‘Ghost buses’ continue to haunt the CTA

By now, Chicagoans are no stranger to buses that never show up and “L” trains that disappear from the Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) online tracker. But two months after CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. announced a new strategic plan to strengthen reliability and rider experience, the specter of continued issues with reliability looms over the transit system crucial to so many Chicagoans’ lives. The Sun-Times reported this week that the phenomenon of “ghost buses” has continued unabated since the CTA’s “Meeting the Moment” plan was unveiled in August. According to Commuters Take Action, a group started earlier this year that advocates for better CTA service and fair working conditions for operators, the number of crowdsourced complaints it has collected from riders has not budged. 

A CTA spokesman explained the delay in fixing the delays to the Sun-Times. The CTA’s tracker combines real-time information with information from the official schedule, but the current official schedule is from a time when staffing levels were higher, virtually ensuring some buses and trains will vanish. The CTA and its bus and rail operator unions make permanent schedule changes about twice a year. Some temporary changes have been made to train schedules, and officials plan to meet with the union representing rail operators to agree on further updates by the end of October. The CTA has not said when it plans to discuss bus schedules, however, so bus tracking may remain haunted by apparitions for the time being. 

Now that’s spooky. 

Chicago’s ‘land piggy bank’ under fire

It’s no secret that the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) has failed to provide adequate, affordable housing for the city’s low-income people. The CHA’s 2000 ‘Plan for Transformation’ promised to replace large, aging public housing projects with 25,000 units of mixed-income housing—but while the demolition of places like Cabrini-Green, the Robert Taylor Homes, and the Harold Ickes Homes began almost immediately, only a small fraction of replacement units have been built or renovated, and tens of thousands of Chicagoans wait years for a voucher or the chance to move into a vacant unit. Last week, a ProPublica investigation revealed a different perspective on the problem: the CHA has been giving away valuable public land to private developers in gentrifying neighborhoods—with questionable returns.

To take one example, the CHA promised to build housing on the site of the former Ickes homes in the South Loop, but in 2013 transferred part of the land to the city, which built an athletic field for a nearby public selective-enrollment high school. In exchange, the CHA acquired vacant land near the former Cabrini-Green complex on the Near North Side—but then gave away half of that to the Park District. The athletic field was built, the North Side lot has a park, but the land slated for public housing lies empty. Residents of the former Ickes Homes, who have been waiting for years to move back to the neighborhood, are worried they may never get the chance. More recently, the CHA has planned to lease land near the former ABLA Homes project in University Village to billionaire Joe Mansueto to develop training facilities for the Chicago Fire Soccer club, despite completing just a third of replacement units on the site.

Public housing agencies can and do transfer land, sell buildings, and change plans. But the investigation found that compared to agencies in other cities, the CHA seems particularly invested in not building new housing, despite its promises and the pressing need of low-income Chicagoans. The next meeting of the CHA Board of Commissioners is Tuesday, November 15, with more information on thecha.org.

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