What's up with Pace HQ traffic cops, at $35,000 a year?
This column stems from a reader who wanted to know: How much does Pace pay for the two traffic cops at its headquarters who direct cars out of the parking lot during the afternoon rush? And is that an appropriate expenditure given that it's a public transit agency?
Interesting question. Pace hires two police officers for an hour a day between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. to direct traffic out of its main office on Algonquin Road in Arlington Heights.
Deer in the headlights
Bambi can breathe a little easier. Deer collisions with vehicles dropped by 7 percent in the U.S. this year, State Farm reports. And we're being a tad more careful in Illinois, apparently. Deer-vehicle crashes dipped 12 percent — from 37,816 in 2009-10 to 33,218 in 2010-11. But that doesn't mean motorists shouldn't exercise constant vigilance this November when accidents are most likely. It's mating season and frisky deer are on the move. To avoid breaking a heart and damaging your car, be alert between 6 and 9 p.m. when deer are most active, and use high beams near wooded areas.
The traffic officers are paid $70.34 an hour. On some occasions, Pace just uses one officer, but officials said my cost estimate of about $35,000 a year was "in the ballpark."
Pace spokesman Patrick Wilmot said the police are necessary because of congestion on Algonquin Road, especially in the westbound lanes.
"The officers ensure safe egress from our parking lot for cars from Pace and the office buildings across the street, and for pedestrians accessing the bus stop on the south side of Algonquin Road."
For that reason, Wilmot said, the public expenditure is justified. He noted that it's a tiny fraction of Paces's $321 million operating budget, and the agency has no plans to cut service or increase fares next year.
Pace offices are located on a 1-mile stretch of road dotted with four stoplights, including one just to the west at a Meijer store and another just to the east at a hotel.
Hiring the officers ensures safety and reduces the impact on traffic flow on Algonquin compared to the alternative of installing a traffic signal, Wilmot said.
But what about the issue of a public transit agency where a significant number of employees drive to work?
About 185 employees work out of Pace headquarters, Wilmot said, including 30 to 35 who are vanpool participants. Another 25 to 30 take transit or paratransit to work.
Wilmot himself has a parking permit but rarely uses it because he usually takes buses or vanpool.
"Our employees may have any of a number of reasons that transit doesn't work for them — perhaps because they're parents or because of an irregular work schedule," Wilmot said. "Other people have jobs that require that they work at different locations.
"Close to one third of our employees use transit in some form, which is quite high for a suburban employer," Wilmot said.
What do you think? And can you take transit to your job or is it just impractical? Drop me a line at email@example.com.
Several readers jumped to defend Metra conductors in the midst of an agency probe into cases of fares not being collected.
"I have been riding Metra back and forth from the northern suburbs to Union Station for over 20 years now," Robert Goranson of Libertyville writes. "Have there been a few times when the conductor has failed to ask for my ticket — yes. But the majority of the time I am asked or have it ready for when he (or she) comes by to punch it (10-ride is my modus operandi.)
"I think the biggest problem are the commuters who are trying to get away without paying. It's usually the riders that get on after the train has left Union Station that try to find an upper booth and pretend they are fast asleep as if they got on at Union Station and have already 'paid' or those who squeeze in on the empty seats between riders trying to blend in so as to trick the conductor into believing he has already paid. The conductor will enter the car saying 'Morton Grove tickets' and if no one volunteers, it becomes quite difficult to determine who may have just got on. They are covering three to four cars during rush hour and can't keep track of everybody who gets on after leaving Union Station.
"I have also seen those get on and take an empty seat on the lower level and then get peeved when the conductor asks for their ticket. They were hoping he wouldn't or possibly didn't recognize them as having just got on."
And Carolyn Clifton of Arlington Heights notes that "it used to be Metra had 'conductors' and another level worker, a 'ticket-taker.' The hat they wear should and did even last year indicate what type of worker they were. I have always understood the difference. Maybe Metra has blended the title? Just thought I'd point out how it used to be. And to let you know their hat tells it all!"
Unhappy about Metra's proposed fare hikes? Or are you eager to pay more? Have your say at upcoming hearings. These include three from 4 to 7 p.m. Nov. 2 at: Geneva city hall, 22 S. First St.; Arlington Heights village hall, 33 S. Arlington Heights Road; Woodstock city hall, 121 W. Calhoun St.
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