Ridership on the CTA's eight rail lines in 2014 rose to more than 238 million - a record high since the agency began recording ridership in 1961.
However, overall bus ridership fell in 2014 by 8 percent - an expected outcome as Red Line South riders returned for a quicker, smoother ride after a five-month shutdown of 10 southern stations in 2013. The big drop in bus ridership contributed to an almost 3 percent overall decrease in total rides for 2014.
Still, overall ridership for the year exceeded half a billion for the seventh straight year.
January of 2014 was the only month that saw a big decrease in rail ridership, no doubt due to the harsh cold and snowy weather conditions that month. Meanwhile, bus ridership fell in every month of 2014, except a tiny increase in December. A CTA news release also noted a bigger increase in bus ridership in January of 2015 as a hopeful sign that ridership is stabilizing.
Here's the CTA's take on rail ridership, from the news release:
The CTA’s total rail ridership in 2014 increased to 238.1 million, a nearly 4 percent increase from 2013 and topping by 7 million the record rail ridership set in 2012. The CTA has continued to see a long-term shift in rail ridership similar to other large transit agencies.
Factors influencing rail ridership include:
Unprecedented rail investment/modernization in last four years. About one-third of all CTA rail stations received some form of significant improvement work to full reconstruction, in addition to CTA’s “Renew Crew” effort that updated 100 rail stations in 2012.
Population has grown in areas of the city near rail lines, including the Red and Blue lines. New stations—Morgan (2012) and Oakton (2012) have attracted new riders. The CTA’s newest station, Cermak/McCormick Place, opened February 8, 2015 and provides new rail access to the burgeoning Near South Side.
Red Line South—Ridership has surpassed pre-reconstruction levels for branch between Roosevelt and 95th Street in just one year’s time, following 2013’s full reconstruction that reduced commute times by up to 20 minutes.
Rollout of CTA Train Tracker to every rail station increasing convenience of rail.
New rail cars – more than 600 new rail cars added to fleet. Rail cars built in late 1960s (“2200-series”) and mid- to late-1970s (“2400-series”) have been retired.
The CTA has reduced slow zones throughout its system by about 20 percent since 2011, improving reliability of travel for our customers.
And here's the CTA spin on why bus ridership dropped by 8 percent:
Bus ridership declined 8 percent in 2014 over the previous year to 276.3 million. Bus ridership was significantly affected by the bitter cold and snowy weather experienced in the first part of 2014; however, bus ridership by the end of 2014 showed that ridership had stabilized, which is expected to continue in 2015.
Factors affecting bus ridership last year included:
Bus rides are more susceptible to extreme weather conditions such as the extraordinary snow and cold that hit Chicago in January and February 2014, during which nearly 6 million fewer bus rides were taken than in January and February 2013 – a historically severe and unusual decline in ridership.
Since bus is the primary transit mode for many Chicago students, bus ridership is affected more than rail by loss of school days. In the 2014 calendar year, Chicago Public Schools had 10 fewer school days than the prior year. 2013 had the earliest ever district-wide start for students, August 26, after having the latest end to a school year for students, June 24.
Bus ridership in 2013 was boosted for the five months the Red Line South was closed for reconstruction, as displaced rail customers switched to nearby bus service and free bus shuttles during the construction period. In line with expectations and as bus customers returned to the Red Line South, ridership on many of those routes was lower in 2014 because the Red Line South was open. Bus ridership in 2013 was also bolstered by unusually warm weather in January and February, including a high of 63 degrees on January 29 and multiple days in the 40s and 50s.
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