Shocker: Ridership down just slightly, despite big service cuts

CTA ridership in the first quarter of the year was down just 0.2%
compared to the same period in 2009. That’s surprising, considering that
on Feb. 7,  bus service was cut almost 20% and rail service about 10%.

ridership stats reported at Wednesday’s CTA board meeting show that bus
patronage is down across the board — during weekday rush hours,
weekday off-peak, and on weekends and holidays. No shocker there,
considering the abovementioned cuts in bus intervals and start/stop
times — plus the elimination of nine express bus routes.

the CTA system buses arrive less frequently and are more crowded when
they do show up. As a result, the stats show, more riders are switching
to rail service when they can during the three key ridership periods. 

Rail ridership was up almost 1% in the first quarter during the weekday rush period. But the real rail ridership growth was at off-peak times on weekdays and on weekends — 4.6% and 4.7% growth respectively.

So why is that? For the off-peak increase, I still attribute it to folks trying to avoid crowded buses. On the weekends, there are a number of reasons for the increased ridership:

What do you think? Why is ridership up on the rails? And down overall, but just slightly?

CTA peeps 1.jpg


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  • Ridership changes happen with a lag. People still have to get to work, after all. Plus, the number of transit-dependent has probably increased in the current economy.

    Also, the CTA did a pretty good job of spreading the pain to reduce rider impact.

  • In reply to urbanophile:

    "People still have to get to work, after all." Of course, with greater than 10% unemployment in this region, fewer do.

    I think people here are making too many conjectures about cause and effect (sort of like a wrestler having to leave town because he lost a loser leave town match, except the truth is vice versa). The only conclusion I can draw is that people are gravitating to the more efficient mode (rapid transit) and there is nothing wrong with that. After putting a half billion dollars into the Brown Line, one would hope that people would use it, instead of what were supposed to be temporary bus alternatives.

  • In reply to urbanophile:

    One thing this does prove. In 2005-2007, Carole and Frank were telling us that if they made $55 million in cuts, they had to do it by canceling routes, and then they would lose both the fares and subsidies from people who were riding those routes, so, in effect they precipitated a crisis by proposing cutting $210 million of service, and taking 700 plus buses out of the system. But here we see that after cutting rail by 10% and bus by 19%, and taking a claimed 287 buses out of the system (probably fewer, since it was reported that some of those were on their deathbeds in any event), the year to year loss is minuscule.

    Hence, if one wants to speculate about cause and effect, my conclusion, based on hindsight, was that Frank and Carole were selling a pile of haufen mist. When push comes to shove, cuts were made without markedly affecting ridership numbers.

    Not to mention, as Pace often does, and Rodriguez alludes, how many are free rides, and presumably clogging the bus to the detriment of paying passengers.

  • In reply to jack:

    Last week I was in an relatively affluent suburb with my 7 & 8 yr old boys, taking a Pace bus to pick up my car. I noticed uncomfortable stares as we boarded(quickly BTW), when paying using two reduced fare cards and one Scan card(Chicago Plus). At first I thought, "Wow, they must not see kids much," but then realized everyone else on this somewhat busy Pace bus was a senior citizen. Later, I realized the looks were either from not seeing anyone pay for a while(yet alone 3 farecards), or uneasy, guilty looks since no one else actually paid to ride.

  • In reply to JohnT:

    Yep, Pace notes it two ways. One is the way you indicate, while the other is that Pace ridership is down, not only because of the recession, but also because it quit accepting CTA passes on which it did not receive reimbursement from the CTA (such as the CTA 7 day pass--using both systems now requires paying more for a CTA/Pace pass).

    So, if one can't equate ridership with revenue.

  • In reply to JohnT:

    Of course visitors get it - the parking rates downtown encourage them to "get it" and our European visitors generally wouldn't consider that you would not take public transit.
    Also, as you note, impact to trains, especially rush hour, was minimal; I've had to adjust my schedule by only 15 minutes to accomodate the changes. That requires a new morning routine but is doable.
    And even in this era of high unemployment, consider a job interviewee, do you spend $3 for the CTA trip or $25 for the parking downtown? A no-brainer for many.

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