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Doubts, gripes and hopes greet plan for CTA changes

The CTA on Wednesday released the full roster of bus-route cancellations and changes that transit officials said are painful but necessary to reduce crowding on buses on the busiest routes.

The hit list totaled 26 routes, more than double the 12 low-ridership routes that officials said a day earlier would be discontinued in four months.

If the reshuffling of CTA service survives the scrutiny of aldermen and the CTA board, bus schedules on the North Side — long a transit-rich area — will undergo major changes. So will routes serving suburban commuters who ride CTA buses to connect with Metra trains, as well as museum-goers, college students and tourists.

CTA officials said the goal is to reduce the intervals between buses and trains and lessen crowding by 10 to 15 percent during rush periods.

Service will be added on 48 bus routes under the plan, while 12 bus routes will be discontinued. Nine additional privately contracted CTA routes would also be eliminated if subsidizes were not increased and five more routes are scheduled to change.

In addition, 17 rail trips will be added during weekday peak travel times, mostly on the Red, Blue and Brown Lines, which are the CTA’s busiest train routes.

It would all go into effect on Dec. 16, CTA officials said. Most of the revisions provide new options, both on CTA and Pace buses and on trains, they added.

Reactions from riders Wednesday ranged from skepticism that the $16 million plan to restructure the bus and rail networks will accomplish the goals of better service, to anger that bus routes that in the past were targeted for reduced operating hours are on the chopping block again.

“Has there ever been a bus schedule change when the No. 11 (Lincoln/Sedgwick) was not in play?” commuter Krista Reynen said. “People on the North Side don’t use it because the route is never the same from the last time you used it.”

After news of the proposed changes broke in Wednesday’s Tribune, the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce launched a campaign to save the No. 11, which the CTA plans to split into two bus routes.

“The area of Lincoln between Belmont and Diversey is going through a renaissance. To lose bus service is just devastating,” said Heather Way, the chamber’s executive director. “We really need the public outcry right now.”

Way said infrequent service is the culprit. The bus runs every 15 to 18 minutes during the morning rush period and every 20 minutes at other hours.

Keshaun Ward’s gripe with the CTA  has less to do with which bus routes the agency is cutting and more to do with where service is being added.

Ward, 34, said she is not surprised the CTA is cutting routes. But she says the agency should add more service to bus routes serving the South Side.
“It’s only going to the Illinois Center,” Ward said as she watched a No. 123 Illinois Center/Union Express bus pass by State Street and Wacker Drive with only about a dozen patrons on it. “You got five more buses going that way.”

The No. 123 is slated for elimination in December, and service will be beefed up on the No. 121 Union/Wacker Express bus route.
“That 123 was so empty. That’s a waste. That could be on my route,” Ward said after it passed.

Some aldermen, meanwhile, also fumed, a few saying they first learned about the CTA plan in Wednesday’s Tribune, others saying they received a two-sentence email from the CTA on Monday about “improved service in your respective ward.”

“I’m not happy about it,” said Ald. Ameya Pawar, 47th. “I want to make sure this cut is not disproportionately impacting low-income residents or seniors. We’re talking about making different parts of the city more affordable, increasing public transportation options. This kind of flies in the face of that.”

Ald. Michele Smith, 43rd, said she is pleased with the changes.

Her Lincoln Park ward has some of the busiest “L” and bus stops in the city, and the changes should improve services to them, she said.

“It appears the CTA has done a professional job in reviewing CTA ridership in a data-driven way,” Smith said.

CTA conducted a monthslong analysis with the help of researchers at Northwestern University’s Transportation Center, but ultimately the decisions were made by the CTA, officials said.

“What is new here is that we examined the entire system, instead of just route by route,” said Hani Mahmassani, director of the NU transportation center. “We were able to look at the effect of de-crowding. We are ensuring on certain routes that, using very detailed (rider) demand information, we do not exceed occupancy, to make sure the comfort level is not exceeded.”

On over-crowded buses that typically receive “crush loading” of 70 passengers, the new target is 45 to 55 passengers per bus, CTA officials said.

More equipment and train runs will be added as well. Rail cars stuffed with 90 or more riders when the CTA is operating at maximum capacity are targeted to see maximum loading decreased to 70 to 75 passengers, officials said.

Tribune reporters Naomi Nix and John Byrne contributed. Tracy Swartz is a RedEye reporter.

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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