CTA: Our report card is secret

Want to know how many customer complaints the Chicago Transit Authority has fielded this year, or whether security incidents on buses and trains are on the rise?

You're out of luck.

Last year, the CTA stopped publishing quarterly reports tracking the number of accidents, complaints, days between bus cleanings and other performance-related figures.

The reports were part of an effort to keep customers informed about how well the agency was serving them -- a move heralded by CTA Chairman Carole Brown on her blog in January 2006.

"We should be sharing much of this data with you so you can see where we succeed, where we need improvement ... and positive and negative trends," Brown wrote.

But little more than a year after Brown's statement, the agency shut off the information flow. The most recent report available on the CTA website is from the first quarter of 2007.

The Daily News, in an effort to find out how the agency's performance has changed since then, filed a request under the Illinois Freedom of Information act to obtain updated performance statistics.

Though the records are compiled and maintained using public money, the CTA refused to make them public.

The agency's refusal to release the statistics comes at a time when CTA leadership is under fire for its performance during an incident on the Blue Line last week.

With 1,000 passengers trapped underground in a stalled train, the agency failed to call the Fire Department for nearly an hour, earning a rebuke from Mayor Richard M. Daley.  

The CTA says it stopped releasing the statistical reports because it is reevaluating how it measures its performance. Because of that, the agency says, statistics for the last three quarters of 2007 are considered preliminary drafts that the public is not entitled to see.

Jay Stewart, executive director of the Better Government Association, a nonpartisan government watchdog, says the agency's position is "unacceptable."

"This isn't some top-secret national security issue," he says. "The public should have a right to government data. Period."

"Even if they have the data and it hasn't been put into a final report, they still have the data and should release it," he says.

CTA spokeswoman Catherine A. Hosinski says the agency has appointed a team to examine how to move forward with performance reporting.

"While CTA is reviewing information analyzed by the performance management team, the web site as it presently exists will not be updated ... until a decision has been made as to what information will be of value to our customers," Hosinski wrote in an e-mail to the Daily News.

She says it's unclear when the CTA will issue new performance reports.

State Rep. Julie Hamos (D-Evanston), chair of the House Mass Transit Committee, says she's been pushing the agency to be more accountable to the public, especially given the CTA's financial troubles and recent state bailout.

Hamos sponsored a bill passed in January requiring the CTA to publish statistics on travel times and on-time performance, ridership data, equipment failure rates, employee and customer safety, and customer satisfaction at least once a year.

"We weren't just going to give the transit system a blank check. We wanted to see their performance indicator statistics," she says. "Putting sunshine on the whole issue will make the agencies more accountable."

Some CTA riders agree.

"Certainly it would be very useful for the public to know how our public transit system is performing and how they are performing against those metrics that are embodied in the CTA's mission - to provide clean, safe and friendly service," says Kevin O'Neil, publisher of the CTA Tattler blog.

"I think the public has a right to that information and they should release it," he says.

The Daily News has asked its attorneys to seek a judge's order forcing the CTA to make updated performance statistics available to the public.