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I have never before seen such unprofessional behavior from a transit employee…

August 9, 2011, 9:33 PM

First of all, I’m back from Chicago, and Mom and I certainly had fun. We did a whole lot of things while we were there, which included tons and tons of walking – on streets, up and down stairs, and through buildings. If you could walk to it, we walked to it.

But when it was too far to walk, we took the Chicago “L” for the most part. And when I ride a transit system outside of the Washington DC area, rail geekery ensues. By the way, it’s harder for me to get all geeky on Metro for just normal riding as of late, since I take it every day and all.

So on Friday, August 5, Mom and I were heading to the Magnificent Mile from our hotel in Evanston on the “L”, with the intention of going to see the John Hancock Center. Got on at Davis station, where we caught a Purple Line express train to the Loop, and then transfer to a Red Line train at Fullerton. Once on the Red Line, we were getting off at Chicago station.

When we got to Fullerton, we got off our Purple Line train, and stood on the platform awaiting our Red Line train. While waiting, I got busy being a railfan. First I shot a movie:

Then a couple of station shots like this one:

View of outbound platform at Fullerton

And then a Brown Line train arrived in the station, led by two Morrison-Knudsen 3200-Series cars, 3441 and 3442. The lead pair on this train caught my interest due to an unusual feature on the roof of the car, which I did not recognize but found curious (it looked like a roof rack!). I took some shots of that:

Car 3442 with the unusual structure on the roof

Car 3441 and 3442 with the unusual structure on each of their roofs

That’s when a man wearing a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) vest came over to see what was going on. He asked if I had permission to photograph in the system, and if he could see such a permission.

Reasonable so far, right? Stay with me, now…

Well, I had done my homework before I left for this trip when it comes to photography on CTA property. I printed three copies of the CTA Photography Policy for just such an occasion. The relevant part of this policy states:

The general public is permitted to use hand-held cameras to take photographs, capture digital images, and videotape within public areas of CTA stations and transit vehicles for personal, non-commercial use.

Large cameras, photo or video equipment, or ancillary equipment such as lighting, tripods, cables, etc. are prohibited (except in instances where commercial and professional photographers enter into contractual agreements with CTA).

All photographers and videographers are prohibited from entering, photographing, or videotaping non-public areas of the CTA’s transit system.

All photographers and videographers are prohibited from impeding customer traffic flow, obstructing transit operations, interfering with customers, blocking doors or stairs, and affecting the safety of CTA, its employees, or customers. All photographers and videographers must fully and immediately comply with any requests, directions, or instructions of CTA personnel related to safety concerns. (emphasis mine)

When asked to see the permission that I had to photograph in the station, I pulled out the photography policy, and showed it to the man. I also read the first paragraph of the policy aloud to him, while holding the printout in such a way that both parties could see the complete text of the policy as I was reading it so that there could be no question about the veracity of the document.

That should have been the end of it. I produced the permission that I had to take photos and videos in the CTA system, which states explicitly that this sort of activity is permitted. And this policy is very explicit in its granting of permission to photograph with a handheld camera for personal use, unlike WMATA’s policy, where it’s buried in section 100.8(A)(2) on page 10 (page 14 of the PDF) of a longer policy document about use of WMATA property by third parties, and then it just says that WMATA does not regulate handheld photography for personal use rather than giving an explicit granting of permission, but rather stating that no regulations exist governing said activity.

But explicit permission granted to the public to photograph in public areas of the system, given in writing, wasn’t enough for Mr. CTA Employee. According to him, you’re not allowed to photograph CTA trains and structures. I encouraged him to show me the rule that indicates such a prohibition, in writing. He openly admitted that he was unable to show me such a rule, but that I still couldn’t photograph in the station “because of 9/11”.

And thus the bull—- begins. See, when you cite the September 11 attacks, which happened nearly ten years ago, as the reason why you don’t like the fact that someone is photographing, you have no argument. I cannot help it if you wet your pants (figuratively or literally) when you see me pull out my camera. But a printed copy of a given transit system’s photography policy is way cheaper than buying a pack of Depends so that I can give a pair out to everyone who wets their pants when they see a camera in this “post 9/11 world” (I hate that term with a passion).

