Thursday, February 18, 2010

CTA riders sound off on cuts to the #52 bus

By John Greenfield

[This article also runs in theis week's Time Out Chicago magazine,]

Curious about how the new CTA service cuts are impacting Chicagoans, on Monday, February 8, the day after the cuts took effect, I traced part of the #52 Kedzie/California route by bicycle and talked with people waiting for, missing, and grumbling about, the bus.

The #52 winds from the “Little Arabia” strip at 63rd Street and Kedzie Avenue to Hot Doug’s at California Avenue and Roscoe Street. Before the CTA belt-tightening measures—cuts of nine express buses, reduced service hours on 41 bus routes, and less-frequent service on 119 buses and seven of the eight rail lines—the 52 operated from about 3:30am to 12:30am on weekdays. Now weekday service starts about a half hour later and ends as much as 40 minutes earlier, with up to a ten-minute longer wait time between buses.

As I pedal south on California from Logan Square around 10:00 pm, then west on Chicago and south on Kedzie into Garfield Park, I cross paths with a couple of northbound buses but don’t see anyone waiting at the stops.

Around 10:30 pm outside the shuttered 007 Lounge, 600 N. Kedzie, with its James Bond-esque logo, a middle-aged woman in a hoodie says the earlier end time means she won’t have a ride home from late shifts at her nursing home job. “I think it’s crap,” she spits.

A few blocks south by the Green Line’s Kedzie station, Harry Lucas and Jesse Galloway are waiting for the southbound bus, the last leg of their trip home from their bricklaying class at Bronzeville’s Dawson Technical Institute. They tell me the cuts mean that if class runs late—which it occasionally does—they’ll miss their ride home.

“You used to wait 10 or 15 minutes between buses,” Galloway says. “Last night it took a half hour. It’s messed up. The CTA and the drivers need to stop pointing fingers and come up with a solution.”

Rolling south through Lawndale and into Little Village I pass two or three more northbound buses, then stop into George’s Hotdogs, an old-school stand at 2612 S. Kedzie. Owner George Maichalios, nattily dressed in a fedora and tweed jacket with a handlebar moustache, says the cuts aren’t a problem for his employees since only his wife and son work the grills.

But Malcolm X College student Michael Alaniz looks depressed as he waits for his burger. He’s used catching the bus home from the Pink Line’s Kedzie stop after classes but he just missed the last southbound #52 which left 26th Street at 11:11 pm. “Now I’ll have no choice but to walk thirteen blocks,” he says. “This sucks. It was hard enough to get to work and school by the CTA before. This just makes it harder.”

As I spin northbound again the bus stops are deserted. Around midnight I stop to talk to three homeless guys outside Anna’s Food and Liquors, 1303 S. Kedzie in Lawndale. A car pulls up and a young man who looks like 50 Cent gets out. “What is this - some undercover shit?” he says and threatens to kick my ass. After he enters the store I follow the homeless guys’ advice and get back on my bike. Note-to-self: don’t conduct interviews outside liquor stores late at night.

I follow the bus route back to the Continental, a 4 am bar at 2801 W. Chicago in Humboldt Park. As Wire’s “Pink Flag” blasts on the sound system, doorman Jason Holshoe says he used to catch the first #52 of the morning home after work. Now that the bus starts later he’ll spring for a cab rather than wait.

“We’re getting less frequent service but still paying the same fare,” Holshoe says. “It’s less bang for your buck. And why did they have to make the cuts in the dead of winter? If it was summer at least you wouldn’t be waiting out in the cold.”

Bellying up at the California Clipper, 1002 N California Ave., I alert barmaid Michelle Tomlison that the 52 has stopped running for the night. She offers a customer one for the road. “Nah, I’m already at the point where I probably shouldn’t drive,” he says. “Well,” Tomlison says with a wink, “maybe you should take the California bus.”


chitownclark said...

Interesting idea for a column. But frankly after reading it, it seems the CTA was correct in reducing service on this bus, because there were so few riders inconvenienced...why shouldn't a young guy walk 13 blocks? Doesn't make my heart bleed particularly...

Obviously if there was more service throughout the system, there WOULD be more riders eventually. Because people like me would know I could rely on the CTA for ALL my trips.

The RTA and CTA need to be more creative in balancing their budget; else someday transit will enter a Death Spiral, with service so limited that NO ONE will depend upon it. Kenosha's transit system being a good example...

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