Behind the wheel – one CTA bus driver tells all

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is working to roll out 550 new buses and the new Ventra fare card system in the near future.  These modifications are meant to provide a more swift, efficient and comfortable ride for its commuters.  Armando Rengifo, a retired Latino CTA bus driver, believes that these changes are also beneficial to bus drivers.

When Armando Rengifo came to Chicago from Columbia in 1971, he took three buses to work and thought bus driving was easy. “All you had to do was sit there and press on the gas,” said Rengifo. After working as a CTA bus driver for about twenty six years, Rengifo learned that driving a bus in Chicago was more physically and mentally demanding than he thought.

“You have to deal with all kinds of people, personalities and attitudes, such as senior citizens, handicapped or disabled people, kids and students.”  The schedules, weather and traffic also create challenges for bus drivers, as these conditions all contribute to the setting for possible conflicts.  Bus drivers are often blamed for delays or problems.  Rengifo has been cursed at or threatened by passengers, and has even been called a “spick.”

Rengifo has experienced some shocking things driving buses on several routes throughout the city. When Rengifo began working as a CTA bus driver, he started out part-time on all downtown routes, such as Michigan Avenue and State Street.  A year and a half later, as a full-time rookie, he worked on the West Side, getting some of the worst streets and routes, such as the #20 Madison or #70 Division.

One of Rengifo’s most memorable routes is the #22 Clark bus.  On one occasion, he remembers that a man who appeared to be paralyzed on one side of his body refused to pay his fare and cursed at other passengers as they tripped over his legs. Then at the end of the route, when there were mostly women on the bus, he pulled down his pants and urinated inside the bus.  “Some of his urine splashed on me.  I had to call the cops and they took him off the bus,” said Rengifo.

Riders aren’t the only difficulty CTA bus drivers have to deal with.  Rengifo says that CTA bus drivers may develop problems with their backs and knees for sitting too long, high blood pressure and stress from their co-workers, managers, supervisors and the control center.  He said that the necessity of going to the bathroom may also be problematic.  “Sometimes you’re in between terminals and there’s no place to go, so you have to hold it.  Doing this too long can affect your kidneys and prostate.”

Recently, the CTA has implemented several changes, which have eliminated some of the complications that Rengifo experienced. In mid-December 2012, the CTA launched its Crowding Reduction Plan, which provided the equivalent of $16 million in added service to the busiest routes at no cost to taxpayers.  The CTA added capacity and/or extended the hours of service for 48 popular bus routes.  This was financed by the discontinuation of 12 duplicative and low-ridership bus routes.

As part of its CTA bus modernization program, the CTA awarded contracts with a combined value of $185 million to perform overhauls of 1,030 buses, which will include rebuilding engines, transmissions, suspensions, heating and air-conditioning systems, exterior repair and repainting.  Buses provide 58 percent of all rides taken on the CTA each year, serving Chicago and 35 surrounding suburbs.

Rengifo believes that these changes are good for bus drivers. “The new fare card system will allow drivers to focus more on driving than collecting fares.”  The cameras and safety shields also provide a more secure work environment for bus drivers.

To get the facts on the new Ventra system, visit: www.ventrachicago.com.

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