The worst month for canceled runs on routes so far this year? August.
Next are the No. 66 Chicago, No. 151 Sheridan, No. 82 Kimball/Homan and No. 22 Clark, according to the tabulation, based on incidents the CTA reported for January through August of this year.
For rail passengers, the Blue Line is most likely to suffer canceled runs. Nearly 1,000 Blue Line trains were canceled in the time period. It was followed by the Red Line, with 873 cancellations, the data show.
The Tribune's look at canceled runs shows that "manpower shortage" is far and away the most common reason cited by the agency for why passengers are left waiting. The finding raises questions for the agency about how it manages its workforce in an era of diminishing resources.
On O'Hare-to-Forest Park Blue Line runs, trains were canceled most often between 7 and 9 a.m. and from 3 to 5 p.m., the data show. For bus operations, 6 to 8 a.m. and 2 to 5 p.m. are hardest hit by canceled runs, the data show.
Those peak travel periods are precisely when the CTA's capacity is beginning to be stretched to the limit, and when every bus and train is needed.
CTA rider Monica Espana said service is getting worse on the Narragansett/Ridgeland bus route.
"You have to wait probably 30 minutes or more," said Espana, 23. "And that's pretty much all day long."
In their defense, CTA officials say they have a chronic absenteeism problem and point the finger at lax work rules and union contracts that make it difficult to discipline drivers who repeatedly fail to show up. Chronically absent employees can face dismissal only after seven occurrences in a calendar year, under the current contract. Being absent without leave for multiple days counts as a single occurrence.
Rampant absenteeism will cost the cash-strapped agency an additional $40 million this year to staff fill-in workers, officials said. The extra expense comes as the CTA is expected to impose a fare increase in 2012 to balance its budget.
An average of 19 days will be lost this year for each front-line employee because of unscheduled missed work — the equivalent of about four weeks each for the 7,882-member bus and rail staffs, CTA projections show. When scheduled days off are factored in, the total averages two months lost for each employee, or about 355,000 days lost, the CTA said.
Under the CTA's collective-bargaining agreement with its unions, no pay is provided for the first two days off sick. Workers who call in sick five days in a row are paid for three of the five days (the first two still are not paid).
Employees earn a maximum of $200 per week for up to 26 weeks under short-term disability.
The CTA's rate of unscheduled absences is 2 1/2 times what occurs at transportation systems, communications companies and utilities operated by private companies, according to a 2010 study by Mercer Human Resource Consulting and Deloitte.
The transit agency's new president, Forrest Claypool, has vowed to end what he called "an unacceptable level of gaming the system" that has been tolerated by previous administrations.
"If you look at the absenteeism numbers, the long-awaited four-day workweek has arrived for the CTA," said Claypool, who added that he will take a hard line with the unions when their labor contracts expires at the end of the year.
Labor costs account for 70 percent of the CTA's operating budget.