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Thanks to grassroots community activists, commuters riding on any of CTA’s trains have a new way of voicing their frustration with its service via text message.

Riders can now text message their name to cta{their ZIP code]@npjt.org and a a message will be sent on their behalf to their elected officials urging them to make improving public transit one their priorities.

Neighbors Project, a grassroots group comprised of individuals ained at bettering urban life, is responsible for establishing the new method of communicating concerns regarding CTA.

“If enough of us complain to the right people, we might finally get a train and bus system that we’re proud to use,” said the group on its Web site.

The combination of deterioration in CTA service, crowded trains, slow zones and the overall commuting experience worsening were all motivations for the project, said Rick Maloney, a member of Neighbors Project. But there was not one specific event that served as a catalyst.

After a commuter sends a message, Neighbors Project’s servers then extract the sender’s name and ZIP code, and on his or her behalf forward an automatically generated e-mail to the alderman in their ZIP code, the mayor and state legislators.

The group also allows users to send a letter online at NeighborsProject.org.

The site allows users to personalize the letter or cite a certain example of their frustration, Maloney said.

CTA says the most efficient way to voice a comment, positive or negative, is through its customer service.

“We make sure all relevant comments are directed to the appropriate CTA officials, as they know what our customers are saying,” said Ibis Antongiorgi, a CTA spokesperson.

Neighbors Project started the CTA idea nearly five months ago by passing out fliers at el stations across the city asking commuters to write their elected officials. The problem was that many people didn’t know the names of their elected officials. This sparked the idea of setting up a system to allow commuters to text message and let them do the rest, Maloney said.

Jacqueline Leavy, who helped to organize the Campaign for Better Transit through the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group, said she is excited to hear about the group’s efforts.

“I hope they kick butt,” Leavy said.

Leavy said she feels as though the CTA and Mayor Richard Daley refuse to listen to the public’s concern and find the group’s efforts very encouraging.

“Things will get worse before they get better,” Leavy said. “CTA needs to change, so does Metra and RTA needs real teeth to oversee and regular ‘transit service boards.'”

“Despite significant investments we continue to make in the system, the reality is we are operating service on aging infrastructure that requires a consistent level of funding to keep pace with the necessary maintenance and improvements,” Antongiorgi said.

Slow zones on Howard-bound Red Line trains and Blue Line trains to O’Hare are due to deteriorating infrastructure and the lack of capital funding, she said.

There do not seem to be any quick fixes, the CTA said.

“The investment we are making in the system will have long-term benefits, but does result in inconveniencing customers,” Antongiorgi said. “There is a lot that needs to be addressed on the system and that requires much in the way of capital funds. Even as existing slow zones are addressed, new ones will continue to appear as the rail infrastructure continues to age. ”

Maloney said he would love to see Daley, who hasn’t publicly said if he rides CTA, get aboard a train on a hot day and ride to Addison in the midst of Cubs season to how things really are.

The group does not have a target goal but hopes enough people voice their frustration. So far, Neighbors Project has received a total of 500 text and online messages.

The Columbia Chronicle, February 19, 2007