Thursday, April 19, 2007

Frank Kruesi

Frank Kruesi has resigned as President of the CTA after 9 1/2 years.

The invective hurled against him in the blogosphere is both understandable and unfortunate. It is understandable because of the reality and perception that the CTA system is deteriorating. It is also understandable because his personality rubbed people the wrong way. It appears that he is someone who has a hard time listening--really listening--to people and he earned a reputation for deviousness.

The invective is also unfortunate. Kruesi is a very smart person who appeared to be utterly dedicated to his work. He took over the CTA at a low point in its history and had a good run for the first few years of his tenure. Ridership came back as service improved and Illinois FIRST pumped enough capital money into the system to spark a variety of improvements, such as the Blue Line reconstruction.

Lately, however, his run of good luck ended. Whether through bad advice, bad luck, bad labor arbitrators, an overly combative personality, or a combination of all these factors, the CTA got hammered on the labor relations front. The underfunded pension and the high levels of absenteeism are illustrative of this shortcoming. Capital funding started to dry up with the end of Illinois FIRST and the system deteriorated as a result.

The CTA also has been guilty of poor financial management. The Auditor General's report lays out how the CTA in recent years has continued to roll out more service that it can't afford, setting up the current funding "crisis." On the capital side, the CTA focused on exciting new projects like the Circle Line and the Airport Express when its resources needed to be directed as more immediate needs.

Kruesi faced some real obstacles, starting with a suburban-dominated RTA largely hostile to the CTA. He did us all a service by pointing to the funding problems inherent in formulas built into the RTA Act. He also faced a big problem closer to home--a Mayor of Chicago who does not appear to "get" public transit and fails to understand how transit could be an integral part of the "green" city that Chicago supposedly is becoming.

Kruesi's departure marks yet another changing of the guard on the public transit front. In the past two years the RTA, Metra, Pace and now the CTA have seen a change in board and/or executive management.

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