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The New C-Pass's Impending Failure, or: Why Federal Policy Matters [UPDATED]

Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

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The Chicago Transit Board approved a pilot program for a Convention Pass, or C-Pass, at last week's Board Meeting.  It's a simple $3/day pass that will be sold in bulk to convention organizers, who will then pass out the passes to attendees before they arrive.  I have no qualms with the program, and like that the CTA is using a targeted pilot program to get a handle on a revenue source which, judging by the low price, is currently untapped.  Implementing the program in such a way so that convention-goers will have the pass in hand before they arrive at O'Hare or Midway is exactly what has to happen to keep rental cars from clogging McCormick Place's already overused parking lots.

But here's the rub (there's always one in this city): the only way to use the C-Pass to actually get to or from McCormick Place is the 129 bus which only runs during weekday rush hours, and never ventures north of Washington in the loop.  This bus does run by many of the hotels used by convention-goers, but its limited hours gives them little flexibility--the hallmark of useful transitUPDATE: the 3 and 21 buses also run to McCormick Place, my mistake.  I don't believe this undermines my point, but it certainly shows that as the C-Pass gets distributed, the CTA and convention organizers should be sure to point out which bus lines connect attendees' hotels with the convention.

Instead, the CTA is advertising the C-Pass as a tool to help attendees explore the city.  But if getting to and from McCormick Place--the raison d'etre for these people to be in Chicago--requires a car, I don't think we can reasonably expect people to opt for public transit when they have a car and decide to explore the area more than a half-mile from their hotel.

So how can the CTA make the C-Pass attractive to convention organizers?  Well, the Metra Electric and South Shore lines stop at McCormick Place, but they don't run at very high frequencies--I'd say this is yet another argument for the Gray Line proposal.

There's also a busway that runs parallel to those Metra tracks.  Instead of ending at Millenium Station though, the busway is for a shuttle between the Millennium Park Garage.  Here we see the tentacles of the federal government at work.  Even though this garage-run shuttle bus is free and only runs on the weekends, its existence as a privately-run "transit option" prevents the CTA from running any service along the route.  This was part of a Bush administration policy designed to encourage the privatization of public goods like mass transit that likely won't be repealed until congress passes a new 6-year federal transportation bill--something that probably won't happen until next year, even though the last one expired last year.

View Lake Shore Transitway in a larger map

Why is that busway so important?  Well, instead of just making Millennium Park into a remote garage for McCormick Place, buses could be routed along the theoretical Monroe St. Transitway directly to Ogilvie and the West Loop.  But as long as that federal statute remains, the city has no incentive to even start to develop plans for this type of vital connection.  So congratulations, CTA: if the C-Pass pilot program fails to deliver, you've already got your excuse: blame Washington!  



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CTA Gray Line Project said:


I obviously agree 1000% Ted, and I am going to be working very hard in the next few months to get the Gray Line on everyone's mind.

I am planning to give an extensive presentation on implementing the project (if allowed) during the upcoming RTA/CDOT South Lakefront Corridor Transit Study: http://bit.ly/SouthCorridorStudy

The Gray Line would also have a profound positive effect on the recently approved South Side USX re-development: http://bit.ly/USXDevelopment

Please contact me with any questions, or comments;

Mike Payne
CTA Gray Line Project


Alan said:

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It is a little misleading to say the 129 is the only bus serving McCormick Place, the 3 and the 21 do also.

In particular the 3, starting at Fairbanks and Erie, covers the whole of Michigan Avenue from Chicago to Cermak including many of the hotels the rush hour 129 doesn't, and runs all day, seven days a week (except Owl).

The access to and ambiance of the McCormick Place Metra stop make it one of the most disgusting stations in Chicago - certainly not somewhere I would want a visitor to Chicago see! Any improvement in services would require a total rebuild of this station

Ted Rosenbaum said:


Alan, thanks for pointing this out, I've updated the post.

CTA Gray Line Project said:


The C-Pass program will fail after the second time convention attendees (with no usable McCormick Place rail service) wait 45 minutes for three bunched-and-packed buses that they can't get on; the word will be out

Or when the new bus stop digital display reads: "Next buses: 43min 44min 46min"

MrDowntown said:

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It's hard to find anything in this article that's accurate.

Out-of-towners don't generally drive rental cars between the Marriott on Michigan Avenue and McCormick Place; they ride shuttle buses set up by the convention organizers. The McCormick Place Busway isn't used for a shuttle from Millennium Park Garage (except for Soldier Field events). Instead, the hotel shuttles start from various Illinois Center and Mag Mile hotels and converge on the busway at lower South Water just east of the Metra Electric tracks. The limitations on CTA use were put there by Metra, not the Bush Administration. And someone who doesn't even know of the existence of the #3 bus probably is unqualified to write about the subject.

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