CHICAGO (CBS) — Three dozen new bus drivers have graduated from the CTA training program, in preparation for next year’s massive Red Line reconstruction project.
WBBM’s Bernie Tafoya reports 36 new part-time bus drivers joined 33 others who hit the streets two weeks ago.
At an event at the CTA bus barn at 74th Street and Wolcott Avenue on Monday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, “we’re gonna hire 400 new bus drivers. Over 4,000 applied.”
The reason for all the new bus drivers is the plan to close the south branch of the CTA Red Line for five months next spring, to overhaul the entire track south of Roosevelt.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya Reports
The track project will begin in May, and to accommodate Red Line customers who will be put out, the CTA plans to double the 100 buses that already serve the South Side.
“We’re doubling the service, but more importantly – from May to October – putting in place a new, brand-new entire track system that will serve the South Side for the next 30 years,” CTA Board Chairman Terry Peterson said. “It’s going to make the ride from 95th Street to Chinatown faster, smoother, better.”
During the Red Line overhaul, shuttle buses will also be set up to take riders from their normal Red Line stops to the Green Line, which runs parallel to the Red Line from Roosevelt to 63rd Street, a few blocks further east.
All those new buses will mean the CTA will need a lot more drivers, hence the plans to hire 400 more drivers by the time the project starts.
New bus driver Jerod Lewis called the $19-an-hour job a great opportunity for him and his family.
“I always wanted to know how it feel to be a bus driver,” he said. “I went to the job fair at Chicago State University on the South Side, and I was in the line with the applicants. There was a lot of people out there, so I went through the battle, and everything came out well. So I’m glad to be here.”
Former truck driver Damien Sylva began his CTA career on Monday on the #82 Homan route.
“It’s a great opportunity. It’s not only a job, it’s an actual career,” he said.
CTA President Forrest Claypool said the $425 million overhaul of the Red Line will get rid of dreaded slow zones, “and cut roundtrip commutes by 20 minutes for South Side commuters.”
Approximately 40 percent of the Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line is restricted by slow zones, meaning trains go much slower than they should. By the time the project starts next spring, 60 percent of the Dan Ryan branch will be restricted by slow zones.
For example, between Garfield and 59th Street, trains can go only 15 miles per hour, when they should be able to travel at least 55 miles an hour between most stops.
Officials decided to shut down the southern end of the Red Line completely for five months next year, rather than do the work only on weekends, which would have resulted in rolling station closures and frequent schedule changes, and taken four years to complete. Officials decided the five-month shutdown ultimately would be less of an inconvenience for riders.