Tuesday, December 22, 2009

CTA does it again -- for yuppie youngsters, at least

The CTA has just announced that it is offering text notification for bus riders. For a very few bus riders, that is.

I've been complaining for years about the digital-divide and budget hypocrisies regarding BusTracker and related tech wet dreams. (I also wrote several pieces about it for Chicago Journal, which are temporarily offline.) The implementation of this latest feature is -- once again -- geared toward those with smart phones and enhanced phone contracts. Just for starters, the majority of CTA riders, who do not have smart phones but who may (if they're very lucky) know how to use text messaging, will find it almost impossible to key in "CTABUS". I've been using computers since CTA President Richard Rodriguez was in diapers -- and even I am having a hell of a time getting around the interface. I might as well buy a smart phone, eh?

In the mean time, assuming Grandma can find a pay phone anymore, she has less access to CTA route assistants. Once a 24-hour service, the 836-7000 number is now available only from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. So, now, unless Grandma has an iPhone or Blackberry, it is now very difficult for her to know whether a bus route has stopped service for the night or when it will start running early in the morning. She'll be standing at a stop for an hour. She'll be mugged at that street corner before she ever sees a bus. While cutting back more mundane but universal services like phone operators, the $150,000-a-year suits from the CTA are again kicking the poor while they are down, and just in time for subzero temperatures.

At the very least, the thing that needs to be done is to make this text service free through any Chicago cellular provider, like the 911 SOS service, so that anyone can resort to this service from any phone -- even a disabled phone -- not just those with fancy service contracts. And it should be designed numerically for ease, not with alpha keying. They should call in someone who understands what "user interface" means. This should be the top priority. That is how stranded most of the poor are in Chicago.

Of course, this further buries the real problem: Why has the CTA never bothered to sit down with aldermen and the mayor's famous DPD to talk about why buses are not on time? BusTracker is just an excuse to institutionalize the late bus problem, which is rooted in traffic congestion, which is a solvable crisis. But what can you do? If you're going to do things bass-ackwards, you should at least be making it a priority to have it available to the neediest.

As currently implemented, this is a typical CTA technocratic feature geared toward exciting the media, who are already pimping this to the young, middle-class adopters of cutting-edge technology. It's not for the West Side grandmothers who are stuck in the snow, in the dark, trying to get home from Aldi at 8:01 p.m. They may never know when their next bus will be, if ever. They'll be mugged. Thanks as always, CTA.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why doesn't some enterprising journalist take a close look at the cta's budget -- particularly outsized payments to "contractors" and build the case that no amount of money will fix the problem? more money to the cta translates into more money for the ex-employees (rebirthed as "consultants") to steal. when a system is as fundamentally rotten as the cta, you can only fix it by completely rethinking it. a shame for those poor abueletas, but anybody who hasn't figured out that chicago is a fundamentally inhospitable environment to be poor is probably so ignorant that they vote for daley and deserve what they get. I say, let daley and his henchies continue to alienates large swathes of the population, and let's cross our fingers and hope that the abuletas who survive will tell their grandkids to register to vote and throw those bums out.

5:45 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home