Buses Are Best!

As a woman alone in Chicago much of the time,  often traveling alone to my destination,  is it safer to ride the bus or the ell?

That question  prompted me to argue that public transportation was not necessarily the “best” way for my friend and I to travel to attend the Chicago Film Festival in October at the AMC Theaters, on Illinois Street.

She argued for public transport; I argued against it, pointing out that we would be coming home after dark. Parking your car in the AMC Theater lot, where the film festival has been held the past 2 years, costs $33 if you are there more than 4 hours, which we are if we attend multiple films. (If you are there only 4 hours, you can have your ticket validated and pay something like $17, still a horrible cost, thanks to ex-Mayor Daley selling all parking to Morgan Stanley).

Still, does having your purse or cell phone stolen, or being assaulted sound better? And that is happening at an alarming rate on the Chicago CTA, which has only kept records of such things since 2008. Furthermore, if you ARE assaulted or the victim of a robbery, chances are very slim that anyone will be caught. Arrests have been on a downward spiral for decades and are made in less than 4% of thefts (probably why so few are even reported) and only 15% of the time in robberies. If you see someone jumping a turnstile to avoid paying a fare, chances are good that someone will be involved in a crime later on, perpetrated against someone innocent other on the CTA buses or trains.

The CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) has not been very eager to reveal figures on crime(s) committed on their buses and subways. Because I live near the Roosevelt Red Line, I remember the touching story of the elderly woman who was knocked down a flight of stairs there by thugs who were attempting to steal her cell phone. She died as a result. The nurse who tried to help her commented in that story that she was still haunted by the event to this day. I am haunted by the event, because that is the train I would have to take, were I to ride the subway. But, really, with $33 parking rates, who can afford to drive and park in the city of Chicago ? The alternative is to take the Red Line, so let’s examine the “Tribune’s” findings about its safety.

The “Chicago Tribune” team of Jon Hilkevitch, Alex Bordens and Joe Germuska (Sunday, June 24) set out to find out what the true crime figures are for riders of the CTA. If you guessed that buses are safer than  subways (I did), you are right. If you guessed that the Roosevelt Red Line is the most dangerous subway station of all, you are right. If you guessed that the Number One crime reported on both buses and trains is theft, you are right. [From 2009 to 2011, thefts rose +42%. Many are not even reported, since they have become commonplace.]

From 2009 through 2011, robberies of CTA passengers went up +69% (500 to 800). Many do not report being ripped off, figuring (correctly) that they’ll never see that IPhone or IPad again. However, if they are accosted at gun or knifepoint, they tend to report it, (for all the good it does.)

A second sobering statistic involved batteries on the CTA. Battery of passengers increased 15% on buses and 1% on rail in the same time period (2009-2011). But let’s be clear: the number of reported incidents on buses were about half of those reported on trains, 5,457 versus 10,759.

Q:  What is the most dangerous period of the day to travel on the CTA?

A:  Two o’clock in the morning. It’s actually pretty dangerous to get on a bus or train after dark, period. From 11 p.m. until 4 a.m., riding buses or trains hasn’t much to recommend it, in terms of safety.  Said Mike Bjordal, a 52-year-old Iowa native who manages Leona’s restaurant in Hyde Park and rides the train home to Edgewater at 3 a.m., “The Red Line late at night is dangerous as hell.”

Bjordal’s rules: (1) Always ride the first car (2) Never make eye contact (3) Take the individual seat on the car so no one sits next to you (4) Mind your own business. Of course, “minding your own business” didn’t prevent Nicholas Antunes, age 21, from being robbed and beaten on the Red Line. Nor did it prevent Jeremy Kniola, age 35, from being robbed at gunpoint on the Blue Line. Nor did it prevent Melissa Singleton, age 43, from being the victim of a pickpocket on the bus. [Pickpocketing becomes more likely at Rush Hour and the subway platforms are among the dangerous areas.]

One victim, Kody Zaagman, 22, a pre-med student at Loyola who was robbed on the Green Line while returning to his Oak Park home says he no longer takes public transportation.  “I drive everywhere now.  I just don’t want to be on the train any more. It’s not worth it.”

One bright spot is this: Although 5,800 crimes were reported on the CTA in 2011, the CTA provided rides to 532 million passengers. Also, robberies on the CTA for the first 5 and 1/2 months of 2012 are down 31%, batteries are down 22% for the same period, and thefts declined 14% when compared to 2011. Now, if the Chicago police can just do something about the broad-daylight muggings being reported at bus stops in the Chicago Station District (near the Museums), I’ll hang up my car keys.

And the $240 million overhaul of the 95th Street station at 43rd and Cottage, plus a 5-year renovation of the Red Line, which promises 55 mph trains and will be completed by 2014 was reported by Mary Ann Ahern of Channel 5 only a few days ago. The station services 20,000 people daily, and  is 43 years old. Despite the sobering statistics in this article, hope springs eternal and regular people who have to get to work will, no doubt, still take the bus or the ell.