Line with a $492 million project called Your New Blue Line. As part of the renovation, at some points people have to ride shuttle buses to get where they need to go, temporarily.

Many people depend on CTA to get them to and from work, school, and extracurricular activities. So maintaining the system is very important to keep everyone on track!

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