Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Dear Chicago Transit Authority,

I have no idea how you got us so far into this financial mess. This bottomless deficit. This month-to-month bouncing between dire warnings of service shutdowns and 11th-hour proclamations of emergency funding.

I’m no economist, but I’ve always assumed that public transportation functioned as a tax-revenue loss leader—something a population-dense municipality practically gives away on the calculated assumption that its citizens will ride its subsidized trains and buses to their jobs, where they’ll generate huge amounts of revenue that can be taxed. Or they’ll take those trains and buses to go shopping, where they’ll make purchases that can be taxed. Or at the very least, their collective presence on those trains and buses will exponentially reduce vehicle traffic and road depreciation, saving money on repair costs.

Not to sound snarky and self-righteous, but it stands to reason that a population sitting at its desks or working in its stores or exploring its retail districts as consumers generates significantly more taxable revenue than a population waiting for a bus that never comes.

But what’s done is done, and we’re all waiting expectantly and with admirable patience for you to get the problem fixed.

Most of us are demonstrating admirable patience, that is. I’m here to warn you that you have officially lost the faith of one very angry, very suspicious and very talkative conspiracy theorist. He was at my bus stop yesterday morning, poring over the formidable list of threatened bus routes you’d just posted. And as soon as I walked up, I got to hear all about it. About how Blagojevich and Daley are working together to destroy the CTA in an effort to drive away the Olympics. About how Eisenhower’s interstates spelled the beginning of the end of public transportation in large cities. About how the buses sometimes smell like pee.

I have to admit, I totally agre with him on that last point.

And because your buses tend to show up at greater and greater intervals, I had to listen to this guy for 20 freaking minutes. I even whipped out my cell phone and started sending text messages to everyone I could think of to signal my loss of interest in his narrative. And you know what? He kept talking anyway. Even though I was rudely ignoring him.

And for this, I have only you to blame. You and your irresponsible budgeting. You and your political failures. You and your Olympic-hating, interstate-resentful, pee-drenched agenda to bring Chicago to a literal and financial halt.

Plus the fact that you have something called a “Brown Line,” which I think is totally funny.

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