How the CTA chose bus routes for service cuts

Time will tell whether the union and CTA can reach agreement on some union concessions. But if that does not happen, in less than a week, the CTA will end nine express bus routes, cut frequency on seven of eight rail lines, reduce the span of service (start and end times shortening) on 41 bus routes.

CTA Tattler has published a detailed guide to all the cuts.

I asked a CTA spokesperson exactly how the CTA decided which routed to cut service on, and this is what she had to say:

First off,  because it receives federal funding, the CTA must adhere to federal Title VI guidelines, which are anti-discrimination provisions that are designed to ensure routes that serve minority communities or the poor are not disproportionately impacted. The service reduction plan was developed according to them. The reductions are balanced throughout the system and do not impact one area more than another.

Second, . . . it is clear that most of CTA’s rail lines and bus routes travel through multiple neighborhoods and are not limited to one neighborhood or region. For example, bus routes such as the #9 Ashland and #X9 Ashland, and #49 Western and #X49 Western serve customers on the North, South and West Sides. And although some express routes are being eliminated, the local routes will remain and will have some additional service (during rush hours only) to help make up for the loss of the express service.

In addition, we deliberately didn’t touch Night Owl service on both bus or rail so that service stayed in place for third-shift workers who have few options other than public transit. 

As far as the mechanics for how  the plan was developed, the goal was to maintain as much service as possible for riders. By reducing the frequency of service during off-peak hours, and trimming hours of operation, we were able to keep the number of routes and services being eliminated to a minimum. That said, we still had to cut $95 million in service.

The basic steps:

  • Eliminate the X-routes where a local service is available
  • Reduce frequencies on bus service concentrating in off-peak (frequencies were changed  to maximize ridership on each individual bus.)
  • Reduce spans on bus service (trim consistently across the system )
  • Reduce the frequencies on rail system concentrating in off-peak (thin service to maximize riders/train)


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  • it's all the union's fault

  • I think that the LSD express routes that start on Wilson should have been whacked & the X49 & X54 saved.
    The X54 is the farthest west North/South express in the system, a system that hopelessly centered around getting people to the Loop instead of getting them crosstown.
    And the X49 is right through the middle of the city.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Why all the hate on the express buses? They keep a lot of people from having to ride the Red Line.

    I took a 148 this morning because all of the elevated lines were being delayed because of something happening on Wabash. It's nice to have the alternative.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    I don't hate express buses, I want the X49 & X54 to remain.
    But if some of the LSD express buses were dropped, that might put some pressure on the Jefferson St. idiots to fix the Red Line instead of their other pet projects.
    The Red Line has become the bastard stepchild of the CTA despite carrying the most people.

  • The CTA should start looking at some routes that have low ridership to begin with - #64 and #69. Both routes make a circle back to Harlem and Cumberland Stations respectively. People can walk up to Cumberland to catch the #81W to the station. Both routes make one loop every hour. Why does the CTA not cut these routes.

    Furthermore the 120-122 express routes from CUS and OTC stations have a lot of empty buses that leave the train stations. Why can't the CTA revise these routes so that they go from CUS to OTC and then go to either ILL Center or Navy Pier. Having two routes that go to the same places seems very inefficient when there are a number of empty buses or nearly empty buses on these routes.

  • I still don't understand the focus on (let alone hatred for) the unions. The deficit could be wiped out if the cost of a transfer was raised a buck. The CTA provided over 521.25 million rides in 2009. If even 20% of those were transfers, an additional buck a ride brings in the needed $100 million.

  • In reply to BobS:

    While that's a good idea, I still want to increase the cash fare by a buck. Those people really slow down a bus ride.
    Metra just raised the fee for paying on the train when there is an agent on duty, so should the CTA raise the cash fare.
    Be like London, cash costs double the Oyster Card price!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Well, it's more than a good idea... it's an absolutely workable solution. (Pardon me while I break my arm patting myself on the back.)

    I don't think that revenge fantasies make for good policy decisions. And on a pragmatic level, each of those additional pieces of paper would slow down the ride even more.

  • In reply to BobS:

    I think the two of you forgot that the reason the fare was not raised was Quinn had a scheme for the RTA to borrow $166 million so that there would not be fare increases on CTA or paratransit for two years. Probably $125 million of that is for CTA.

    Apparently, Quinn didn't find it politically expedient to go further into hock another $180 million to prevent the service cuts for two years.

  • In reply to jack:

    I didn't forget that, no. I ignored it, for good reason, but didn't forget it.

  • I honestly liked the idea of charging more for the LSD buses and rail lines. I thought that would be more effective. If people don't want to pay extra, they can take the slower parallel routes (i.e. the 151 instead of the 13x,14x routes).

    NYC does this, albeit more severely since their X routes use over the road coaches and charges $5 a ride. A price difference for better service is a good idea, it follows the same principle as the HOT lanes.

  • In reply to ibright05:

    Chicago used to have differential fares; I remember paying an extra quarter for the Jeffrey Express; paying a surcharge for the Purple Line; I feel like there was a time in the early 90's when the rush hour fare was a little higher.

    That last in particular seems to be a good idea, because it not only raises some money, it also tends to sort riders, so that people who don't have quite as much money find ways to travel just off-rush, leaving more space for additional riders at rush, who today skip out because they will only ride if they aren't crowded, or if they can find a seat, etc. When you've got something like this that is in limited supply and peak demand for a short time, it makes sense to structure your fares that way. I'm not talking about a huge surcharge. Just a small nod to market-based pricing that would help maintain service.

    But then, I also believe that the employees have a sweetheart deal. I think the union should give ground here.

    By the way, I'm a returning visitor who hasn't been here nearly as much since tattler joined the Trib, so forgive me if I've missed something ...

    but Kevin, do you ever ask Ald. Allen or Ald. Suarez about CTA issues? They're chair and vice chair respectively of the city council committee on transportation.

    It's quite a feat for the Council to choose as chair and vice chair of the transportation committee two of the very few aldermen who have no el station in their ward. And serving relatively outlying wards, their bus ridership is almost certainly lower than the city average. Not that most council committees provide much oversight. But even the theoretic possibility is just about eliminated when the two people with most power in the council have so little reason to care. Perhaps we should try to get a lakefront alderman into one of the two top spots on that committee. Reilly and Schulter are on the committee.

    It'd be interesting to see how many CTA tradesmen live in Allen's 38th ward.

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