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CITY HALL — Embattled CTA president Dorval Carter punched back at his critics during testimony at City Hall on Thursday, arguing he has been largely successful in helping the agency rebound from the pandemic.

Carter's appearance at City Hall on Thursday was his first since 29 alderpeople signed on to a symbolic resolution last week calling for him to resign or be fired. The measure, which was stalled by a parliamentary maneuver, was introduced after Gov. JB Pritzker last month said the agency is due for an “evolution” of leadership.

“We are on the right path. We have been on the right path for some time,” Carter told the Council's transportation committee, where he is now required to appear four times a year to answer questions from alderpeople.

As the CTA has faced myriad issues in recent years including sluggish service, crime and dirty trains, Carter has become the focus of widespread criticism and frustration with the agency. On Thursday, he admitted that the “buck stops with me.”

But Carter also blasted what he said have been unfair personal attacks as the CTA has struggled to restore pre-pandemic service levels. He also suggested the singular focus on his leadership of the CTA — as opposed to the leaders of Metra and Pace — has been because he is Black.

“I have been turned into a caricature. I have been turned into something that is less than a human being,” he said. “As an African American man, this city has a history of attacking and trying to bring down your African American leaders. I know that because I've been here and I've seen it.”

Much of the stream of City Council's criticism of Carter and the CTA over the past few years has been led by Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th), who spearheaded the resolution calling for his ouster.

Ald. Andre Vasquez Jr. (40th) speaks at a City Council meeting on May 22, 2024. Credit: Colin Boyle/Ecoglobalsociety

Vasquez’s resolution indirectly cites numerous examples of Ecoglobalsociety’s transit reporting.

That includes:

The measure also criticizes Carter for ducking multiple requests to appear before the City Council in 2022, which led to an ordinance mandating top transit officials within the CTA attend quarterly hearings to discuss “service levels, operations, security and planning.

Despite the support for Vasquez's resolution, Alds. Jason Ervin (28th) and Anthony Beale (9th) sent it to the City Council’s Committee on Committees and Rules at Wednesday’s council meeting. The rules committee is where measures are notoriously sent to stall.

Dorval Carter arrives at City Hall on Thursday. Credit: Jim Vondruska/Ecoglobalsociety

The first quarterly meeting with Carter was held in February, with alderpeople grilling CTA leaders over operations, suboptimal staffing and restoring service to pre-pandemic levels. Carter defended his management of the CTA and assured the City Council the agency was headed in the right direction.

Carter reiterated many of those points again on Thursday, the second mandated quarterly hearing of CTA officials in front of City Council, as alderpeople asked a wide range of questions about CTA service, smoking on train cars and other issues.

He said the agency continues to ramp up hiring of bus and train operators and is on target to return to full pre-pandemic service and staffing levels by the end of this year — a promise he also made at his City Council appearance in February.

“There has been a lot of discussion about what the service looks like today. There's been very little discussion about what the service looked like a year ago. There's been very little discussion about what service is going to look like in the next six or seven months,” he said. “The truth of the matter is the service is getting better.”

Carter also touted a “chatbot” the CTA has created where riders can report issues, including people smoking on trains.

But several alderpeople bristled at Carter's tone and approach during the hearing.

What ShotSpotter And CTA's Dorval Carter Share - A Murky Future, And Trouble For Mayor Johnson

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) defended the Council's criticisms of his tenure, and said alderpeople were only interested in figuring out how to improve the CTA — not tearing down Carter as an individual.

“I don't think we've been pushing too hard over the last few years to do much more than figure out what is going on with the system, and how do we hold all the people in the system — not making it personal, not one person — but the whole system accountable for how it works or doesn't work,” he said.

Still, many alderpeople thanked Carter for attending the hearing and did not push back on answers as much as they did at the first quarterly hearing earlier this year.

CTA commuters exit a CTA Brown Line train on a rainy morning in the Loop on Dec. 14, 2022. Credit: Colin Boyle/Ecoglobalsociety

Thursday's hearing saw also public commenters voice a range of complaints and critiques about the CTA, including calling for the reopening of a long-shuttered Green Line station at 63rd Street and Racine Avenue, poor customer service, train cleanliness and spotty train and bus arrival times.

Several members of the public, however, commended Carter for his work to secure funding for the massive Red Line Extension project, which aims to extend the city's most popular train line from 95th Street to 130th Street.

That included Cheryl Johnson, a longtime environmental activist in her Far South Side neighborhood of Altgeld Gardens, which is near the proposed new terminus of the Red Line.

“I'm glad for this opportunity, because there's going to be economic opportunities and social development in my whole community area. I just want to thank CTA and I want to thank President Carter, for having the vision to do this expansion all the way down to the 130th,” she said.

Ald. David Moore (17th) also said Carter is doing an “exceptional job” and praised him for securing federal funds for the Red Line Extension through his “relationships” in Washington, D.C. Numerous other members of the Council's Black Caucus also defended Carter at Thursday's hearing.

And while a majority of alderpeople and Pritzker are calling for new CTA leadership, Mayor Brandon Johnson has so far stayed the course with Carter, even as pressure mounts among council members who stretch across the political spectrum.

When asked last week about the effort to force a leadership change at the CTA, Johnson declined to comment, only saying the CTA is trending in the right direction, including pointing to the agency reporting over a million rides on a day earlier this month.

“As far as personnel issues, I don’t discuss those publicly,” Johnson said about Carter’s fate.

Block Club's Mack Liederman and Manny Ramos contributed.

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