By Jon Hilkevitch
TRIBUNE TRANSPORTATION WRITER
Date of Publication: February 9, 2000
Source: Chicago Tribune
The cost of private security guards on the city's public transit system has ballooned by more than $4 million, putting pressure Monday on CTA officials to walk the line between controlling expenses and ensuring that security hasn't suffered despite a series of violent crimes this year.
News of the higher costs came at a meeting Monday in which the CTA also announced that it will eliminate conductors from subway trains on March 27 to save $2 million a year.
Concern over security on public transportation has been heightened in recent weeks in the wake of two sexual assaults, a fatal stabbing and a shooting Saturday on CTA property.
The crimes have occurred while the CTA is in the middle of an internal analysis that will determine which areas of the system are most vulnerable, how to address the threats to safety that are uncovered in the review and whether the private security companies currently under contract are earning their pay.
The CTA signed a $14 million contract with Wells Fargo Guard Services three years ago to assign 166 unarmed guards to selected parts of the system to protect passengers and to watch over the CTA's $107 million investment in an automated fare-collection system.
After a review showed that security still wasn't adequate, the CTA arranged with Wells Fargo in March 1998 to post additional security guards at 69 low-activity rail stations between 1:30 and 9:30 p.m. each weekday. The change was not supposed to increase costs to the CTA, because savings were anticipated through a reduction in the number of CTA customer assistants assigned to the stations.
But it didn't work out that way.
The CTA board, which has already appropriated $25 million this year for security, was presented Monday with $4.6 million in additional costs. The increases were the result of hiring additional guards, and provisions in the contracts the CTA has with Wells Fargo and National K-9 Security Inc. that raised wages for the guards. National K-9 provides guard-dog patrols on CTA trains.
"We've burned through this contract faster than we originally planned and at a dramatically increased cost," CTA Chairman Valerie Jarrett complained to John Trotta, the agency's vice president of planning. "Now, many months later, you are coming back to the board to approve a change that already took place."
The contract increase was approved unanimously Monday.
Jarrett pressed William Leahy, the agency's vice president for safety and security, to work with Wells Fargo to change current procedures that prohibit the security guards from leaving the fare-paying area of stations--even if crime-wary customers ask the guards to accompany them to the train platform.
Citing "trade-offs," Leahy said the move would make riders entering the station vulnerable, and it would delay assistance to elderly or disabled passengers at the turnstiles. But he agreed to see what could be done.
The removal of conductors on Red Line trains that ply the State Street subway and Blue Line trains that travel the Dearborn Street subway will occur two years after the transit agency eliminated conductors on its elevated lines. That reduction in 1998 saved the CTA $12 million a year and has not resulted in an increase in crime or a drop-off in safety, said Robert Dart, the agency's general manager for security.