Free Rides For Some Government Workers Costing CTA Millions

CHICAGO (CBS) — Five months after ending free rides for all senior citizens, the CTA is still providing free rides to thousands of civil service employees — a practice that dates back to 1945, when it was mainly a “courtesy” extended to police and firefighters.

Today, the list of government workers who get free rides on the CTA is long and costly for the transit agency.

CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker reports how thousands of Chicagoans are riding buses and trains for free, costing the CTA $18 million a year.

A CBS 2 viewer who is one of Tucker’s Facebook friends tipped her to the story.

Carlos Escabedo wrote: “Why do the crossing guards and police also ride free on the buses and trains? The Mayor wants to save money, the CTA is broke, so they should pay fares for rides like everyone else.”

Escabedo rides the CTA nearly every day to a part time job or to look for a full-time job. He estimated he spends about $80 a month on rides. So when he sees others riding for free, it angers him.

“They get on the bus and they don’t pay a fare,” Escabedo said.

“They” include traffic aides in the big yellow jackets.

At O’Hare International Airport, more city workers walked through the handicapped gate to get onto the Blue Line without paying.

“I think it’s unfair. The CTA, they’re out of money. These people, I think, should pay. Why are they getting a free ride?” Escabedo complained.

The list of government employees who get free rides, according to CTA rules, includes police officers, firefighters, Cook County sheriff’s deputies, crossing guards, traffic aides, parking enforcement aides, military personnel and health department nurses. All must be in uniform to get a free ride. Some, like crossing guards, are restricted to certain hours.

Children under the age of 7 also get free rides on the CTA.

Last September, the state did away with a program that provided free public transit for all seniors in Illinois, because the free rides were costing the CTA, Metra and Pace a combined $30 million a year, when the transit agencies were already facing regular budget shortfalls. The move angered many seniors who had been relying on the free rides for three years until then. Now, only seniors who qualify for other certain low-income programs get free rides. Other seniors get reduced fares.

A crossing guard, who didn’t want to be identified, said those complaining about service workers getting free rides should give them more money, since they only work part-time and make about $21,000 a year.

But Parking Enforcement Aides can make as much as $58,000 a year, and they also get to ride for free.

“They’re making much more than I probably am making. We’re working, they’re working. They should pay,” said Escabedo.

Since thousands don’t pay, in 2010 the CTA lost more than $18 million in revenue. But the CTA emphasizes the majority of that figure is accounted for by children under 7.

Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a government watchdog group, said, “We can’t afford to have unjustified free rides.”

Msall pointed out that the CTA faces a $270 million deficit this year.

“If we are giving away $18 million in rides, free rides, that means the rest of the passengers on the CTA are paying more for those rides; or that the CTA doesn’t have $18 million to invest in its infrastructure to upgrade some of its platforms, to buy new buses or to basically repair the roadbed on the rail cars,” Msall said.

Msall said the CTA needs to consider changing the policy in light of its budget problems.

In a statement on Tuesday, the CTA said it “evaluates its programs and policies, with an eye toward reducing costs and increasing efficiency, while maintaining safe, reliable service.”

More from Dorothy Tucker
  • DL

    Don’t forget Cta drivers as well. I dislike when the driver of the bus sits there talking to the other cta driver ithat is outside of the bus and then after several minutes,the person outside comes in and stands there talking to the driver (didn’t pay either) for a while later and FINALLY the driver starts driving while still talking. The CTA shouldn’t have stopped giving rides to the elderly seeing as how they don’t make much or are retired. Now all those gov.workers and other people should pay. Bring back the old model where firefighters and police can have a freebie,at least they try save lives.

    • what a mess

      If all these able-bodied people get FREE rides on the CTA, then bring back the FREE rides for the people who deserve it the most: the elderly; handicapped and indigent. Why the hell not?

  • Linda

    Is it true Cook County deputy sheriffs ride Metra free?

    • Penny

      Yes, Linda sadly it is true that sheriffs, police, traffic aide and many others get a ride free but nobody cares about it and they have been getting away with it for years. They should pay to since they ride the CTA.

  • g-man

    Why not have a big investigation about how the politicians give the children of other politicians a free ride to 4 years at a state college at tax payers expense !!!!!

  • Roberta Waker

    As long as the CTA is losing money, the should stop the freebies for everyone except the police and firefighters. To continue this practice is discrimination against the seniors that have been cut off.

  • Letsfuku Torres

    Why go after the crossing guards who get paid the least amount of pay.Yet I do not hear about all those who get paid for two or three pensions jobs .Jeez .

  • Chicagoan

    The purpose of letting sheriffs and police ride the busses and trains in uniform was an added security measure.

    Go ahead and take that perk away from them.
    Then see a bit of an increase in crime on those busses and trains!

    Be careful what you wish for.

  • Free Rides For Some Government Workers Costing CTA Millions « CBS Chicago « rookiephenom

    […] Free Rides For Some Government Workers Costing CTA Millions « CBS Chicago. […]

  • Letsfuku Torres

    Just Looking To Work

    “Summer jobs are not plentiful,” says 23rd District (Town Hall) Crossing Guard Supervisor Irene Jurewicz. “And some of them (crossing guards) are left with no work at all. Crossing guards get no vacation time, no sick time. For most of them it’s not what they want to do at all.”

    5th District (Calumet) Crossing Guard Supervisor Joyce Banks concurs with Jurewicz about crossing guards needing the work.

