Two weeks ago, Kathleen Alforque, 34, was walking to a Lakeview bus stop when she spotted a group of people outside a shuttle. One of them asked her which way she was headed.
Alforque said she was on her way to the Loop. She got on the shuttle instead of her normal CTA bus.
Alforque said it took her only 15 minutes to get to the Aon Center, which was about five to seven minutes faster than her typical trip on the No. 135 Clarendon/LaSalle Express from Belmont and Sheridan.
"The ride was really comfortable. The seats were leather, very clean," said Alforque. "It was a pretty relaxing ride."
Alforque was using Blackline, a new private shuttle company that is expected to launch regular service Monday from Lakeview to the Loop after weeks of testing. The shuttle boasts WiFi, air conditioning and overhead space for bags.
Shuttle creator Joey Hawilo, of Lincoln Park, says he hopes this service complements the CTA, not replaces it. The company only has two morning runs—one at 7:25 a.m. and one at 8:30 a.m.—but hopes to launch a two-run evening service eventually.
"In the long term, we want to be the transportation option that people look to," said Hawilo, who moved from the San Francisco Bay area in 2011 to work on OpenChime.com, which connects consumers and service providers.
The Belmont shuttle picks up at Belmont Avenue and Sheridan Road in Lakeview and stops at Randolph Street and Stetson Avenue, Washington and Clark streets and Monroe and Franklin streets. From start to finish, the rides take about 25 minutes, according to Blackline.
Alforque, who rode Blackline during a free trial run, said she's not sure whether she would ride Blackline if she has to pay for it.
"I might try it for one week but i'm not sure," Alforque said. "It's a little bit more" in cost than the CTA.
Riders can reserve spots at rideblackline.com. A weekly pass costs $22.99 while a 10-pack of rides for anytime use costs $55. Evening service passes would also cost $22.99, Hawilo said.
Hawilo was light on details about the service. He didn't say how many shuttles he has or how many riders have signed up but did say the response has been "phenomenal."
He said all drivers have chauffeur's licenses and his company "works with local providers" to run the shuttle.
Hawilo said the company plans to launch a Clark Street shuttle and one for Wicker Park and Bucktown.
The Clark Street shuttle would stop at Clark Streeet and Belmont Avenue; Clark Street and Diversey Avenue; Clark Street and Fullerton Avenue; Randolph Street and Stetson Avenue; Washington and Clark streets and Monroe and Franklin streets.
The Bucktown shuttle would stop at North and Ashland Avenue; North, Damen and Milwaulkee Avenues; Division Street and Damen Avenue; Randolph Street and Stetson Avenue; Washington and Clark streets and Monroe and Franklin streets.
Shuttle service in Chicago is not new. Loyola University runs a free campus shuttle for staff, students and faculty, and the 600 West Chicago Avenue building shuttle residents to local transit stops.
Hawilo said Blackline will continue to test schedule timing and new routes and hopes to eventually match CTA prices "in a year or two." He said the current goal is to be cheaper than Uber but more expensive than the CTA.
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