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CTA could provide up to 250 buses for use during the DNC. Will that leave enough for regular bus service?

Sarah Freishtat, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO — The CTA has committed to providing as many as 250 buses for use during the Democratic National Convention this summer, even though the agency has faced staff shortages that led to service cuts in recent years.

The head of the union that represents bus drivers says he anticipates having enough staffing for both the DNC and regular scheduled bus service. But designating buses for the convention has some advocates concerned.

“Pulling CTA operators from their regular routes to a specified task that doesn’t serve all of Chicago is of tremendous concern,” said Kyle Lucas, with the transportation advocacy group Better Streets Chicago. “And what will service look like for everyday people during that time?”

Transportation is just one of the ways the city is likely to feel the effects of the four-day convention, which is expected to bring a slew of politicians, visitors and protesters in August. Though many details about plans for the convention have yet to be publicized, officials have already begun telling residents and downtown businesses to brace for the effects of heightened security around McCormick Place and the United Center, key convention sites.

The CTA has agreed to provide the buses, maintenance staff, drivers and other employees needed to transport convention participants as part of a “secured transit system,” according to a copy of an ordinance approved by the Transit Board. In return, the DNC host committee will pay the CTA $4.24 million if all 250 buses are used.

The designated buses would make up about 13% of the CTA’s roughly 1,900 total buses. And that proportion could be significant, advocates said.

 

“I think if it’s over 10% (of the fleet) there’s a potential that it could put pressure on the ability to deliver regular service,” said Audrey Wennink, transportation director for the Metropolitan Planning Council.

Already, the CTA has struggled to provide frequent and reliable service as it grapples with a shortage of operators to run buses and trains. By one measurement of service levels, CTA buses were scheduled to drive more than 3.9 million miles in March, down from 4.3 million in March 2020, federal transit data shows.

The CTA has added some 400 bus operators to its staff over the past year and recently added service on some routes. Still, in April the agency was about 120 bus drivers short of 2019 staffing levels, according to CTA data.

The CTA did not answer questions about whether it would have enough staffing and buses to provide both DNC and regular service or how it planned to do so. In a statement, the agency said only that it has committed to providing buses, planning was still underway, and “CTA has a long history of successfully providing supplemental service during special events.”

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