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Missing Electric Line Bathrooms Angers Riders

By vouchey in News on May 6, 2005 5:21PM

79th_street_station.jpgOne of the most inexplicable inequities in Chicago public transit are the differences between Metra heavy rail service and the Metra Electric Line. The Electric Line, which terminates at the Randolph Street station and runs mostly through Chicago's South Side African American neighborhoods and suburbs, has continually been plagued by some subtle, and not so subtle differences that grate the patience of riders, and regularly attract charges of racism. Enter recently-appointed State Senator Kwame Raoul.

Earlier this week Raoul fired off a letter to RTA Executive Director Paula Thibeault asking why Metra deferred purchase of 160 new Electric Line cars, if other lines are slated for similar cuts, and if RTA conducted a civil-rights analysis of the cuts. Metra defends itself, saying that capital spending cuts were put into place when the state failed to issue new bonds for spending, and every line is receiving equal funding anyway.

Long-time Electric Line users will remember the old gates that required riders to pass their fare card through, before they could get on the platform. It's something no other line requires, since Metra fare cards are punched by conductors on board trains. Those gates were removed a few years ago, but the biggest point that bothers riders is the train's lack of bathrooms -- something every other Metra line has.

White riders might not think much of the missing bathrooms and station gates, but for decades the underlying charge from white management was that Black riders were dangerous and dirty, they didn't know how to keep a bathroom clean anyway. It didn't help that before Metra took over the Electric Line in the early 80's the line's owner was Illinois Central Gulf, a rail company once rooted in the Old South, and Jim Crow. While intentions may have changed, history runs deep, and a lack of Electric Line bathrooms stokes angry African American riders.

Perhaps Metra doesn't have the money for new rail cars today, but this has been a long-time problem. Why hasn't it been solved already?

Image of 79th Street Station via Metra.