CTA riders hit the rails for record, at the price of bus ridership

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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  • No surprised the bus ridership has dropped and the trains have increased. I always opt out for the train. Unless there's an express bus, I'll look for the nearest train route.

  • The PR dept. may be banking on too much if they are blaming the weather for last year's bad bus results, as Feb. 2015 was reportedly the coldest or second coldest on record. March, 2015, while finally warming up, still isn't warmer than March 2014, and winter 2014 continued until about April 17.

    They also haven't mentioned whether shrinking the bus network had any effect on the poor ridership results. Besides not offering service where they used to on Lincoln and Wilson, CTA in effect turned over vast areas of the city to Pace (stuff northwest of Jefferson Park, half of 95W, and all of 49A as examples). Of course, a CTA Press Release is never going to acknowledge "other carriers."

    The increase on the Red Line South is explainable (although CTA never really accounted for the "free bus rides" during the project), but one still has to wonder about how they count cross platform transfers and whether they just killed the golden goose north of Belmont on the Red/Purple.

  • I'm curious what role Divvy played in the numbers. I used Divvy 70 times in 2014, with the vast majority of the trips being an alternative to hopping on the #66. That represents ~15% of my bus trips. I imagine a lot of Divvy riders are riding bikes instead of waiting for an overcrowded bus to arrive.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Good point. I'm sure CTA would have no way of knowing.

  • In reply to jack:

    Yup. That's pretty much true for most businesses. Unless they pay a market research firm to conduct a proper survey, they really have no way to know about "lost" business.

    I had a long conversation once with a regional buying manager for Kohls. I complained to him that every time I went into the store, they had plenty of size 'Small', but never a 2XL, so I'd often walk out without buying anything. He basically said, "We don't sell a lot of 2XL". "Of course you don't", I said, "because your potential customers are walking out empty handed".

    I'll typically take the bike if the bus is more than 5 minutes away. However, in many cases I took the bike because the bus showed up, and it was standing room only, and I couldn't board.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Strangely, Kohls is the only place that has my size of pants, but again you are correct that market research is the first step of marketing, except if you are CTA.

  • In reply to jack:

    I assume a lot of Divvy members like myself are already paying for a monthly CTA pass, so the CTA gains big time when we take a bike, since they already have our money.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    That would have been reflected in the average fare per ride (unlinked trip) statistic, but the only thing reflected in the Dec. budget presentation (for Oct.) is that the average fare in Oct. was $1.11 and for YTD was $1.14. Since it was running about $1.11-1.12, the only question is whether the 2 cents is significant. It could be caused by any reason that passes were not as extensively used.

    Of course, from your perspective, you paid twice, but I doubt you count how many rides you actually get on a monthly.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Heh. Yep, reminds me of the sad saga of the 96 bus. When the CTA slashed service several years ago, they essentially said what that regional manager said--"We don't have a lot of riders on the 96." We neighborhood residents could have said, "Of course you don't, because the lousy erratic service for the past ten years has driven away all the riders who used to pack the 96." Listening to your customers and trying to solve service problems is also part of marketing, unless--as Jack notes--you are the CTA.

  • In reply to rastewart:

    The "unless" gets reinforced that as far as any transit authority is concerned, by using per passenger statistics, each rider attracted is a 50% loss. So, obviously they contract in situations such as this.

    I don't know how Kohl's (or less successful marketers, like Sears or J.C. Penney) determine what volume of sales they need to make money on a particular product.

    Maybe a distinction is that when Pace restructures an area, it holds workshops and reflects that it listens before implementing the changes. I went to one Pace board meeting involving such a restructuring, and the board member in charge said "all we received were compliments." CTA's action has been to say "the Northwestern Transportation Center told us to do this" and then lie about listening at the public hearing.

  • In reply to rastewart:

    Rogers Whitaker, who wrote about railroads for the New Yorker told the story about wanting a sleeping berth on the night train from NYC to Albany. The New York Central refused o sell him a ticket, saying it was all sold out. He knew that was a lie & got a friend at the RR to get him the ticket. The friend also told that the Central wanted to discontinue the sleepers, so they were refusing to sell anyone tickets so they could show to the Interstate Commerce Commission, that no one wanted a sleeping berth.
    That's what the CTA does with bus routes, like the 96.
    The 96 was famous for everyone lining up at Lunt & Glenwood in a nice orderly queue to board every evening rush hour. There were a number of newspaper articles about that way back in the late 1960s. Then they deliberately destroyed the service, ended the Touhy half of the route & lost most riders, leading to even more & more cutbacks.
    The only place I see an orderly queue now are the people waiting for the 192 at 59th & Drexel.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Of course, who really needs a sleeper from NYC to Albany? Can't be more than a couple of hours.

    Also must be pretty old, as the NYC went bust by the end of the 1960s, and passenger service soon thereafter.

