Richard Rodriguez has been the president of the Chicago Transit Authority since March 2009. He's had to steer the CTA through its greatest fiscal crisis in history. Photos by David Kidd.
In addition to a $300 million gap in operating costs for FY2010, the CTA faces some $7 billion in unfunded maintenance needs. To help close the gap, CTA President Richard Rodriguez has been forced to reduce service throughout the bus and rail system, as well as lay off 1,100 CTA employees.
The oldest parts of Chicago's rail infrastructure date to the 1890s. Along some parts of the system, trains designed to travel 70 mph are forced to a 15-mph crawl because the rails can't handle the faster speeds.
Aging "legacy" systems in cities like Chicago, New York, Boston and Philadelphia help contribute to an estimated $78 billion national backlog in transit maintenance needs.
Richard Rodriguez picks one day a week to ride along different parts of the Chicago transit system. He snaps photos of graffiti, station damage and other problems, and e-mails them to the staff in his office. "My employees hate it," he says, smiling.
Richard Rodriguez has earned a reputation for picking up bits of trash whenever he rides the Chicago transit system. He also requires CTA staff to log two hours a month cleaning up buses at terminals in the city.
Richard Rodriguez is recognized frequently by other CTA riders, and he constantly stops to talk with them -- as well as conductors, station agents and maintenance staff -- about what improvements they think should be made to the system.
Chicago is working to make its stations fully accessible to disabled riders, but the high cost of installing elevators makes it a slow process.
Crime in the system is down from a year ago, thanks in part to an aggressive effort by Mayor Richard Daley to install multiple security cameras at every station in the city. But petty crimes, such as purse-snatching and fare-jumping, remain a concern.
One bit of good news for urban transit systems was the influx of money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. CTA received $241 million in stimulus dollars. Some of those funds went to rebuilding this station in Chinatown, which had been severely damaged when an out-of-control truck crashed into it in 2008.
An average of 1.8 million people use Chicago transit every weekday. Across the country, near-record levels of ridership are straining urban transit systems.
John Paquet, CTA's vice president for planning and development (left) says Richard Rodriguez was "surgical and strategic about the whole process" of cutting service and laying off employees. "When we were talking through it, Rich constantly wanted to know who would be affected by each change: If we cut this route to this neighborhood, how will that affect people on this block?"
Richard Rodriguez has held 10 positions with the city of Chicago in 10 years, and he's become known as something of a "fixer" for agencies in crisis. The mayor hopes Rodriguez will have similar success steering the CTA through tough fiscal times.