Proposed cuts worry CTA users

Paul Thissen

The board of the Chicago Transit Authority visited Evanston Township High School on Monday night for a three hour public hearing on potentially drastic service cuts — and said almost nothing.

After a brief introduction from CTA Board Chairwoman Carole Brown, the board listened to the public’s comments on the service cuts, which were proposed to make up a projected $71-million budget shortfall. About 100 people, including about 20 Northwestern students, attended the hearing.

Five students voiced their concern about possible cuts to late-night Purple and Red Line trains.

“The City of Chicago is the reason a lot us came to this university, and the cuts would affect us very much,” said Education junior Jonathan Marino, Associated Student Government external relations chairman.

Many students came to protest the Red and Purple Line cuts and to support others at the meeting, particularly the elderly, working class and those with disabilities.

“My general concern about the impact of the cuts on working-class people throughout the city (brought me to the meeting),” said Medill sophomore Nick Burt, who did not speak at the meeting.

The cuts would inconvenience students, he said, but they would drastically affect life for those who use public transit to commute.

“It will hurt the employees who travel into Evanston,” said Betty Ester, a Fifth Ward community activist.

She added that service would be reduced for the No. 93 bus, which is the only one serving the community in Evanston near the intersection of Church Street and Dodge Avenue. The bus would stop running on Saturday.

A number of speakers said they thought the cuts unfairly affected poor and minority areas, including parts of the No. 93 bus route.

Many speakers focused on the additional cost to disabled people after the revised budget. A monthly pass for the disabled would increase in price from $75 to $150.

“Do not try to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable people in society,” said Alice Segal, an employee of Anixter Center, a Chicago group providing services and employment to people with disabilities.

A number of people with disabilities spoke at the meeting, saying they would no longer be able to afford to work or go to medical appointments if the rate were increased. Most said they only made about $500 each month, either from a job or Social Security.

CTA riders might have more trouble getting to their jobs, but speakers warned that CTA employees could lose their jobs outright.

“Some bus operators I know are going to lose their jobs,” said Calvin Smith of Chicago. “They can’t get jobs at other places.”

Job losses would not be the only economic impact of the cuts. Many business districts would become less accessible, some said.

“What a shame it would be to damage the progress we’ve made with transit,” said Jonathan Perman, executive director of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce.

Some speakers blamed the CTA board for the agency’s financial trouble. Fliers distributed at the meeting attributed the budget woes to the administration and called on riders to refuse to pay fares.

“It doesn’t take a genius to see the mismanagement,” said Jimbo Stevens of the South Side of Chicago, citing an expensive new CTA building recently constructed downtown. “(The board will) go back to their suburban houses … none of these people really ride CTA … these people don’t give a crap about us.”

Though he said nothing at the meeting, CTA president Frank Kruesi later told The Daily that there is a “structural problem” in the way public transit is funded in Chicago. The last time the Illinois General Assembly assessed the way funding was distributed between Metra rail, Pace buses and the CTA was in 1982, though the federal government considers similar issues every six years.

“The last thing we want to be doing is cutting service,” Kruesi said.

Why didn’t he speak at the meeting? “There’s an awful lot of people who want to speak,” he said. “The board and I want to hear them.”

Reach Paul Thissen at [email protected]