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CTA faces continued complaints about service, as the agency touts improving reliability

CTA riders gathered in front of the transit agency’s West Loop headquarters Wednesday morning to express frustrations about unreliable bus and train service.

With signs and chants, they called on the CTA to take action to provide better service.

The transit agency has struggled with complaints about unpredictable service, safety and conditions as it looks to continue drawing back riders from pandemic lows.

Agency President Dorval Carter last month laid out a broad plan to address the concerns, including upgrades to the trackers and schedule tweaks to take into account a limited number of bus and train operators. Carter said the schedule tweaks are likely to lead to “marginally” longer, but more consistent, wait times. Hiring is also underway to address a staff shortage to which the CTA has attributed long wait times.

The schedule changes are expected to help with so-called ghost buses and trains, which show up on the trackers but fail to arrive in real life. The trackers rely on both real-time and scheduled service, the CTA has said, and the agency recently took a first step toward upgrading its bus trackers in late August when it unveiled a redesigned bus tracker website. Further upgrades to both bus and train trackers to improve reliability are also expected through the rest of the year and into 2023.

Wednesday, the CTA said recent schedule tweaks led to drops in longer-than-scheduled gaps between trains on the Red and Blue lines. On the Blue Line, gaps of double the scheduled time fell from 12 to 9.7 daily during morning rush periods and from 14.9 to 6.5 daily in the evening. On the Red Line, they fell from 11.8 to 6.1 daily in the morning, and from 9.8 to 7.1 in the evening.

“These numbers show that trains are arriving on a more consistent, even basis — offering improved reliability, which is (what) customers have asked for and what we promised,” CTA President Dorval Carter said in a statement. “To be clear, this is just a start: We recognize there is more work to do. But we are moving in the right direction and will continue to make additional adjustments to continue to improve service. Our ultimate goal is to build back our workforce to provide all the transit service our customers deserve.”

But for some of those gathered outside the CTA headquarters, service remained a concern.

Sam Wight, who rode to the rally as part of a group of cyclists who advocate for improved biking conditions in the city, said he often turns to buses or trains to supplement his bike riding. He recently fell while biking and, unable to ride, turned to a bus one morning to get from Northalsted to work downtown. But the bus didn’t show up, making him late to work, he said.

“I don’t have a car, so my main way of getting around was CTA,” he said. “And I have had just a really bad experience with CTA.”

Aldermen have also expressed concern about the CTA’s service, and in June called for a public hearing about bus and train reliability. They were expected to question CTA representatives at a City Council committee meeting later Wednesday.

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