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CTA says decrowding plan working but numbers show mixed results

By Tracy Swartz, @tracyswartz

RedEye

9:16 AM CDT, May 10, 2013

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The CTA this week touted success with last year's plan to decrowd buses and trains by adding service, but a RedEye analysis shows mixed results and a decrease in ridership in some routes.

Of the 48 bus routes that received additional service, 19 of the routes saw an increase in ridership during the time the service was added, typically rush hour. Eighteen of the routes saw a ridership decrease while five routes had flat ridership, the CTA said.

The other six routes saw the times of their schedule change but didn't see an increase in frequency of their service.

Most of the ridership decreases were less than 5 percent, according to the agency. Overall, some of these routes are not performing well beyond rush hour. Of the 48 bus routes that received additional service, 38 lines saw a ridership decrease this year.

"When we looked at decrowding, we looked at the parts where we increased service," CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said. "We only measured the crowding [during that time]. We didn't measure it 24 hours a day."

The CTA in December added service to all but two rail lines (Yellow and Pink) and 48 bus routes. It cut more than a dozen partial or full bus routes.

The CTA said it reduced overcrowding on the 48 bus routes by 27 percent. The agency said it reduced by 52 percent the percentage of rail trips with overcrowded conditions.

The agency defines overcrowding as more than 53 riders on a standard 40-foot bus, 79-plus riders on a 60-foot bus and more than 75 riders on a train car. In calculating its success with the decrowding plan, it focused on only the times when service was added to specific routes.

Overall, CTA ridership is down 3.5 percent this year through March compared to the same period the previous year. Bus ridership is down 4.5 percent while rail is down 2.1 percent.

The CTA blames the weather for the decrease, saying more people tend to ride the CTA when the weather is nicer and the weather was better last spring.

Compared to the same period in 2011, which included the historic February blizzard, bus ridership through March is down 0.4 percent while rail ridership is up nearly 6 percent.

"Bus did OK but rail was like the champion," Chase said. "We have generally, big picture, seen rail going up."

Bus ridership has been declining since December. The CTA began implementing its crowd reduction plan in mid-December.

The CTA said it reduced bus crowding by adding more than 9,000 bus seats on the 48 routes and decreasing wait times by nearly 8 percent.

One of the bus routes that saw additional service, the No. 87-87th Street bus, recorded a 14.1 percent decrease in riders this year.

The bus route that saw the largest increase was as expected, the No. 146-Inner Drive/Michigan Express, which recorded a 54 percent ridership jump. In a controversial decision, the CTA stopped operating the No. 145 Wilson/Michigan Express, which ran a similar route to the No. 146.

On the train side, the CTA said it increased capacity by 12 percent, adding 18 additional trips during weekday rush periods--the equivalent of more than 5,800 additional seats.

The train data is more tricky. In March, the CTA stopped train service over the Wells Street bridge for about 10 days for a city overhaul of the bridge.

As expected, Brown and Purple Line train service, the most affected by the Wells closure, was down in March, 8.7 percent and 10.3 percent on weekdays, respectively, compared to March 2012.

But every other line--except the Blue and Yellow lines--also saw a decrease in weekday riders in March.

The Red Line is the line most in transition this month. The CTA will close Red Line stations south of Roosevelt on May 19 for a five-month track overhaul. Ridership there has been declining for months.

On the North Side, the stations closed last year for six-week renovations still have not rebounded from closures.

All seven stations the CTA closed last year on a rolling basis to repair and beautify have seen a ridership decrease this year through March compared to the same period last year.

The largest decreases were the Berwyn stop in Edgewater (15 percent) and the Lawrence stop in Uptown (11.1 percent).

"Sometimes it does take a little bit for ridership to come back," Chase said. "We're planning on a big turnaround for that line the next several years out. It can take a little while for folks to come back."

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