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CTA President Dorval Carter defends handling of agency since pandemic as riders, City Council vent frustrations

CTA president faces frustrated riders at City Council hearing
CTA president faces frustrated riders at City Council hearing 02:02

CHICAGO (CBS) -- CTA President Dorval Carter was on the hot seat on Tuesday at City Hall, facing frustration from riders and alderpeople alike about service cuts, security issues, and other concerns about the mass transit agency.

Carter faced the City Council Transportation Committee on Tuesday for the first time since the City Council passed a measure in October requiring quarterly updates from the Chicago Transit Authority.

Before committee members got their chance to grill Carter and other CTA leaders about their ongoing struggles to recover from the pandemic, riders spent nearly an hour outlining a long list of shortcomings.

"I think it is important to remember what we've been through over the last three years. This has not been normal operations for us," Carter said.

Speaking at the first of a now-required quarterly hearing with City Council members, Carter defended his actions over the last few years – including during the pandemic – acknowledging the years of mounting frustration for riders.

"I didn't have any roadmap to tell me what to do during this. I tried to make the best decisions that I could," he said.

While ridership at the CTA has gradually increased since cratering during the pandemic, it's still far behind pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, CTA saw a total of 455.7 million bus and train rides. In 2022, total ridership was only 243.5 million rides. Full data is not yet available for 2023, but through October of last year, ridership had gone up about 15%, still well behind 2019 levels.

Since the pandemic, riders have frequently complained about less frequent and reliable bus and train service. CTA officials have acknowledged struggles with hiring enough bus and train operators after a significant loss of personnel during the pandemic.

Carter said the CTA will begin boosting service, a process that will begin in the next few weeks, but some alderpeople were still concerned by the lack of concrete answers.

"I think the biggest surprise is not coming prepared with those questions answered already. So what specifically are we doing for cleanliness and the timeliness, other than just showing us links to their website," said Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd).

"I know you're tired of this. I know that you don't like that your reputation has been smeared like this. I know that this is not something that you enjoy, and what I wouldn't to tell you is that for four years Chicagoans have not been enjoying this either," said Kyle Lucas, co-founder of Better Streets Chicago, a nonprofit transit advocacy group.

The meeting included an extended public comment period, with riders pushing for more answers than they sometimes got.

"We need to be able to hear from leadership at the CTA, and this is a good first step, but the secretiveness and the sometimes combativeness that we are seeing from the CTA, I believe the leadership of the CTA is not helping their case," said Michael Podgers, policy lead at Better Streets Chicago.

In October, the City Council approved an ordinance requiring quarterly hearings with CTA leadership regarding "service levels, operations, security, and planning," after Carter repeatedly skipped invitations to testify at committee hearings.

Tuesday's hearing was only the first such meeting for Carter. The next will come sometime this spring.

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