How will Google Transit help us when the Blue Line breaks again?

(A quick note: Yeah, yeah. The next 25 in 12 is late. Sorry.)

CTA President Ron Huberman has done a lot of things right since he took control of the agency. With respect to funding, re-organization, and general upkeep and maintenance, he’s made the CTA a better public agency. But over the last week, we saw that systemic problems still exist at the CTA, and that the city’s riders don’t trust that the agency will do what it says it will do: deliver “service that is on time, clean, safe, courteous and efficient.”

We’re all used to being active riders if we want information about schedules and closures. That’s partly why the news that Google Transit would be delivering CTA schedules and maps was so celebrated: At last, a trusted source was able to deliver information we need, quickly and easily. Plus, it was a sign that an antiquated agency was becoming a modern one (along with the CTA’s expanded bus tracker program).

But over the last several years, CTA riders have expected service that is discourteous and inefficient. And so we’ve found ways to work around that, too. So an agency that has consistently expected its riders to fend for themselves shouldn’t be surprised when a group of stranded riders who aren’t being told why their train is shut down, suddenly self-evacuates from the train. Especially when another group of stranded riders are being verbally abused by a conductor.

While the CTA has made strides to improve everyday communication, they have a long way to go when communicating in a crisis. (Or even, as I argue here, after a crisis). Until they learn to do that better, expect riders to keep doing whatever they can to ensure that their CTA experience is “on time, clean, safe, courteous and efficient.”

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