The CTA plan that would reduce service on low ridership routes and add service on high ridership routes starting in December could speed rider commutes--if it's done right.
There's no question that there are some areas on the rail system that could use more frequent train service. The CTA is considering adding more train service on the Red, Brown and Blue Lines during rush hour. The Blue Line alone has seen a 16 percent increase in weekday ridership over the last four years, as RedEye has previously reported.
But systemwide, 14 percent of rail track is still under slow zones--mostly on the Red, Purple and Brown Lines--so though there would be more trains, they would still run slow.
And although the CTA said it would also add more service to high-ridership bus routes, Going Public is concerned that bus riders will be more negatively impacted than rail riders when the agency cuts service.
The last time the CTA reduced service, in 2010, the agency cut 9 percent of rail service and 18 percent of bus service. This change was made despite the agency seeing more bus boardings on an average weekday than rail boardings.
CTA president Forrest Claypool and Mayor Emanuel held a press conference on the North Side last week touting 16 months of consecutive ridership growth even though bus ridership growth is slowing. Bus ridership dipped 0.2 percent on June weekdays compared to June 2011 weekdays.
It has become more difficult to ride buses in the last two years. Gone are the express buses that made transferring between rail lines easier. Large gaps in bus service last month exceeded the CTA's goal while bus bunching has steadily increased since last year, CTA data shows.
Still, when this reporter was completing the challenge of riding along every CTA bus route from start to finish, there were times when GP was the only one on the bus and few other riders boarded the bus. The CTA said it plans to reduce service on low-ridership routes but has not released route information.
Meanwhile, rail boardings on weekdays are up 3.7 percent compared to June 2011. The areas that have seen slowed growth or decreased ridership are the spots that are under slow zones.
The CTA plans to address the South Side slow zones next year when it overhauls the southern section of the Red Line starting in May. North Side Red Line slow zones won't be cleared up until at least February, Claypool told GP last week. There's no scheduled start date to tackle the track on the Purple Line north of the Howard station.
It would make more sense for the CTA to wait to increase frequency of trains when the CTA has made these fixes so riders could really feel like they're experiencing a faster commute.
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