CTA Hearings: Frustrating But Kinda Fun
By Margaret Lyons in News on Oct 15, 2004 4:04PM
Chicagoist went to the CTA budget hearings last night and managed to have a pretty good time. The hearing was really just a chance for people to get up and vent, and for the CTA officials to look bored and pained, but as far as bitchfests go, it was a lovely opportunity. Thanks for giving us the chance to stand up and have strangers clap. Hoo yeah.
We were surprised how empty the auditorium was—the Sun-Times estimates an audience of 200, the Trib of 150. Something like that. Aldermen Manny Flores (1st) (squee!) and Ed Smith (28th) were on hand to share their opinions and support as were representatives from the National Federation of the Blind, the American Lung Association, the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, Citizen Action Illinois, and a handful of other groups. And Chicagoist.
If you want to speak at a CTA hearing, get there early. We got there at 6 and on our way in were asked if any of us wanted to speak. We said yes, and they handed us an index card with a red X on it. That meant we got to speak in the first batch of people; there were green and blue cards too, but reds got to go first. Every speaker got 3 minutes to say whatever and then pass the mike to the next person. People were surprisingly respectful of the 3-minute limit, which was kind of a relief. Lots of speakers had prepared speeches, and that was kind of cool, too. Chicagoist? We just got up there and asked some questions. Also, we were really nervous. Read the full story with another picture after the jump…
Not every speaker was great—some were actually really strange and creepy—but some of the points they raised had never crossed our mind. Kate Mayer, there to represent the National Federation of the Blind, said that good CTA service is what enables her to work equally with her sighted peers. According to Mayer, when the CTA expanded the 147 service, they compared it to a car. “If weekend service is cut, then it would seem my car is in the shop," she said, to much applause.
Most speakers had pretty much the same gripes: that the CTA wastes money on other stuff (most notably a marble floor), that the city wastes money on lots of other stuff (most cited was Millennium Park and a subsidized Home Depot), that we rely on the CTA to get us places, that these cuts would affect poor people most severely, that the environmental effects would be catastrophic considering that Chicago is already highly polluted, that the economic effects of the cutbacks would be more far-reaching than we realize. Chicagoist agrees with all these points, but what was tough about the hearing was that we couldn't help but feel like we were all barking up the wrong tree.
After the round of red-card speakers, a CTA official reminded the audience that the budget gaps were not a result of short-comings from the system-generated revenue but rather that state and federal subsidies for the CTA had been "eroding" since 1983. She told us to contact our state legislators, which is certainly pertinent information, but it was hard not to wonder: what the hell are we doing here? This is Grand contributor Jake Mohan wondered the same:
What is the purpose of these hearings? If the CTA has its hands tied fiscally, then who is the real target of the passionate harangues those people in the front row made this evening? Why assemble a panel made up of figureheads for an entity that claims to be powerless in the way its funds are allocated? It's frustrating, to say the least, when even the panel assembled to hear these people out implies the complaints are falling on the wrong ears. Even more so, after hearing so many of tonight's speakers make very clear, very eloquent points that--as intuitive and completely obvious as they may be--I’m ashamed to say hadn’t fully dawned on me before tonight."
Despite these frustrations, Chicagoist is still glad we went. It's not just that it's fun to have a group of strangers clap for you—which it totally is, btw—but it was an unusual opportunity to get up in front of people who make big decisions in this city and say what we think and what we need and what we expect from our government. We ride the CTA every day, and to be able to stand up and talk to its board members? Not to be an assmonkey about it, but there's something pretty special about that chance. It wasn't the most riveting evening of our lives, but it wasn't like anything we'd ever done before.
The next CTA hearing are Tuesday, October 19 at 6:30 p.m. at Chicago State University; Monday, October 25 at 6:30 p.m. at Evanston Township High School; and Wednesday, October 27 at 4 p.m. at the Palmer House. We honestly and heartily recommend going, not just for a chance to blow off some steam, but for a chance to participate in the decision-making processes that affected you. Yay America. Also, keep your eyes peeled for us on CLTV.
Photos, from the top: a protester who needs a spelling lesson; Chicago Transit Board Chairman Carole L. Brown addressed the press while CTA President Frank Kruesi looks on; the CTA panel assembled for the discussion. Top two by Jake, bottom one by Margaret.