But I was persistent. I continued pressing for him to show me the policy. See, if he had produced a policy that backed up what he said, I would gladly follow it, but I never got one. He could have even invoked a passage near the end of the photo policy that states:

CTA personnel may evaluate the actions of a photographer or a videographer, and if a determination is made that the actions of a photographer or videographer are not in compliance with any applicable rule, CTA personnel may terminate the permission granted by this policy. (emphasis again mine)

But realize that even then, he needed to show me the rule that I was violating. What rule was I in violation of? “9/11” is not a rule. 9/11 was a very unfortunate event that happened nearly ten years ago which caused the deaths of thousands of innocent people, but it’s not a CTA rule. He could have pulled an obscure one directly out of a very dark place, but he would not.

So I challenged him once again: Show me.

And now this is where I got to see the ultimate in unprofessional conduct from a CTA employee. He begins to threaten my mother and me. He now began to threaten to have us removed from the station, and how he would love to have us removed from the station. I would bet that’s not his call to make. That sounds like something that is up to an officer of the Chicago Police Department transit detail to decide – not him. Then our Red Line train came. I told him that I didn’t have time to deal with the matter and walked away. As Mom and I were to board the train, he yelled to us, “If you ever come back to my station again, I’m going to throw you out!”

An example of one of CTA’s finest employees, right there. In all my years of riding public transportation, I have never seen such unprofessional behavior from an employee of a transit agency. If he had threatened to call police on me for a few photographs, I think I would have called police for him, reporting it as harassment – of me. As far as I’m concerned, if you cannot articulate a specific rule or policy that states why what I am doing is not permitted, it is harassment, and I do not tolerate harassment from employees who like to make up their own rules on the fly.

As far as I can tell, my only mistake was (A) not getting the information from his CTA ID badge so that I could report his unprofessional conduct, and (B) not filming the entire encounter (a camera is not considered an eavesdropping device in Illinois). The way I figure, we should have made this more than a private show of his ignorance of the rules. Wouldn’t it have been fun for the entire world to see him acting like an ass in public?

Meanwhile, transit agencies all around need to adopt a no-confrontation policy for activities that their employees consider “suspicious” (broadly defined – why not). Basically, set the bar high. If it truly is suspicious behavior and the person truly appears to be posing a potential danger to people and/or property, then it’s obviously too dangerous for transit employees to handle themselves, and they should simply call police and let them deal with it. They have training in how to deal with criminals, nutjobs, and those sorts of people who suddenly become incontinent when they see a camera. Plus then it would get tracked somewhere, and a pattern might show up that there are a high amount of police calls from the transit agency for nothing. Non-police transit employees have no business confronting riders and citing vague concerns over terrorism as reason for doing so. After all, IF THEY REALLY THOUGHT THAT I WAS POTENTIALLY A TERRORIST WITH MY TERRORIST CAMERA, why would they risk their life by confronting me about my photography, rather than getting as far away as humanly possible? For all he knew, I could have had a bomb strapped around my waist, and as soon as he got within range, KABOOM! That would be the end of him, the end of Fullerton station, and also the end of Purple Line, Brown Line, and Red Line service on the Chicago “L” for the foreseeable future. After all, he did just accuse me of being a terrorist through his “9/11” excuse, and if I actually was a terrorist intent on causing harm, and legitimately thought I was about to be thwarted, I probably would be activating everything that I had on me and do the deed right on the spot.

And the ironic thing about this is that it was never my intention to actually publish these photos, but rather to just use them for reference purposes in order to research just what that unusual roof structure was. For those wondering, per this site, it’s a remnant from when the Yellow Line/Skokie Swift ran partly on overhead wires. The equipment that this structure supported was removed in 2004, but the underlying structure was not removed. But now the Streisand effect takes over, and here I am publishing these photos for all to see simply because this CTA employee made a stink about it. Good work, sir!

Web site: From The Onion: Al-Qaeda Claims U.S. Mass Transportation Infrastructure Must Drastically Improve Before Any Terrorist Attacks. A great commentary on the sad state of the infrastructure in this country, written as satire.

Song: This whole affair has really got my panties in a wad (can you tell?). So here's something cute, as a kitten hugs a teddy bear.

Quote: Meanwhile, later that day, I was confronted by a different CTA employee about photography. Apparently this mistaken belief is pervasive in CTA. This validates the reason why I challenge transit employees back on these things. No rule or citing something contrary to published rule = harassment.

Categories: Chicago, CTA, Security, Some people