    “If there’s nothing (a job) awarded when they bid (for the job) they do it (take the ticket writing position),” says Banks. “They look at it as a job.”

    According to 25th District (Grand Central) Crossing Guard Supervisor John Jambrosek, the priority is to make sure there are enough crossing guard positions for the schools hosting summer school, before allowing crossing guards to work writing parking tickets. In fact, the west side police district does not have any crossing guards writing violations this year.

    “We didn’t have enough crossing guards to fill summer school duties,” says Jambrosek who doesn’t have any participating crossing guards this year. “Our main priority is to fill all the school crossing positions. In some districts they have fewer schools open for crossing guards. In this district we were eight short.”

    Crossing guards have to spend a day in ticket writing training at the Chicago Police Academy before they’re issued their ticket books and assigned either a four hour morning shift from 6-10 AM or an evening shift from 3-7 PM. The crossing guard ticket writing season parallels the six weeks of the city’s summer school session.

    Jurewicz says the four ticket writing crossing guards she oversees are issuing the run-of-the-mill type parking violations.

    “They just do parkers, not movers (moving violations),” says Jurewicz. “(They write) the obvious ones–street cleaning, tow zones, no parking anytime, expired meters, expired license plates.”

    Crossing Guard Program Generates Big Money For City

  • Chivi

    I have another one for you. There is a traffic aide downtown who parks her SUV right on Adams off Clark when she is directing traffic/giving tickets. I’ve also see some flag their friends/acquaintances down in mid traffic, pull over and chit chat while others are gonig around them. BS!!

  • Letsfuku Torres

    Crossing Guard Program Generates Big Money For City

    Each of Chicago’s 25 police districts are allowed up to six ticket writing crossing guards for the summer, which would add a theoretical maximum of 150 more ticket writers to the several hundred city employees already writing tickets across the city. This include close to 200 Parking Enforcement Aides for the Department of Revenue, Traffic Management Aides, SERCO, the private parking enforcement company contracted by the city and ticket writers hired by LAZ Parking which enforce parking meter violations on behalf of Chicago Parking Meters, LLC.

    “Some (districts) get more, some (districts) get less,” 19th District (Belmont) Crossing Guard Supervisor Mary Ann Eagan explains how ticket writing crossing guards are distributed between the different police districts. “It goes by seniority. Some (crossing guards) have small children and decide to stay home for the summer. Others want the work.”

    The Chicago Police Department’s News Affairs did not respond to our questions via email and telephone to get a total number of crossing guards issuing tickets. But our survey of a random sampling of police districts estimates 50-75 crossing guards are on the ticket beat for the summer, which over the course of six weeks translates into thousands and thousands of parking violations, and hundreds of thousands of dollars of additional revenue for a cash starved city. 50 crossing guards writing $50 tickets for six weeks could easily generate a half million dollars to three quarter of a million dollars.

    How does the image of the helpful crossing guard, shepherding young children to school square with leaving hundreds of costly bright orange parking tickets on the windshields of aggravated Chicago motorists?

    “It’s a little different for them,” says Town Hall’s Jurewicz. “At first it was kind of intimidating. They have the perception of helping children get to school. But once they got comfortable they were able to do the job.”

  • Ed Schneider

    Well I am not please to hear this. Military definitely should get the free rides, they give up so much for us and don’t make all too much as it is. But the rest of them, sorry, we pay you well enough, and those crossing guards who work part time, GET ANOTHER JOB, you are choosing to be under employed. When I first moved to Chicago, I worked full time, and made a mere $27k and paid an exorbitant amount in rent, and still paid my monthly fee, because its fair and its right. PD and Fire make a load of money and I am sorry, they should pay the $80 per month.

    Just gets me angry. One reason I left Chicago for Denver.

  • David Norris

    And why is it that the new media get to park in no parking zones, or other restricted parking areas?

    And why is it that if a police officer, off-duty, but going to court, riding the CTA is asked to intervene in a problem, but can’t use the excuse that I am off duty?

    And why is it that many of those Crossing Guards still do what they do when they get paid so little after being threatened by crazy drivers, or begrudged a free ride to get to their corners by whining citizens?

    And why is it that if somebody who is not getting a particular benefit, wants to whine and complain about somebody who is getting a benefit?

    And why is that CBS never reports on themselves when one of their employess is caught doing something wrong?

    And why is it that the President gets to live in a nice house for free and the rest of us have to pay for the meager living space we have?

    And why is that blogs are mainly filled with whiners and complainers?

    The world may never get all of the answers. I wonder why that is?

  • David Norris

    By the way, Dorothy Tucker, where did you come up with the $18 million? I estimated one round trip fare is, $4.50 (riding the trains, which is the most expensive fare). $18 million divided by $4.50 equals 4 million rides. 4 million rides divide by 365 days equals the CTA giving 10,959 rides PER DAY. If you divide the 4 million rides by 313 days – all of the weekdays, including holidays – then the CTA is providing a free round trip to 12,780 people who work for the listed government employees EVERY WEEKDAY. 12,780 or 10,959 police, fire, sheriff, military, crossing guards ride a day? At least point me toward the place where you got your $18 million, because like any other thing the media reports on, I don’t believe your reporting. Let us see your source and determine the truth in your story.

blog comments powered by Disqus
Daily Weather Reports Delivered To You!SIGN UP NOW: Get daily weather reports every morning from meteorologist Steve Baskerville!
CBS Sports Radio RoundupGet your latest sports talk from across the country.

Listen Live