To the editor:

Thank you for your recent critical coverage of the fiasco known as the Chicago Transit Authority [“You Can’t Get There From Here,” September 5; Neighborhood News, November 7; Cityside, November 7]. An ardent supporter and user of mass transit–I have had the misfortune to ride the el almost every day for eight years–I have ridden the subways in New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Montreal, Paris, Saint Petersburg, and Moscow. In my opinion, the hands-down winner for worst service and highest fares is the CTA. (A new, accurate slogan for the agency might be “CTA–we’re slow and unreliable, but we’re expensive!”)

I recently returned from a trip to Russia and came away marveling at the subways in Saint Petersburg and Moscow. I could wax rhapsodic for pages about how great the subways there are–aesthetically beautiful, functional, practical, and cheap (less than 40 cents a ride). But all you need to know is this: I would be embarrassed to take a Russian on the CTA.

It’s not necessary to list my criticisms of the CTA here. The Reader has done a good job of that lately, and anybody who “depends” on the CTA for transportation knows its problems all too well.

Rather, I offer a modest proposal to reverse the seemingly inexorable downward slide of fare increases, service cuts, and declining ridership, focusing on restoring the recent $20 million worth of service cuts.

Normally, I would say that the place to go to get the $20 million, really a rather modest sum, would be the federal government. $20 million probably doesn’t buy a door handle on a B-2 bomber or any of the other useless, outmoded cold war weapons systems Congress and the president are squandering our tax dollars on. Surely they could find the CTA a measly $20 million.

However, given the current lack of support for mass transit and general tight-fistedness except when it comes to things that go boom, what one could realistically expect to get out of Washington is bubkes (“squat” for those of you who need a translation from the Yiddish). Ditto Springfield and the Cook County government.

That leaves the city of Chicago, which conveniently has an $80 million budget surplus Mayor Daley refuses to tap in order to protect the city’s bond rating (which, in case you didn’t already know, tells you the mayor cares more about investors than average, transit-riding, tax-paying Chicagoans). The city’s miserly $3 million annual contribution to the CTA is a joke.

So here’s what we need: a massive protest at City Hall to demand that the mayor give the $20 million–of our tax dollars, remember–to the CTA or, better yet, to a citizens’ transit advisory board which could be set up to make the money go even further in restoring service.

This would only be a first step to reverse the recent cuts. Actual improvements in service, lower fares, and increased accessibility for riders with disabilities–well, we need dreams and goals for the future, don’t we?

A positive vision of this massive protest at City Hall would be that riders and CTA employees would all, by the thousands, take the trains and buses downtown together to demand the $20 million.

Here’s a more in-your-face alternative. In order to dramatize how important public transportation is and to let the mayor and City Council know we are serious, riders would call a one-day transit strike and refuse to take CTA. Thousands of people who normally ride CTA would all drive their cars to City Hall to create massive gridlock and chaos and to basically shut down the Loop. Call it “A Day Without Transit.”

I’m easy–we could do it nice or nasty, I don’t care. But let’s do it.

Kevin Martin

Executive Director

Illinois Peace Action