Police now require ‘L drivers to show proof of airport business to exit ORD station late at night – Streetsblog Chicago


Streetsblog recently reported on how the problem of homeless people taking shelter at O’Hare Airport appears to have impacted Blue Line’s service. Here’s a summary to bring you up to speed.

August 1, 2020: Amid an increase in homeless people using the 24-hour Blue Line as a last resort for sleeping during COVID-19, the CTA announced that trains to O’Hare between midnight and 4 a.m. would be an “exit only” permit additional cleaning of trains overnight.” To travel from the airport to the city on the CTA at this time of day, one had to pay a fare to take the shuttle bus from O’Hare to the Rosemont ‘L’ station. This made it impossible to travel back and forth between the airport and Forest Park by train overnight.

February 15, 2023: Probably not coincidentally, over the next 2.5 years, the number of homeless people who took the train to O’Hare and then slept in the corridors and terminals seemed to increase sharply. This was reflected in a sharp increase in the number of visitors to the Haymarket Center’s O’Hare Outreach program, which connects people without airport accommodation to services. It became quite common to see people stretched out over heating vents or even stretched out in the middle of hallways and vestibules. Maintenance workers complained to CBS Chicago that some homeless people ransacked restrooms and harassed them at work. The situation garnered international notoriety on February 15 when the right-wing Daily Mail published photos of homeless people sleeping at the airport, sometimes in appalling conditions, including a full encampment near baggage claim.

February 17, 2023: Mayor Lori Lightfoot responded by announcing that camping would no longer be tolerated at the airport and promising that housing and other services would be offered to people who were expelled from O’Hare. However, Chicago has a shortage of emergency housing. Homeless advocates and dozens of city councilors have proposed the Bring Chicago Home ordinance, which would introduce a new tax on over $1 million in real estate transactions to fund housing and support services for the homeless. Lightfoot and allies blocked legislation.

February 27, 2023: A CTA spokesperson confirms that O’Hare’s inbound late-night blue line service has resumed because “the CTA has been able to reverse many of the pandemic measures.” That is, the CTA implied there was absolutely no connection between the mayor’s announcement that homeless people could no longer stay at the airport and the end of the CTA policy that basically forced them to.

Then on Tuesday, March 7th, Hank Searfus posted the above photo of security gates over the O’Hare station turnstiles to the local sustainable transportation Facebook discussion group RTA Memes for Ventra-Expiring Teens. Searfus, who works for a major airline and frequently travels through O’Hare, reported that half of O’Hare’s turnstiles had been blocked and police were patrolling the station entrance.

When I flew into the airport around 11pm on February 25, after Lightfoot announced the camping ban, I had seen a large security presence at the train station, but noticed no gates. I also didn’t see any seemingly homeless people in the terminals and corridors, unlike the last time I went to the airport.

When I flew into O'Hare around 11:00 pm on February 25, there were several security guards and police officers at the station.  Photo: John Greenfield
When I flew into O’Hare around 11:00 pm on February 25, there were several security guards and police officers at the station. Photo: John Greenfield

When I asked the CTA about the gates, they directed me to the Chicago Department of Aviation.

“CDA’s top priority is the safety of all passengers and employees,” the department said in a statement. “To maintain a safe and secure environment at O’Hare International Airport, CDA security personnel work with the Chicago Police Department to enforce existing laws clarifying that it is unlawful to be in Chicago’s airports without airport business. Working with CPD and the CTA, the CDA conducted night security checks at the O’Hare CTA Blue Line station to better secure the airport perimeter.”

“CTA customers arriving in O’Hare between 10:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. will be asked by CDA staff to provide proof of airport business, such as a boarding pass or employee ID card,” the statement continued. “Similar security checks have been in place since 2020.” I’ve been going to the airport a few times a year since 2020, including during those hours, and I don’t recall ever asking anyone for proof that I belong there.

I asked a CDA spokesman if any accommodations are made for people who may have other legitimate reasons for taking the train to the airport at night, such as picking up a friend from a flight. I’ve been known to ride the Blue Line to O’Hare just to have dinner or a drink at the Gaslight Club in the Hilton lobby, a few hundred yards from the Blue Line station. The spokesman did not respond immediately.

I’m curious if all the people leaving the Blue Line station will be asked for their papers. Or is enforcement inconsistent based on whether an officer thinks someone looks like they have no legal reason to be at the airport?

And even when controls are conducted fairly, there are some obvious downsides to this practice. In an emergency, the gates would make it difficult for many people to leave the station. And while the sight of people sleeping without shelter on airport floors doesn’t give visitors a great first impression of our city, neither does the steel security gates and heavy police presence at a through station.

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