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What Captain Ron Didn't Say

* This missive came in over the transom from a faithful reader with good reason to remain anonymous, in response to yesterday's Papers column item about the CTA.

So that's the plan to save the CTA? Mystery shoppers harassing the agency's customer service types? Making people prove to their loyalty to the new boss? And how is the media reporting - without questioning - that its wrong for the CTA board chairman's position to be in danger, just because she can't get along with the executive director? In a true director/board relationship, it's the executive director who has to please the board president. But we know the score there . . .

I wish for the day we could get a true visionary as CTA executive director. Not a bean counter, or a loyalist, or a hatchet man. I am living in fantasyland, but how nice would it be if someone took the mic and said something like this:

"The Chicago Transit Authority - for far too long - has been seen as transportation of the last resort. The people you've entrusted to run this agency treat it that way. You know that already. And as new executive director, I will fix those issues. But today, I want to focus on the civic leaders and downtown business interests. This powerful combination will have no trouble asking you to give up public land and the public purse to fund Olympics, pay for football stadiums or finance sculptures and fountains at Millennium Park, all in the name of making Chicago a 'first-class city.' Yet on the issue of good public transportation, the one thing that, if done correctly, makes for a truly great city, these leaders have been silent. Why? A population the size of Boston rides public transportation into downtown each workday. Public transportation is a service many of their employees enjoy - and many more would enjoy, if the system was clean, safe, efficient. The downtown business leaders are silent because they have not been called into battle. That changes now.

"The General Assembly used my unpopular predecessor Frank Kruesi as an excuse not to do their job and fund mass transit. But here is a new day. As of now, the mayor, the CTA chairman, the CTA board and I will be meeting with the city's business and civic leaders - the people who say they believe in Chicago and have flourished under this administration in terms of access and contracts - and we will impress upon them the need to join us in lobbying the General Assembly and federal government for the transit dollars to expand and run this system. Their access and influence in Springfield and Washington will be put to use in order to finally rebuild this transit agency. We will go toe-to-toe with the highway lobby - with the powerful 'concrete industrial complex' that seems destined to cover every acre of northeast Illinois with wider roads and new highways. And their success comes at a cost. We will spend $1 billion repairing the overused Dan Ryan Expressway and billions more fixing the other area expressways . . . and before your newborn gets her driver's license, we'll have to do it again, and possibly again.

"Public transportation is the efficient, affordable antidote to this. And the mayor, the CTA, and the city's business leaders will fight for this message and win some of those billions for public transportation. We will work with professional urban planners and transit planners to develop a system that truly serves Chicago. More buses, more rail, more service.

"It's customary, whenever a new person takes over a public agency, to promise a round of cost-cutting and belt-tightening. And some of that must take place here. But make no mistake, we can't economize our way out of this problem. We can't slash our way to victory. There is no quick fix. What's needed here is the transformation of a moribund and beleagued transit system; a civic embarrassment which must now be a refashioned into a national model of urban public transportation. Chicago depends on it."


Comments? Send them along and include a real name to be considered for publication or a good reason why you must remain anonymous.


Previous Beachwood CTA coverage:

* Ode to the Brown Line.
* No Hugs On The CTA.
* Slow Ride: The CTA Is Stuck In Reverse.
* Off The Rails: A Recent History Of CTA Screw-Ups.


Posted on May 3, 2007

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