Even if it finds sturdier financial footing, the CTA still has to make up for last year’s threats, whining, and disappointing service. In the spirit of self-help season, Chicago asked a range of message specialists to weigh in on how the agency can rebuild its relationship with a marginalized public.

Crisis communications expert (and former Purple Line rider) Tilden Katz, managing director of the  Chicago office of APCO Worldwide

Ad exec (and Blue Line rider) Brian Billow, creative director, DDB Worldwide Communications

Marketing prof (and former 151 bus rider) Bruce I. Newman, Kellstadt Graduate School of Business at DePaul University

The Experts
Can this relationship be saved?
What slogan or message would you offer?
What advice would you give the CTA for how to treat riders?
What’s the worst step the CTA could take?
Katz Yes. Like [in] any relationship with trust issues, the CTA needs to earn back riders’ loyalty. The CTA: Going Your Way Rider appreciation days, celebrity guest riders, singles cars, and credit/debit payment machines [To focus only on] doomsday scenarios. The CTA should now use a more positive message.
Billow Why save it? If it gets any worse, riders will be forced to walk. This is the master plan to get Chicago off the “#1 Fattest City in America” list. Our tracks are all broken and we’ve reduced the amount of trains, but at least our fares are going up! Maybe they could have a machine that kicks us in the arse as we exit and a recording that drones, “You’re late! You’re late!” Clean the germs off the poles and seats once in a blue moon. That’d really cause havoc.
Newman It’s a serious separation, on the verge of divorce. Have you forgiven your husband or wife recently? Well, we love you too, so please forgive us. The top officer must lead with a clear message to all of the employees: Treat the customer with affection and sensitivity. Take the customer for granted. If pushed into a corner, the customer will find another way to get around the city.

Illustration: Jesse Hora