What CTA Workers Know
February 18, 2019 7:36 AM   Subscribe

Chicago Magazine interviewed a dozen CTA workers anonymously about their jobs. Here are their responses on everything from acting as a de facto shelters to suicides to the weirdest things they've seen people take on the train. Related: What Teachers Know.
posted by dinty_moore (18 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
I work for BART. Our frontline employees are my heroes. People ask why we need train operators, "They just sit there..." But they are not there for when everything goes right, they are there for when everything goes wrong. Lost kids, suicide attempts (which they prevent from becoming suicides more than they fail), cars driving onto the tracks, trees falling on the tracks, shopping carts, etc. We haven't had a serious derailment in years. They are the first responders when something happens on the train. Same is true for Station Agents. You wonder why they get grumpy--they are dealing with angry or mentally ill people, lost children, biohazards, customers who treat them like punching bags, etc. We cut back on station staffing so often they are alone when opening or closing the station--having to evict people who have nowhere to go. They've had to become social service workers because we are failing as a society to take care of people who need help.

We are certainly not perfect, but we have a finite amount of resources to deal with growing problems. Yes, we have bond money now to make repairs, add to cleaning staff, etc. But it has taken years to get there and it will take years to fix.

Overall I am proud to work for BART, I believe we provide a vital service. We are always working to do better.
posted by agatha_magatha at 8:20 AM on February 18 [33 favorites]


Then he gets off the bus, pulls down his pants, and yells, “You scared of this?” And I swear to God, all those little old ladies look at him, and one of them says out the window, “Baby, I wouldn’t be scared of that!”

My hero.
posted by scruffy-looking nerfherder at 8:31 AM on February 18 [23 favorites]


BUS JUSTICE! That’s totally what I’m naming my political party. Join us!
posted by stillmoving at 8:43 AM on February 18 [5 favorites]


but 
you definitely can’t eat a plate of Harold’s Chicken and drive.

I believe in you, CTA folk.
posted by Hypatia at 9:37 AM on February 18


The homeless situation in Chicago is really really bad. The largest shelter is actually a mission aimed at coverting people, that happens to have cots. They require Chapel 5 times a day. And if you are blatently non Christian you will be banned. It happens ALL THE TIME.

They also require an ID to enter after 7pm, (and it's the only shelter in Chicago that accepts people after 7).

The other options have such little capasity it can be really hard even when trying to get services.

And then, you can be barred from family shelter for 30 days at a time which should be a crime. (I was dealing with this just last week... how can the family shelter contract declare young children unservisable in shelter? But they do!)

I don't have answers. I work with and against that system every day trying to get people what they deserve. And sometimes, many times what the person asks for is just give me a bus card because I can ride the train and no one will bother me for awhile. Our services shouldn't be so adversarial that riding transportation is the preferred option. But it is.
posted by AlexiaSky at 10:28 AM on February 18 [21 favorites]


Yup, what AlexiaSky said. The shelter in question is also crappily-run enough that I've met numerous people who are sleeping rough but refuse to go there.

Next to the Cook County Jail, the CTA is probably the largest homeless shelter in the city.
posted by tivalasvegas at 10:34 AM on February 18 [8 favorites]


I work for another transit agency and so many of these quotes ring true. One of my favorite parts of the job is the intermittent emails from the person who manages the lost & found, with all the weird shit that people leave on vehicles and at stations. A few fun ones come to mind: a glass eye, a live tarantula in a cage (which a coworker brought home as a pet for his kid), a blow up sex doll, a Red Bull branded bar table, a window air conditioner. And boxes after boxes of cell phones, wallets, passports, keys...
posted by look busy at 11:11 AM on February 18


Oh, and my other favorite thing: the annual bulletin detailing the requirements operators must adhere to when wearing a Santa hat in December.
posted by look busy at 11:19 AM on February 18 [5 favorites]


BUS JUSTICE!

