As temperatures plummeted to dangerous lows this month, Chicago Transit Authority riders are complaining about a little more than just the cold.
Riders have taken to social media, complaining about dirty rail cars, which have reportedly been on the rise since late December.
A CTA official confirmed a "small uptick in calls" regarding cleanliness issues on trains over the past two weeks, mainly on the Red and Blue lines, which both operate 24 hours. There were 20 emails and phone calls about dirty cars on the Blue Line and 27 on the Red Line for January, according to CTA spokesperson Lambrini Lukidis.
Agency officials said an increase of homeless riders seeking shelter during the winter weather, along with snow and salt pellet stains from riders, is the underlying cause of the increase. The union for the CTA’s rail workers, however, reportedly points to staffing changes that has resulted in less time to keep things tidy.
Whatever the reason, riders are less than pleased.
The trains are reportedly clean when they leave the rail yards in the morning and cleaning crews assigned to the platforms at the end of each route are expected to pick up trash and mop up spills. In addition, more cleanings are done overnight and roughly every two weeks during what officials call "deep cleans."
"The CTA continues to devote the same number of resources -- the same number of workers -- to cleaning rail cars as it always has," Lukidis said in an email. "Cars are cleaned daily—both during the day and overnight."
Lukidis said instances of uncleanliness are happening mid-route, between the time a train leaves a terminal and arrives at the end of the line. Red and Blue line trains have an average total travel time of 1.5 hours, during which "thousands of riders can board and alight the train."
"Generally speaking, the winter months are more challenging in terms of maintaining cleanliness," Lukidis said. "This is due primarily to snow and ice being tracked into cars, but also to the increased number of homeless individuals who use the system."
And complaining riders might agree.
Some homeless people receive CTA fare cards from social service agencies, and many use riding the trains as an option to stay warm in the cold, according to reports.
Transit officials are in a difficult position when it comes to homeless people on trains. They want to avoid the appearance of being overly critical for "loitering" on CTA property, but also want to keep the trains a clean form of transportation.