South Side vs. North Side: Who got the worst of the CTA's doomsday service cuts?


Photo courtesy of flickr/Stephen Vance

By many accounts, riders of Chicago Transit Authority buses and trains have brushed off the agency’s “doomsday” service cuts and still manage to make it to work without great difficulty, save the inconveniences of a longer wait, standing instead of sitting and leaving home a little earlier.

However, an analysis by The Chicago Reporter shows that some aspects of the CTA’s  service cuts have affected South Side commuters, particularly African Americans, more than their North Side counterparts.

The Chicago Tribune’s Jon Hilkevitch reported last week that transit union officials, accompanied by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, said the CTA’s service cuts were implemented to “produce a harsher impact on poor and minority communities on the South Side, while sparing North Side riders.” Jackson and other South Side ministers later met with CTA officials to discuss the service cuts and the more than 1,000 layoffs of CTA workers.

In response to the complaints, as Hilkevitch reported, CTA officials said the agency’s bus routes and rail lines travel through several neighborhoods and that the service reduction plan was developed to meet federal guidelines designed to ensure that mass transit service cuts do not disproportionately affect the poor or racial minorities.

Indeed, systemwide cuts were distributed evenly throughout Chicago when you view the rail service cuts in isolation and most of the bus service cuts in isolation.

Trains are running less frequently on seven of the CTA’s eight rail lines. Buses are running less frequently on 119 bus routes, with 52 primarily serving the South Side and 49 primarily serving the North Side, according to the Reporter’s analysis of maps for the system’s nearly 150 bus routes. Among 41 bus routes that saw reductions to their hours of operation, 19 primarily serve the South Side and 17 primarily serve the North Side, according to the Reporter’s analysis. However, four of the nine express routes eliminated by the CTA primarily served the South Side–the Cottage Grove, Garfield, King Drive, and South Pulaski express routes–four served both the North and South sides and one served primarily the North Side.

The disparity is more clear when you consider that overall the CTA’s cuts to bus service, an 18 percent reduction, doubled the agency’s cuts to rail service, 9 percent. That fact alone means that South and West side commuters, particularly African Americans, are disproportionately affected because they use bus service to get to work more often than other Chicago residents use bus or rail service for their daily commute, according to the Reporter’s analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2008 American Community Survey.

North Side commuters are just as likely to use the subway or elevated trains as they are the bus to get to work, according to the Reporter’s analysis. Collectively in Edgewater, Rogers Park and Uptown in 2008, about 21 percent of commuters took the subway or L while 20 percent rode the bus. About 22 percent of commuters in Lake View and Lincoln Park combined took the bus and 21 percent rode the subway or L. Click on the image to the left for a map of Chicago displaying the percentage of commuters who rode the subway or L in 2008.


In some West Side communities, commuters were nearly 14 times more likely to use the bus in 2008. In East Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, North Lawndale and West Garfield Park combined, nearly 31 percent of commuters rode the bus to work compared to just 2 percent who rode the subway or L. On the South Side, collectively in Avalon Park, Chatham, Greater Grand Crossing, South Shore and Woodlawn, about 28 percent of commuters rode the bus compared to 7 percent who rode the subway or L. Click on the image to the right for a map of Chicago displaying the percentage of commuters who rode the bus to work in 2008.

The cuts in bus service also impact African Americans disproportionately since more than 25 percent of black commuters rode the bus to work in 2008, the most among the city’s four largest racial or ethnic groups. White commuters, on the other hand, were the only group to use the subway or L more often than the bus as the graph below illustrates.





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  • This entry is on today's "Hot on ChicagoNow:"

  • Here's a documentary about the CTA made by Chicago high school students working with Community TV Network.

  • I suppose the CTA continues to act as though it's decisions don't have an impact in poorer communities. Thanks for the images and the detailed breakdown.

  • The CTA operates in opposition to the poor all the time, and it is not without reason.

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