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Transit 4 All campaigns for equity, accessibility, and improved service for Chicago transit riders

Chicago has one of the largest transit systems in the United States, but despite its size, it has many flaws and challenges that prevent it from serving all Chicagoans equally and equitably. Transit 4 All seeks to change that by expanding and improving public transit while making it safer, more equitable, and more affordable. 

Launched in February 2021, the campaign is spearheaded by Chicago Jobs With Justice (the local chapter of national network Jobs With Justice), which formed in 1991 to unite disparate organizations around meaningful campaigns for workers’ rights, and economic and social justice. Today CJWJ is a broad coalition of 40 labor unions and community associations across the city.

“We felt it was important to work on transit because it is so important to a lot of really critical issues that are important to us and important to our coalition members,” says Chicago Jobs with Justice co-director Susan Hurley. 

Chief among those issues are accessibility, climate and air quality concerns, and overall quality of life. “Everyone’s a worker, and so we have to make sure that this city and the transit system is accessible for everyone, and is accessible in every way,” says co-director Jill Manrique. 

To that extent, Transit 4 All strives to make Chicago transit more inclusive of everyone, regardless of barriers linked to age, income level, ability, race, or anything else. “Racial equity and racial justice are top priorities,” Hurley says. “We have to do a lot of work on our transit system and our transit service to address gaps in service. There are a lot of parts of our city where it’s just not feasible to get from point A to point B by transit.”

Those issues impact all parts of Chicago to some extent—consider the travel time between Rogers Park and Tri-Taylor via train, for example—but they’re most evident on the city’s far south and southwest sides, where train service is less extensive, forcing people to rely on buses or cars. “Driving itself is an enormous burden,” Hurley remarks. “It often puts people in harm’s way of our criminal justice system, whether it’s a broken taillight or headlight, or whether you’re able to keep your insurance, keep your license tags, stickers, and your driver’s license up to date. All of these are additional burdens on the individual, let alone the cost of having, maintaining, and parking a car.”

Last year the city of Chicago and CTA received $118 million from the federal government to improve transit operations. Transit 4 All demands that the people have a voice in how those funds are utilized. To do so, they’re growing their coalition organizers, workers, and activists while establishing a riders’ union that’s representative of all of Chicago. Among the campaign goals listed on their website are keeping up with published schedules, increasing spending on hiring, training, and retraining bus and train operators (while taking steps to decrease burnout); increasing service, including on weekends and evenings; and improving cleanliness, maintenance, and safety. To the average rider, that might just sound like common sense. 

While Transit 4 All is currently focused on Chicago, the organizers say they eventually plan to take the campaign to Springfield to push for better transit across the state of Illinois.

“[Transit is] the intersection of what’s important for the workforce and what’s important for the riding public, and what’s important for the workforce is in the interest of the public,” Hurley says. “The interests are aligned—we just wanna continue fighting for what’s gonna make the system better for both the workers and the riders. A lot will depend on implementation.”

For now, Chicagoans can get involved by visiting Transit 4 All online (transit4all.org) and signing their petition to demand the CTA take action to improve service. They can also help by starting conversations about transit with fellow riders and community members. 

“There are certain things that maybe are just accepted like ghost buses, or other issues with any transit that people are using day to day,” Manrique says. “We have to stay loud and talk about [transit] and make sure that it continues to be a big part of the conversation.”

Read the previous story in our series here: https://chicagoreader.com/city-life/elevated-chicago-catalyzes-equitable-development-around-the-citys-transit-stations/.

Coverage funded by The Darrell R. Windle Charitable Fund and Polo Inn.

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