CHICAGO — Nearly 200 residents packed Monday night's CTA budget hearing to complain about service cuts and fare hikes, the majority pleading with CTA President Forrest Claypool and the agency's board members to reconsider their decision to eliminate the Western-to-Fullerton leg of the No. 11 route.
Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) led a contingent of senior citizens who boarded chartered buses in North Center and Lakeview to attend the hearing, decked out in bright yellow T-shirts emblazoned with "Save #11 Bus" on the front and "It's Our Lifeline!" on the back.
Alenka Kordish, 40, said she rides the No. 11 Lincoln bus two to three times a week to doctors' appointments.
"I can't catch another bus. I don't know what to do," said the Lakeview resident, who's disabled and severely asthmatic. "What's my alternative? I don't have one."
Confronted with dozens of stories like Kordish's, CTA board members remained impassive, and some in attendance doubted the last-ditch protest would make a difference.
Allan Mellis of Lincoln Park testified before the CTA board in September on behalf of the No. 11 and was back Monday night.
"I was told by Chairman [Terry] Peterson that the testimony would be taken into account when the final recommendations were made to the CTA board," Mellis said. "Since the testimony did not change the outcome, I am asking Chairman Peterson if tonight's public budget hearing can result in the final budget to be amended."
With the backing of Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey and state Rep. Ann Williams, D-11th, Pawar asked the board for more time to explore alternative solutions, including funding the route with surplus Tax Increment Finance dollars or restoring the full No. 11 route with limited service hours in the affected area.
"The idea that it can't be done, I reject," Pawar told DNAinfo.com en route to the meeting.
Speaking before the board, Pawar extended his hand. "Let's keep the conversation going, give me a bit of time. Taking this bus line away is removing critical infrastructure in my community."
"I want to be hopeful," said Lakeview resident Sandra Shiffrin, who's been riding the No. 11 for more than 30 years. "Being a native Chicagoan, I'm suspicious there's something underneath this I don't know about. There's solutions, they don't want to hear them."
While much of the argument to retain the current No. 11 route focused on seniors like Eloise Moreno, who said she rides the bus five days a week to access Sulzer Library, the fitness center at Welles Park and shopping at Jewel and Trader Joe's, business owners were equally concerned about the impact on their bottom lines.
Nick Alex has owned the Golden Apple at Lincoln, Southport and Wellington avenues since 1997. Pointing to other neighborhoods where bus service has been cut, he estimated elimination of the No. 11 could cost him 25 percent of his business.
"Elston Avenue has no bus," said Alex, who collected more than 3,000 signatures in favor of the No. 11 at his location alone. "Elston is deserted."
North Center resident Stephen Kleiman frequents both the Golden Apple and Sulzer Library, which are at opposite ends of the section of the route scheduled to be axed.
"At the Golden Apple in the evening you see buses full, full, full," he said.
At Sulzer, he watches kids coming off the No. 11 and people laden with packages. Though he rides the bus sporadically, he showed up at the CTA meeting in solidarity with those who rely on the No. 11 for transportation.
"You cannot be a human being and say get rid of it," Kleiman said.