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"Just Drive": Rahm, the CTA, and the evolution of a comment and its context

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Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel raised eyebrows with a comment he made during a press conference on Monday when asked about the increase in 1-, 3-, 7-, and 30-day CTA pass prices. Below is his full quote:

"Basic fares stay the same, which you cannot say about gas prices. Basic fare stays at $2.25. That will be true this year, next year, the following year and the fourth year. You cannot say that about gas prices. Now, you as a commuter will pick. You can either drive to work or you can take public transportation. And the standard fare will stay the same. And that is not true about gas prices. Right now, they're dropping. [But], if you're willing to take a bet like that over the next four years, you'll see. ....Again, I remind you, the standard fare stays the same and energy prices at the pump do not. And that is a choice that the commuter will pick which way they want to get to work."

In the full context of the speech, the comment doesn't quite as bad as some have made it out to be, but it still strikes me as tone-deaf and flippant to the reality of those who don't have cars and those who are dependent upon the CTA. But the boiled-down concept of his comments was somehow translated to "if you don't like the higher prices, then drive" when the story started circulating on social media and that's when the rage of many Chicagoans exploded online. And matters only got worse yesterday when the Blue Line experienced major delays during Rush Hour, affecting the commute of a good chunk of Chicagoans who depended on the CTA.

Today, Emanuel insisted that he never said or implied what angry Chicagoans had claimed: "I did not say or imply that you could just drive. I said there's a choice. People choose public transportation because it's competitive against private transportation. That's a choice. And the service is getting better and improved -- and that's my intention." Of course, to many, his tone doesn't matter; the message is still the same.

Below is our Storify on the evolution of this still-unfolding argument about what the mayor said, what he meant, and how Chicagoans are reacting.

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