Trick or train: Student body ‘ghosted’ by CTA trains and buses


Samantha Moilanen

CTA commuters wait for the Red Line at the Jackson station.

DePaul junior Kalixta Drinkard stood waiting for the Brown Line at the Fullerton station before class. She started her journey 50 minutes before her class began. The train arrival times on the screen at the station were unavailable, but Drinkard had little hope that the train would arrive in time.

“The other day… I was almost late to my journalism class going to the Loop campus,” Drinkard said. “I had to message my teacher. I told her I might be late. She said that other kids were saying the same thing because they were taking the train also.”

According to Google Maps, taking the Brown Line from the Lincoln Park campus to the Loop campus takes approximately 24 minutes. 

There are multiple factors contributing to delays and absences in CTA transit, but the leading cause is a shortage of CTA operators. 

“The unreliability of overall transit services is directly correlated with a shortage of bus and rail operators – a nationwide issue not only impacting public transit agencies like the CTA, but also other industries requiring commercial drivers, such as school buses, delivery services and other commercial entities,” CTA Media, who did not specify a spokesperson, told The DePaulia. 

According to CTA Media, the coronavirus pandemic is another factor impacting CTA service, since CTA operators are occasionally calling in sick to take care of themselves or their families.

“As of mid-October, there are 741 rail operators, which is 108 fewer than the start of the pandemic,” CTA Media said. “On the bus side, there are 3,152 full-time bus operators as well as 79 part-time. Currently, CTA needs approximately 500 additional bus operators to help fulfill current scheduling levels.”

A commuter looks at the service delays following police activity in the State St. Subway on Oct. 21. CTA Media says that the backups are partly due to an employee shortage. (Quentin Blais)

Since starting at DePaul, sophomore Isabel Riley has used the CTA almost daily.

“I’ve definitely noticed [delays] getting worse over the time I’ve lived in Chicago,” Riley said.

Riley usually takes the train on her daily commute and will occasionally take the bus to go to work. 

“My experiences with the buses have just been worse, like I’ve been late multiple times when I’ve had to take the bus for things, and I’ve had times where the bus won’t come for 30 minutes,” Riley said.

In the past several months, the CTA has been taking steps to hire more CTA operators, particularly bus operators.

“To address these vacancies, CTA is hiring bus operators at a faster rate than we were in 2019, largely due to recent workforce rule changes we made that allow us to 1) directly hire full-time operators versus part-time operators, and 2) increase wages by 5%,” CTA Media said. 

In May, the CTA transitioned 315 bus operators from part-time positions to full-time positions, according to CTA Media. Since mid-August, 84 more bus operators have been added to CTA service.

Despite these efforts, DePaul students are experiencing significant delays with CTA transport. 

“I find that the CTA has more problems, especially in more non-central parts of Chicago, especially in some of my experiences in Northwest Chicago, where buses are the only method of public transit out there, they don’t come as often,” Riley said.

While CTA trains are not nearly as understaffed as the buses, according to CTA Media, students are still dealing with delays on trains, especially at night.

One night this quarter, Drinkard was taking the Brown Line home with a friend close to midnight.

“It was supposed to come in seven minutes, then it says ‘due,’… then it says 14 minutes away, so we had to wait again, then it did it again,” Drinkard said. 

Drinkard said that the train took 30 minutes to arrive, and that she did not reach home until 1 a.m., despite arriving at the train station at midnight and only having to travel six stops.

The CTA says they are making efforts to address the delays by hiring new operators, but it might take several months or more for the CTA to fulfill their schedule.

“Unfortunately, as with all other workforces, just as new hires are brought on board, additional vacancies are being created as a result of attrition,” CTA Media said. “While progress is being made, this is not a matter that will be resolved overnight or in a few months.”

The CTA proposed a new $1.8 billion operating budget for 2023 on Oct. 20, with the goal of keeping CTA fares consistent, improving the frequency of CTA transit and “making important investments to upgrade and modernize the system.”

Until the CTA is able to replenish their staff, students will have to adjust their schedules around CTA delays and absences. 

“I would recommend people to come maybe an hour early before their classes,” Drinkard said.

However, Drinkard is more concerned about CTA delays that occur after dark.

“If they are understaffed like they say they are, then I’d say at night, plan accordingly, because it can get scary,” Drinkard said. “I got lucky with my friend.”