CTA plan to reduce overcrowding: Devil is in details - and execution

The CTA’s plan to reduce crowding on the most jammed-up bus and rail lines looks great on paper.

But of course, the devil is in the details — and the execution. The CTA just released much of the details this afternoon. See the accompanying post for details. How the CTA executes on the plan won’t be known until after Dec. 16, when they are scheduled to go into effect.

The expanded service and bus route changes/eliminations also are subject to board approval Sept. 12. That should be a no-brainer. A public hearing is set for 6 p.m. Sept. 4 at CTA headquarters, 567 W. Lake St.

The bus routes to be eliminated either “duplicate existing service,” says the news release, or have low ridership. Low ridership also factors into the decision, and those figures are readily available. For routes that are privately contracted for, such as the #10 Museum of Science & Industry, the CTA says it will renegotiate the subsidy or cut them.

Of course, those reasons probably won’t ameliorate the mood or feelings today of riders directly affected by the route eliminations.

But here’s the bottom line: The CTA is a publicly funded transit agency with limited dollars that must serve the most people it can as efficiently as possible.

Some facts:

  • The CTA cut bus service by 18 percent and rail service by 9 percent to balance its budget in February 2010.
  • In the first half of 2012, rail ridership increased 6.2 percent; bus ridership by 2.6 percent. The CTA says that’s “higher than nearly every other major U.S. Transit system.”

So something had to give. (Good thing it wasn’t an overcrowded #79 79th Street bus!)

The CTA worked with the well-respected Northwestern University Transportation Center to do the background analysis, so that’s a good thing.

As for whether the CTA can execute this plan: It still has two major road blocks:

  • Bus bunching
  • Rail slow zones

Slow zones cover 14.1 percent of track overall, and almost 23 percent of the busiest rail line, the Red Line. All it would take is a door problem on one train to slow the whole system down enough for the CTA to issue an alert, as it did last night at about 6 p.m.

For me, I like the plan. Check back in mid-January for a report how CTA executes the plan.


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  • "But here's the bottom line: The CTA is a publicly funded transit agency with limited dollars that must serve the most people it can as efficiently as possible." No doubt about that, but are they doing it?

    1. Unless they want to have the required public hearing packed with people angry, but about nothing, they should post a slide show indicating what they intend to do with each modified route. For instance, from what Chris indicates, cutting 144 might not make any difference, nor the decade long shift of 145 becoming some 148s to becoming 148, but that's not clear at the moment. People are howling on chicagobus.now that "they're cutting service on the heavy north LSD routes, while leaving low ridership routes, like 55A and 55N." At least Hilkevitch said pretty clearly what they intend to do with 11 Lincoln, which seems drastic, but understandable.

    2. This has all the "coordinate with Pace," "drop because Pace overlaps," etc. This is reminiscent of 1997, except then CTA and Pace actually talked about coordination (and the routes that then got coordination, such as 49A/349 are now getting dropped).

    I said about 14 months ago that the first thing Claypool should do is sit down with TJ Ross and actually do coordination. You said (in response to my "Claypool walked out" comments) that wasn't the first priority. Yet it is apparently a priority, now.

    I'll agree that CTA has no business running 17, but I doubt that they first determined that Pace was going to add 317 rush hour trips. Similarly, 56A overlaps 270, but I doubt that CTA was aware that Pace converted 270 to Posted Stops Only and intends to convert it to Arterial Rapid Transit. It sure won't be running it local in Chicago and express in Niles.

    And the manner this is being implemented reminds me of the previous discussion of "what's wrong with extending 21 or any other route deep into the suburbs." CTA extends so Pace retreats (as with the cutback of 304); CTA has to extract money out of the system, so it retreats because Pace service is available.

    I don't know if, by picking up more fares on routes such as 423 (substituting for 90N), Pace comes out ahead on this, but I still contend that if the agencies in this area really want to comply with the Auditor General's recommendation that the most efficient operator should get the operation, CTA should find a way to get its buses out of Evanston and Skokie and turn it over to Pace.

    Of course, if the legislature actually did want various guest columnists in the Tribune suggest, and start abolishing agencies, including the emasculated and do nothing RTA, I would have another strategy.

    3. There seems to be no point to CTA (actually sales taxpayers) subsidizing essentially private routes. Probably the same can be said of Pace.

  • I know they know the number of people who ride the part of the 11 route they plan to end. What they may not realize is the age of those riders. Seriously, I've ridden it extensively in the past and it is still part of my repertoire for getting around Wrigley night games. I'm in my 50s and I'm often one of the younger people on that bus.

    My point? Old people vote. If Emanuel wants to keep the old people vote, maybe he shouldn't let Claypool take away one of their favorite bus routes.

  • The 192 bus route which is not subsidized despite the CTA post from the University of Chicago actually cost the CTA nothing in reality to run. It is a reverse backhaul to Rush Hour with full buses of the south side routes. The CTA would need to run the buses empty anyways to meet service demands. So if the route 192 is eliminated, the CTA will spend more money not less. Accounting rules which have set costs for runs obscure real costs upon occasion. This is probably one of those occasions.

  • In reply to Julianbl:

    If that's the case, this is probably just a way to shake down more money. However, that can be done only if the contract is over or has an adjustment clause.

    Considering how CTA considerably increased deadhead time when it closed Archer garage, maybe a deadhead doesn't cost that much. Or maybe this is like Karen Walker finally admitting in the Aug. Financial Report that in June, CTA lost 46 cents a gallon on fuel hedges, but I'll save that one for the appropriate time.

  • In reply to Julianbl:

    That explains why all the AM runs of the 192 leave 59th & Drexel with a destination sign of "103rd Garage".

  • Late to the party but I sure hope this de-crowding plan includes unacceptable crowding on the Belmont overnight. I often text my cta friends when I'm on a packed to crushed Belmont heading west from the Red Line between 1 and 3am on a Saturday night which at this point is almost every Saturday. A few trips leave the Blue Line with 55+ people on the bus. And speaking of which, they really need to have a 15 minute or 20 minute owl on the Blue on Friday and Saturday nights north of downtown. The crowding is pretty bad when its a four car train. I know its very efficient and productive to have a packed vehicle but it doesn't leave room for growth.

  • In reply to ibright05:

    They haven't published maps or schedules, but there isn't any indication that the 30 minute owl interval (I believe inaugurated in 1997) is going to change. The did announce that the Belmont owl bus was going to Harlem instead of Central, apparently because there is a loop there.

    I also don't know the extent that owl routes connect, as implied by the schedule folders, but obviously changing the interval would affect that.

    The other issue is that a Nova has less capacity becuase of the engine in the "closet."

  • In reply to jack:

    Yea, the Belmont has been going to Harlem for a while now (started in January, I believe). Still though, if they're going to publicly announce that buses on average will not have more than 55 passengers on it, they need to look at the Belmont owl.

    Funny thing about Belmont and Harlem... if you lived over there prior to the extension, you were well beyond the 2 mile radius that the service standard called for with owl service. The extension solved that.

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