CTA president: Chronic operator absenteeism a problem

File photo. AP
October 5, 2011 4:53:44 AM PDT
The Chicago Transit Agency faces a big budget deficit -- a $277 million budget gap by 2012 -- according to CTA President Forrest Claypool.

For years the CTA has been borrowing millions to pay for operating costs. It is now at the legal limit no, more borrowing. And that means that the projected deficit for next year will be close to $280 million. How do you fill that hole?

"We're looking at every single option, we don't know what we're going to come up with in the budget in the next several weeks," Claypool said.

Claypool is not yet prepared to talk about the likelihood or size of a fare increase. But it may come at a time when many passengers are upset with longer waits and more crowded buses and trains. One of the reasons for that, Claypool told the City Club of Chicago Tuesday, is chronic absenteeism in the ranks. He said hundreds of buses and trains are canceled each month because of manpower shortages. Those cancelations have cost about $40 million so far this year.

"That is a huge cost. It's money that could be used to enhance service or forestall a fare hike or help employees who obviously have a good job and want to keep that good job," Claypool said.

Leaders of the transit union local covering CTA train operators acknowledge that absenteeism is an issue, but they contend that Claypool's numbers are vastly exaggerated, and they're furious with what they consider an undeserved public spanking.

"I have openly said I will sit down and talk about any and every issue-- put it on the table. Doesn't mean we're going to give it up, but we'll talk about. We'll see what we can do to help. I understand today's economy. I know it's bad out there. But fighting this in the media is not going to be a winning situation for anybody," Bob Kelly, Amalgamated Transit Local 308 president, said.

By calling the CTA's work rules "archaic, ridiculous and destructive" Tuesday, Claypool is sending a message about what are sure to be contentious contract discussions in December. Riders meanwhile are not keen on paying more to ride like sardines.

"If it's going to stay the same service it is now, I don't want to pay more for this," said David Humphrey "Why am I going to be $3, or even $20 one day, to take the bus or train and they can't fit me on it?" said Phylisha Ladage.

The CTA raised fares two years ago and cut staffing and service last year. A combination of the two may soon be on the table. The budget will be released late in October.


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