Janice Thompson normally takes the Green Line to and from her downtown job, but recently found that her routine was disrupted: service on the Cottage Grove branch of the rail line was suspended and she had to take a bus from link to finish your trip.
That meant a longer commute and being home from work later.
“It just pushes things back,” Thompson, 58, said. “I have a routine. I come home, I do what I have to do to get ready for the day.”
Service at the two-stop Cottage Grove branch that runs through Woodlawn has been repeatedly suspended this year, with at least eight of the outages related to staffing, according to service alerts and CTA data obtained through a request. of open records. Passengers have been left to rely on ferries or find other ways to get around the city. In some cases, they said they instead weighed paying for shared rides, finding a shared ride, or transferring between multiple buses and trains to avoid disruption.
The suspensions are a clear sign of the personnel problems that have disrupted bus and rail service. Unreliable service is one of the challenges facing riders looking to return to public transit after leaving in the early days of the pandemic, and has disrupted the daily routines and commutes of those who continue to rely on public transit to get to work. work, dating, family. and social gatherings.
The CTA has pointed to the shortage of bus and rail operators as one of the reasons why the service is not reliable throughout the system. In May, the CTA had about 1,000 fewer union seats than in 2019, a CTA spokesman previously said, though recent hiring has reduced the number of job openings.
Most of the open positions are for bus operators. The CTA has hired more than 400 bus operators since the beginning of 2021, records show, and last week the agency said 80 full-time drivers had completed training and were entering service. The transit agency is still short 675 bus operators compared to 2019, spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski said.
It is less clear how many train operator positions have been filled. The CTA said it does not hire rail operators directly, but rather those seeking to become operators must work their way through other positions. For the Monday deadline, the agency had not provided the number of rail operator positions filled.
A competitive job market and high employee turnover are among the factors contributing to the employee shortage, the CTA said Monday. CTA President Dorval Carter has previously highlighted the high stress of operating a bus or train, which has been exacerbated during the pandemic.
On the Green Line, employees have had more long-term absences than on other lines, Hosinski said. The Cottage Grove branch has fewer passengers than other parts of the system. The neighboring branch at the southern end of the Green Line, Ashland/63, connects to some of the CTA’s busiest bus routes along Ashland Avenue, she said.
When employees take unplanned absences, the CTA sometimes temporarily suspends rail service to Cottage Grove.
It is unclear how long each of the Green Line service suspensions lasted. Many were close to the holidays or weekends. Shuttle buses or, in some cases, an occasional shuttle train have been provided to replace regular service, alerts indicate.
“This is a bigger problem than an occasional canceled bus, or a bigger problem than an occasional gap in service,” said Joseph Schwieterman, director of DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development. “People arrive at a station with the expectation that they can get where they need to go, or they can catch a train without thinking about blackouts.”
Schwieterman acknowledged that finding workers can be difficult, especially since many openings, such as those for operators, are skilled positions, and employee attrition contributes to the challenges. But in a city with “persistent unemployment,” staff shouldn’t be responsible for repeated service cuts, he said.
If service suspensions are still necessary, planned outages are easier for passengers, who rely on predictability, to manage, he said.
Robin Rufus travels weekly on the Cottage Grove Branch of the Green Line and said he has had to reschedule appointments when trains don’t run. Service stopped at night can be scary, make passengers feel like targets for crimeshe said.
If service outages continue, he might consider leaving the neighborhood for one where transit service is better, he said.
“We have to reschedule appointments that we miss or are late for,” he said. “And, people who are struggling financially, they can’t afford to keep going back and forth and having problems with transportation. That’s something we don’t need a problem with, because we have all these other problems.”