My column today notes that the 12 board members who run Pace suburban bus service rarely ride it.
This got me thinking about the ridership habits of the state lawmakers who hold the fate of Chicago's mass transit system in their hands.
So I asked representatives for Governor Blagojevich and the state's legislative leaders to ask their bosses how often they take the CTA, Metra or Pace. Here's what they said:
"The Governor grew up riding the CTA -- he used buses and the el to get to school all the way through his university years, and then also used it to get to work when he was a practicing attorney," Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said. Blagojevich's mother was also a ticket agent for the CTA. Now, though, the governor isn't a frequent transit rider.
Ditto for Senate Majority leader Emil Jones. He doesn't take transit, but "he supports it," his rep said.
Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, gave me the brushoff, saying the speaker was too busy with the ongoing legislative session to answer the question. So I can't tell you how often Madigan takes the L or Metra.
Reps for the House and Senate minority leaders were more helpful.
With the exception of trips to Wrigley Field on the Red Line, House Minority leader Tom Cross isn't a regular transit rider, spokesman David Dring said, noting that Cross' hometown of Oswego offers very few options where public transportation is concerned.
The same can be said for Senate Minority leader Frank Watson, who lives in Greenville. But Watson rep Patty Schuh says her boss uses the CTA when he's in Chicago, and takes Metra to visit legislative districts in the suburbs.
In short, CTA riders who say legislators in Springfield are out of touch with the woeful state of Chicago-area mass transit may be on to something, considering how infrequently the state's top leaders ride buses and trains.
But Schuh also makes a valid point:
"You don't have to be an everyday user to understand the importance of it."
Still, understanding the importance of transit is one thing. Coming to a consensus on how to fund it is something else entirely.