  • In reply to jack:

    It was probably a 3 hour train ride.
    But the point is that the Central, just like the CTA go out of their way to kill off service by lying about ridership.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    If you are going out of business, like the NYC, Radio Shack, Evanston Bus Co., the Chicago Sun-Times, Sears, or the CTA, stuff happens. One just has to see the signs.

    Don't tell me that last 3 aren't.

  • In reply to jack:

    Well, a sleeper car, e.g. roomette, provides privacy, and a small work table. If he had work that needed to get done, I could see wanting a roomette.

    You are right, however. If the NYC saw bankruptcy as inevitable, they would likely be trying to slash service where they could. Regional and long distance trains are no different than commuter rail, they're basically going to run at a loss. You can't make money moving bodies.

  • In reply to rastewart:

    That's how I feel about the 11. It was actually an incredibly useful route if you caught it. There are a lot of spots near Lincoln that really aren't convenient from the Brown Line. However, the frequency of the service, or lack thereof, made it a route that I would rarely use.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    I remember going to Home Depot & trying to get high temperature spray paint.
    They were out of it & the paint dept. manager said they didn't carry much of it because people always bought it up as soon as it came in.
    That explains why Home Depot sucks & why the CTA also sucks so much of the time.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    I can't find anything at Home Depot, but the last couple of things I bought at Lowe's were defective and had to be returned, so maybe it's Menards the next time.

  • In reply to jack:

    Menards is the greatest store ever - they even have groceries in back. Lowes has the cleanest bathrooms in the game, even in the "hood" locations.

  • OFF TOPIC -- Jesse Jackson Jr. and Black Ministers have endorsed Chuy Garcia: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-chicago-mayoral-candidate-garcia-met-0310-20150309-story.html

    Emanuel will L O S E

    Chuy may be interested in a way to repay their faith in him, with new Jobs!

  • You missed that it was Jesse Jackson Sr.

    I mentioned before what Jesse Jr. and Sandi did to their neighborhood.

    And nobody has said what Chuy's job program is. The only issue discussed on today's news is that both will inevitably raise property taxes, which is relevant only if you own property in Chicago.

  • In reply to jack:

    That's not true. Anyone living in Chicago is affected by property taxes. Renters/tenants simply pay the property tax indirectly instead of directly.

  • In reply to chris:

    That's true, but again you are assuming "living in Chicago." I'm still waiting for someone to campaign to increase the RTA ROT, which affects people who shop in a 6 county area.

  • I goofed (it happens), and you are absolutely correct -- Junior and Sandi didn't do sh it. Chuy at least might "listen", we already know Rahm doesn't give a F'k about what anybody says, or wants.....

  • At least he admits it in his commercials, although the impression of humility is false.

    The last honest commercial I saw was for Fox Thing in the Morning, with Bob and Marianne saying "Watch us or we'll be fired." They were, shortly thereafter.

  • Didn't they also do away with some subsidized routes which would also affect the bus ridership numbers? Maybe as they overhaul the fleet the numbers will stabilize or increase.

    I think Scooter has mentioned this before, but adding a bus route for Clybourn could really help alleviate congestion and pick up a lot of riders. A lot has changed since they last had a bus route there.

  • In reply to chris:

    Part of the Crowd Reduction Plan was that sponsors of contract routes would have to pay full freight. Some, like the U of C and UPS continued to pay for some service but cut back, while service was essentially eliminated on others, such as 33.

    On Clybourn and many others, CTA has approved JARC-New Freedom applications, but can't come up with the 50% matching funds. Only place where they were able was on the West 31st extension of 35. Again, one of the ironies is that they had an application to make 1 all day, but instead cut it back from 51st to 35th, but IMO it isn't needed at all, since there is adequate service on 4 and the Green Line to IIT.

  • In reply to jack:

    Moving the Pacific Garden Mission to 14th & Canal probably killed any appetitie for serving another void in the system - Canal Street from Ogilvie south to the Cell. Such a route would be a natural southern section to a reborn Clybourn/Elston route.

  • In reply to urbanleftbehind:

    The Canal-Wacker bus to essentially Canal and Archer was killed in 1973, and apparently no demand for it since.

  • In reply to urbanleftbehind:

    I also assume that you would not have had any use for any bus on State south of Jackson, as that was the former location of the Pacific Garden Mission and "burlesque" clubs. Now the latter are mostly in Harvey and Stone Park, although Emanuel did say that he was in favor of "adult entertainment," just in the right location.

  • More on the topic from a nationwide view: Use of public transit isn’t surging

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    One definitely has to sort out the fact and opinion in that column. They are correct that APTA is skewing the statistics, but if the statistics back to 1956 include CTA, CTA changed from initial boarding fares to unlinked trips, so its bus statistics are probably about 1/3 of what they were then.*

    On the "air pollution" point, there are several reports noted on chicagobus.org the past couple of days that series hybrid buses don't work. Chicago scrapped its 10 (900 series) about 5 years early. Parallel hybrids, of which most of the CTA articulateds are, don't seem to save the amount of diesel fuel touted.

