CTA Throws 40th Birthday Bash, but Not Everyone is Celebrating


By Barbara Brotman

Column: About the Town
Date of Publication: October 6, 1987
Source: Chicago Tribune


Mayor Harold Washington wished the Chicago Transit Authority a happy birthday. Pearl Walski wished CTA drivers would clean their buses occasionally.

The CTA celebrated its 40th anniversary as a public transportation agency Monday with a Daley Plaza ceremony that kicked off a week of birthday activities.

"We are the CTA! We love you! And have we got a week for you!" announced Rosemary Gulley, CTA director of media relations and Monday's master of ceremonies.

CTA passenger Marge Metzer of the Northwest Side returned the compliment. "I think it's wonderful," she said. "I'm glad we've got it."

Bus instructor John Hoff models the dark blue uniform CTA workers wore from 1947 to 1968. (Tribune photo by Anne Cusack)

But other members of the riding public were not in a celebratory mood. Walski, of the Southwest Side, and Dolores Ementz, of the Far West Side, said public transportation has deteriorated over the last 40 years.

"The bus drivers are not very helpful," Ementz said. "You ask a question and they say, 'Can't you see the sign on the front of the bus?' You don't ask a question just to have a conversation."

Walski did not feel loved by the CTA when she was trapped recently on an outbound O'Hare rapid transit train that without warning skipped six stops, including hers.

And though she does not blame the CTA for riders who litter, she wishes employees would not disdain to pick up trash.

"They shouldn't let people on with hot dogs, hamburgers and soda," she said. "They stuff these things between the seats. You get on and it smells. They put banana peels in there."

Your CTA is listening."This is a new CTA," promised Terry Hocin, director of promotional services. "More market research is now on than has ever been done in the 40 years it has existed."

The public was invited to vote on a new color scheme for CTA buses Monday. Five buses were on display painted in various combinations of silver, gray, red, white and blue.

Courageously, the CTA will resurrect a "Suggestion Bus," which will park in neighborhoods and invite passerby comments.

"I know you complain sometimes," the upbeat Gulley told the ridership at Daley Plaza. "But do you get there?"

There was a silence.

"All riiiight!" Gulley cheered all the same.


Gulley emceed a fashion show of CTA uniforms. Conductor Dorothy Bester walked down a runway wearing a winter uniform of navy slacks, light blue shirt and a short navy coat and navy hat trimmed with navy pile.

"Classy! Stylish! Professional!" Gulley said. "And she works out of the 95th Street garage."

Employees modeled a 1947 uniform of dark blue jacket and pants--"It's the Dark Blue Uniform," Gulley said--a 1968 gray uniform with blue trim, and a full line of current uniforms in blue with burgandy trim.

Motorman John Rigoni took off his jacket to display the blue jumpsuit fashionable accessorized at the belt with a cineston key, which starts "L" trains, and the required flashlight.

People lined up to tour vintage transit vehicles parked on the plaza, on loan from the Illinois Railway Museum. They included a trolley coach powered by overhead wires and decorated with attractive lettering reading, "Please MOVE to the REAR and USE the EXIT DOOR."

There was also a Green Hornet streetcar that operated from 1946 to 1958. It displayed vintage advertising posters wit such messages as, "It's Time for Your Chest X-Ray," and a plead to riders to handle hockey sticks on board with care--"No slashing. No high sticking. No hooking."

A 1923 brown-and-orange rapid transit train circled the Loop during off-peak hours, as it will all week, offering rides for $1 and occasionally tooting a boat-like horn.

Thirty-nine CTA employees with 40 or more years of service were honored at the Daley Plaza ceremony. Entertainment was provided by the Allan Kaye band, which belted out "Chicago, Chicago", "I'm So Excited" and "La Bamba".

The birthday celebration cost the CTA between $10,000 and $15,000. It introduced CTA mascot Sir Thanks-A-Lot, a knight carrying a sword and shield reading, "CTA- 40 years" who handed out free monthly pass holders.


"TODAY you are an Ownerider," announced promotional literature handed out Oct. 1, 1947, when the CTA began operation after purchasing two privately owned bankrupt companies.

Today's Owneriders have mixed feelings about what they Ownride.

"It's convenient. It saves time and money," said Tommy Childs of the South Side. "What I don't like is the fare going up. The bus takes off before you sit down. In winter time it's not heated. In summer it's not air conditioned."

"I think the drivers in the city are incredibly helpful, " said Christine Ott of the Near North Side.

There is nothing to compare, said John Economos of the North Side, with the sensation of "sitting in one of the rapid transit cars that is air conditioned with sealed windows when the air conditioning is broken in July."

The new CTA vows changes. "We're respecting our past but looking toward the future," said Hocin.

"We ARE the professionals," said Gulley. We are your transit authority."