North/Clybourn Station

On September 22nd I posted a blog, “What’s the Angle?," where I pointed out that in Chicago there is always an angle. Nothing happens for no reason; there is no “just because.” I could not figure out the reason that the CTA suddenly decided to remove all the remaining pay phones from train platforms and bus enclosures. I ended the story saying that we would probably see some deal with a cell phone carrier soon. Want to guess what is coming next? Less than two months later, on November 10th, the CTA Board approved a 10-year-deal with Sprint for the wireless company to lease the use of the CTA’s subway communications infrastructure. CTA will receive approximately $3.1 million over the life of the contract The CTA announced that, ”installation and testing of Sprint’s base equipment — comprised of amplifiers, transmitters and receivers — within the subway will take place over the next several months. Following installation, service is expected to begin in early 2011.” Should we all act surprised?

At the same Board meeting, the members decided to put naming rights up for bid for L stops, lines and bus routes. Again, should we act surprised? We saw this coming when the CTA “allowed” technology giant Apple to spend millions of dollars to refurbish the North/Clybourn station right outside the door of their newly opened store in Lincoln Park. When Apple first made the offer in 2009, CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gafney said that in exchange for the renovations, Apple would have the right of first refusal of naming rights, “if that was something the CTA were to offer."

Is there anyone out there naive enough to think that Apple spent $4 million on renovation in ANTICIPATION that naming rights might BECOME available? I am in favor of naming rights, but let’s not have these “wink, wink” deals going on. How incredibly fortuitous the timing that the Apple store and the new station opened only a week ago and all of a sudden the CTA is exploring deals for naming rights? Please, we’re not that stupid!

The other big piece of news at the Board meeting was the approval of the 2011 budget of $1.337 billion. A CTA press release, headlined with, “Fares and Service to Remain Unchanged Next Year” said, “The budget is $66.7 million, or 5.2 percent, more than the 2010 budget due in part to contractually dictated union wage increases, along with pension and healthcare obligations. These fixed increases will be partially offset by management efficiencies that are expected to save nearly $54 million in 2011.” The release also said that the budget, “through cost-conscious management, maintains current fares and service levels for riders.” Remember the words “maintains current fares and service levels,” because I guarantee you that at some point in 2011 the CTA will ask for a rate increase.

There will be some reason when the CTA goes begging to the legislature in Springfield for a rate hike, I have not figured it out yet, but there will be one. It's Chicago -- there's always an angle!