    Emanuel is trying to do his best to cure the problem by making it impossible to afford to drive in Chicago, but, as you pointed out earlier, his answer is Divvy.
    *It is hard to fathom that when CTA took over from CSL and CMC, it had about 3000 streetcars and 1000 buses. Now it has about 1800 buses.

  • In reply to jack:

    Maybe the price of driving equation will change when the default mode of travel of those who put the mayor in office is a "troca perrona" and not the Brown Line and a bicycle.

  • In reply to urbanleftbehind:

    From what I can tell from looking it up, that's the alternative to the Pink Line or Logan Square segment of the Blue, and also the core of Garcia's support.

    Second time this week someone made me look it up!

  • In reply to jack:

    Dont forget the Metra Electric South Chicago 93rd Street station(with some "car in the shop" usage of the #30 bus into the East Side) and since the real estate bubble of the mid-2000s, also the Orange Line from Pulaski to 35th/Hoyne.

  • In reply to urbanleftbehind:

    Garcia also won those wards.

  • In reply to jack:

    I've used Divvy for a handful of trips as an alternative to my SUV or a cab, but the vast majority of rides are alternatives to waiting for an overcrowded bus. Divvy does address the "last mile" issue for many commuters.

    Heck, if it was up to me, I'd be even harder than Rahm when it comes to driving in the city, well, the Loop at least. Too many idiots don't know how to drive downtown. One should need a special license to drive in the Loop. The driving test would include important urban driving skills such as using turn signals, pulling into the right lane when turning right, how to keep one's car in a single lane (see Wells St), pulling to the curb to discharge a passenger, not driving while texting, or looking up at the tall buildings, pressing the accelerator when the light turns green, driving like you have a purpose in life, etc.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Those rules are applicable everywhere. What may be indicative of the inner city problem is that the city can collect $70 million a year, including from the CTA* for stuff presumably more serious than not making a full stop before making a right turn on red.

    Probably the only urban difference is that it is much easier for a truck or bus driver to encounter a pedestrian to run over.

    *Remember the stink about CTA paying the fines, but later deciding to impose discipline on the drivers.

  • In reply to jack:

    Well, if the yellow lights weren't set for the absolute minimum, and apparently below the minimum (3 seconds), the red light cameras wouldn't pay for themselves, never mind turn a profit. We all know it's about profit, and not safety. You want safer intersections? Increase the yellows to 4 seconds. While you're at it, add a flashing green to indicate the yellow is immanent.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    That's why I don't believe that Emanuel means it when he says he'll agree with the city council to put countdown clocks at the intersections, not to mention that the clocks would provide another distraction. He seemed to have bristled when the hearing officers showed some independence and threw out the 2.9 second tickets. I'm even surprised that Xerox put on the tickets that the yellow light was only 2.9 seconds. Maybe he thought Chicago was above Federal traffic device standards.

  • In reply to jack:

    The city would be rolling in dough if they gave me a ticket book, and allowed me to write tickets. We don't need red light cameras, or speed cameras. We need police to enforce the laws on the books. I'd start with writing tickets for people blocking intersections. We need to follow NYC's lead here. Paint a box at the intersection, and if you get caught in the box, you get a hefty fine. Nothing, and I mean nothing, screws up traffic more that a-holes pulling into an intersection when they know they can't make it through, and block cross traffic as a result.

    Then I'd start ticketing cabbies who discharge passengers in the middle of the street, or leave the rear end of the cab blocking traffic. Pull to the d*mn curb.

    Smokers. $50 fine for tossing a cigarette butt on the sidewalk or street. By my calculation, there's $1 billion dollars waiting to be collected from the slobs in this city.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    That gets back to the original debate. When it first came out that CTA was paying the drivers' tickets, I said that proves it is only for the money, because if the city really cared about safety, they would have the cop at State and Madison arresting the driver.

    On the other hand, if they don't have enough police to deter someone from shooting a great grandpa through the door in Roseland, the camera might be a cheap, but not that effective, method of deterrence.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Eh. You expect the percentages to go down when the absolute numbers go up. Transit needs are determined by absolute numbers, not percentages. A lot of what's driving the drop in average yearly trips is that transit isn't keeping up with needs. When buses and trains are constantly too crowded, due to the absolute number of riders, people decide to find alternate modes, regardless of whether they'd use transit in other situations. We may never increase number of yearly trips beyond 35, but if that number stays stable as population increases, that indicates greater transit needs. Traffic on the road is caused by the absolute number of cars on the road, not the number of cars as a percentage of total possible cars.

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