My Bus Driver is an awesome Bus Driver.
posted by thelonius at 11:23 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Here in Seattle, we have a bus driver, Nathan Vass, who regularly blogs about what he runs into on the job: The View From Nathan's Bus
posted by vibratory manner of working at 1:05 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


I have a friend who is a retired CTA Bus Driver and once he said "There are some really bad people out there" with a kind of far away stare. It was like what I imagine the thousand yard stare of some Vietnam Vets was like. So I kind of just let it float there with no follow up.

He has been retired for a while but he still waves at every bus he sees when walking down the street and they wave at him. Which is weird considering they essentially work alone only ever seeing other drivers at shift changes.
posted by srboisvert at 1:09 PM on February 18 [4 favorites]


People around here bitch constantly about how the bus drivers are overpaid but I can't imaging dealing with the crap that they put up with every day. Sometimes actual and not metaphorical crap.
posted by octothorpe at 1:31 PM on February 18 [5 favorites]


Which is weird considering they essentially work alone only ever seeing other drivers at shift changes.

On a normal two-way city street with decent frequency buses will regularly be passing each other going in opposite directions (and, sigh, sometimes in the same direction). It's kind of my ideal colleague interaction: predictable, self-contained, and I can immediately get back to my business.
posted by praemunire at 11:12 PM on February 18 [6 favorites]


> People around here bitch constantly about how the bus drivers are overpaid but I can't imaging dealing with the crap that they put up with every day.

I've asked people who complained that sanitation workers are overpaid how much the job would have to pay before they'd take it, and that usually throws sand into their mental gears as they try to come up with an answer that avoids acknowledging that they believe only the right kinds of people in the right kinds of jobs deserve to earn a good living.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:00 AM on February 19 [10 favorites]


Transit workers are (usually) the best of the best. Doesn't matter if it's Chicago, Philadelphia, SF: they're doing a very hard but very necessary job.
posted by james33 at 5:41 AM on February 19 [2 favorites]


I love CTA drivers! I was once on a bus with a bunch of bus drivers going home from the garage on Foster, along with one new bus driver on her way to start her shift. It was delightful listening to them talk about bus driver stuff together. I remember one of them explaining how everybody's afraid of driving downtown, but it's no big deal--you've just got to relax and take your time and drive carefully, because it's just going to take forever and there's nothing you can do about it. They also agreed the routes up in Evanston are the worst because people want you to drop them off at their doorstep, and pick them up all over the place, and have 5 star service at all times.

And I'll never forget one time I was on the el going home from work, and the driver came on the intercom to tell us to look out the windows on the left side of the train because there was a rainbow. Made my day.
posted by gueneverey at 6:30 AM on February 19 [4 favorites]


I've asked people who complained that sanitation workers are overpaid how much the job would have to pay before they'd take it, and that usually throws sand into their mental gears as they try to come up with an answer that avoids acknowledging that they believe only the right kinds of people in the right kinds of jobs deserve to earn a good living.

At least in Chicago this doesn't quite work as well because Streets and Sanitation was one of the long term patronage bastions of machine politics. An awful lot of the workers in that department, particularly at the management levels have nothing to do with dealing with streets or sanitation. Or anything for that matter (They are often called "Ghost Jobs" because the people are never even seen by the actual workers). It was Streets and Sanitation hiring that triggered the Shakman decree that required judicial oversight to try and prevent the endemic patronage problem in the city of Chicago. BTW - the Shakman decree was allowed to expire just in the past year or so.

(Not that CTA wasn't a clout operation either but by and large the people who got clouted in were still workers who had a job to do. My CTA friend, who is a black man, was a university graduate who ostensibly failed the entrance exam (and it was about the level of reading a clock and calculating times) until his mom, an aldermanic precinct captain (basically a vote rounder-upper), called her alderman. Miraculously the next week he was called and told there was an error grading his exam and asked if he would like to start right away. Chicago ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ).
posted by srboisvert at 10:02 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Today was a crap day and I was tempted to splurge on taking the metra home (saves me about 20 minutes). But I decided not to, and my L conductor is one of the friendly ones, popping on the PA once in a while to tell everyone how happy he is we're riding with him today. Definitely made the day feel a bit brighter.
posted by ghost phoneme at 3:12 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]


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