[Guest post by Brian Nemtusak]

Gallows humor I suppose, but I’m tickled by the PSAs playing on CTA buses as financial apocalypse looms once again.

“Due to insufficient state funding,” begins the even-toned, only faintly robotic voice that replaced live-if-garbled pronouncements years ago, “the CTA will be forced to cut service and raise fares on …”

And then there’s a little pause, the audio equivalent of a change in typeface, hovering a little too high over the targeted blank–and then it continues:

“… January 20.”

I applaud management’s introduction of form-letter efficiency to its disembodied-conductor model, especially given the relentless updating its millenarian motivational techniques require. If only this kind of economy were in evidence anywhere else. But while there’s no denying the hardwired impossibility of CTA’s ongoing budgetary “shortfall,” bunched buses, corresponding service gaps, and inexplicable prioritizing still reign on the street even as the edge of the cliff rushes up, reaffirming that the institutionalized dysfunction is at least as cultural as it is material.

Take the route I used to rely on when I worked in house for the big backwards R, the Outer Drive express (147). This accordionated double-bus dinosaur runs very early to very late every day, and even at 10 PM pushes standing-room only occupancy. It’s gotta be a class-A cash cow, but there it is, slated for cancellation alongside arguable-if-unfortunate cases like the underused-by-design Damen and Addison routes. Sure, sure, it’s likely one of those included precisely to give the doomsday threat teeth, but even as customer relations it backfires. “Right,” sighs the weary public-transit slave, “you’re gonna hold my breath till you turn blue. Knock yourself out.” And really: if you’re going to be deadly sober and wildly alarmist at the same time, there are so many superior targets. Why not threaten to halve the number of half-empty 151s? Judging empirically, just that’d free up about half the fleet. Or to shut down the Red and Blue lines entirely–they don’t really work anyway! Hmmmmm … maybe a “design your own doomsday” competition is in order.

Meanwhile in Springfield, something or other is perhaps, as Samuel Beckett might croak, “taking its course.” On Tuesday’s Chicago Tonight, reps. Julie Hamos (the mass transit committee chair) and Ricky Hendon outlined (and faintly endorsed) the two “financially irresponsible” (in Hendon’s words) but better-than-nothing bills gestating on the table, neither of which addresses the capital-funding crisis facing the CTA’s disintegrating infrastructure, one of which simply rips a 500-million-dollar hole in the state budget. How part-of-the-problem Governor Rod will adapt his insistence on linkage to a larger capital-spending bill to whichever crosses his desk remains shrouded in mist–but somewhere amid his equivocation some flexibility on a tax increase seems finally to have emerged.