Get ready to cozy up to your fellow CTA travelers.
The Chicago Transit Authority warned Tuesday that a raft of service cuts on buses and trains are virtually unavoidable.
Starting Sunday, Feb. 7, the transit agency will curtail 119 bus routes and service on 7 rail lines. Nine other express bus routes will be eliminated. Longer wait times at frigid bus stops and tightly packed buses are a virtual certainty.
"We're trying to impact rush hour the least," said CTA President Richard Rodriguez. "But the reality is that there is only so much that we can do on the non rush-hour side so that we're not having customers wait more than one half hour for a bus to show up."
In some cases, the wait times between buses will only be extended by a few minutes. But Rodriguez warned that because of reductions, the next bus to arrive may very well arrive packed.
"Assuming the same number of riders are riding our system, those buses are no longer coming with an empty seat. They're going to be crowded."
It was an unusual public relations strategy for an agency which has specialized on polishing its image in recent years: basically, a warning that your trip is about to get a lot more miserable.
But in issuing that warning, the CTA laid the blame right at the feet of its unions. After struggling with a $300 million deficit, the agency said it needed the unions to make up the last $95 million in order to finally achieve a balanced budget.
"These locals have done it for the CTA to stay afloat, and here they come again," declared bus drivers union chief Darrell Jefferson. "If you look at the list of givebacks that they asked us for, they was essentially busting the union. They failed."
Jefferson said his union had negotiated broad concessions to the CTA three years ago, and was not about to repeat that process now. "The givebacks we gave in 2007 were supposed to keep you from coming back to our doors, asking for more."
But the CTA says it's a victim of the recession too, and that drastically reduced tax revenues have left it with little choice. Barring any last minute concessions from the agency's 17 unions, the service cuts will be implemented and 1,100 pink slips will go out February 7.
For many riders, it will mean a morning bus which isn't there, or what used to be an express bus which will now make every stop.
"That's going to affect me going back and forth to work," rider James Collins observed, as he waited for his number 24 bus in the Loop Tuesday afternoon. "You're going to wait longer, and if you don't get there in time, you're going to miss the last bus."
Agency officials said they were concerned about riders like Collins, and urged all CTA patrons to visit their website and become familiar with the new timing on all routes they use on a routine basis.