RTA safety summit hits nerve with concerned CTA, Metra riders
Do riders feel safe on public transit? It depends, CTA and Metra users said at a recent forum, listing concerns including crime, boozy passengers and being abandoned on a platform.
The Regional Transportation Authority-sponsored forum Aug. 8 was a precursor to a security summit planned for later this year.
Participant Kevin Brubaker said that in the past he rode the CTA Blue Line any time he needed to get somewhere. After ridership drops during the pandemic, he now weighs his options.
"I think much more carefully about it," said Brubaker, deputy director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. "I now think of the Blue Line after 6:30 p.m. the same way I used to think of it at 2 a.m. It simply doesn't feel safe like it used to."
Several other participants agreed, saying they feel less secure on trains later at night. But that's not the case on buses, some added.
And one rider said she didn't feel unsafe but was distressed by seeing other passengers "in challenging situations."
Metra riders cited problems such as rowdy drunks connected with big events like Lollapalooza.
But the commuter railroad's advantage, unlike the CTA, is that conductors walk the trains, riders noted. "One of the best things on Metra is to have someone to talk to," a passenger said.
When there's no communication, it's disconcerting, Kane County Department of Transportation Chief Planner and rider Jacqueline Forbes pointed out.
She recalled a time her train was stopped at an unfamiliar suburban station because of a crash farther up the tracks.
"We weren't getting very much information. They ended up taking everyone off the train at the station and they just left us there. They said, 'There might be another train, there might not,'" Forbes said. "I had no idea what to do."
She found a ride eventually but thinks Metra should have a better plan in place for stranded passengers.
Several participants linked crime trends with decreased ridership and service.
CTA commuter Samuel Grunsfeld called for increased "frequency and getting that ridership up. Because the less time you're at a stop, the less time you're sitting in one spot in a dark area -- the less likely something (will) happen."
Meanwhile, RTA planners advocated a holistic approach to improving public transit safety that goes beyond law enforcement and security cameras. They cited solutions used in other cities, such as a drop-in center connected to a downtown Philadelphia station that helps riders experiencing homelessness who take refuge on trains. It provides hot coffee, showers, laundry facilities and resources.
For more about the security summit or the RTA's new "Transit is the Answer" plan, go to rtachicago.org.
One more thing
On Thursday, the Chicago Transit Authority announced crime on the system had decreased by 9% so far in 2023 and by 21% last month compared to July 2022.
"Instances of crime on the system are rare, and this downward trend reflects the focus we have placed on reducing crime," President Dorval Carter said in a statement.
You should know
With 3,000 rail ties to be replaced on the Union Pacific North Line, riders should expect delays on trains from 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. starting today. The project stretches from Highland Park to Wilmette. The off-hours schedule should reduce the impact to riders and move work along faster, Metra officials said. The project will wrap up in mid-September.