CTA ridership: Team bus or Team 'L'?

  • By Tracy Swartz
    RedEye

    The good news: CTA rail ridership grew 16.7 percent between 2008 and 2012.

    The bad news: CTA bus ridership declined 4.2 percent during this time, according to a regional ridership report released last week by the Regional Transportation Authority, the funding arm for CTA, Metra and Pace.

    All rail lines saw positive ridership growth over the five years. The Brown Line fared the best (39.4 percent), thanks to the completion of the $530 million Brown Line capacity expansion project that included platform lengthening at most Brown Line stations and renovation to improve access for riders with disabilities.

    The Purple Line fared the worst with only 1.6 percent ridership growth over five years. The Purple Line has not been very speedy during this time. About 30 percent of the line was under slow zone, where trains run 35 miles per hour or less, in January 2008. About 27 percent of the line was under slow zone in December 2012.

    On the bus side, things were bleaker. Though buses that travel in Evanston saw the most ridership growth (14.7 percent), much of the bus dip was from a decrease in ridership on South Side routes. Buses that travel between the North Side and downtown, buses that travel to Midway and buses that serve the Far Northwest Side also saw declines.

    During the five-year period, the CTA eliminated 28 bus routes, including nine express bus routes in 2010, because of budget cuts. About 18 percent of bus service was eliminated and 9 percent of rail service was cut.

    The report study period barely coincides with the complete or partial elimination of about a dozen routes in December 2012 as part of the CTA’s decrowding plan to increase service on the most popular bus and rail routes—so bus ridership may take a hit in 2013 as well.

    There are more bus boardings than rail boardings on a typical weekday but when there are cuts, buses typically take the brunt. Still, there are a few bus projects on the horizon that may recapture ridership.

    Construction on bus rapid transit, an express bus system that typically relies on bus-only lanes and traffic signal priority for buses, has long been expected to begin this year in the Loop. Under the city’s plan, dedicated lanes on Washington, Clinton and Canal Streets would shave minutes off of commute times for six bus routes.

    The Chicago Department of Transportation and the CTA are also working on a plan to bring bus-only lanes to Ashland Avenue between 95th Street and Irving Park Road to increase bus speeds by up to 83 percent. The controversial plan, which would eliminate many left-turn options, is in the design phase.
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