Will the CTA de-crowding initiative even work?

December 10, 2012 at 2:42 pm

On December 16, the CTA starts its “de-crowding initiative” by reducing service it deems “duplicative” (somewhat true) and adding service to bus routes/lines that are already crowded (particularly at peak times). On the north side, the elimination of the route #11 Lincoln bus has caused quite a stir (I’ve never taken this route but several blogs and community newsletters have written about it).

Even though the #11 bus carried only 5,844 passengers on an average October 2012 weekday, the importance of maintaining some overlap in routes is key. I’ve often heard that service overlap is undesirable and should be eliminated, and that transfers should instead be used to provide the most service coverage possible. But I disagree in many cases, particularly with buses. Transferring between train routes is easier, especially when it’s just walking across the platform to another track. But transferring from a train to a bus requires walking out of the station, often to wait outside in whatever weather conditions are present. Timing in bus schedules is often not synchronized to the arrival of trains, simply because traffic patterns can impact both the trains and buses. This means a longer-than-average wait in many cases. While the CTA says that it’s okay to eliminate the #11 bus service between Western and Sedgwick because most of the service has overlap, it misses the point that having this overlap is good, not only because it means that many people won’t have to transfer, but also because those 5,844 passengers have to go somewhere.

#11 Service changes

CTA’s service changes for route #11. Don’t be confused by the dashed lines in the legend: the CTA did not do a good job making the distinction between “Rush periods only” and “Discontinued bus service.” Credit: CTA.

Which is the next problem: the CTA is only planning to “de-crowd” its trains by adding 1 train to each the Purple and Brown lines during the AM peak and 1 train to the Purple line during the PM peak (no extra Brown line trains). The CTA’s target occupancy rate for its rail cars after this initiative is 70-75 passengers per car, meaning that an 8-car train would only hold 600 passengers (6-car trains, like the Purple line, would hold only 450 passengers). I don’t think I’m unreasonable in assuming that eliminating the #11 Lincoln bus would add at least 1,500 passengers (1 Brown and 2 Purple line trains; ~25% of average daily ridership on route #11 in October 2012) to the nearby train routes, therefore rendering useless the gains made by adding trains.

In a nutshell: By eliminating this route and telling riders to use the Brown or Purple lines, the CTA’s efforts to de-crowd trains by adding just 1 or 2 more per day will be futile, since the existing #11 peak riders will just crowd the additional trains.

This is not a perfect analysis, it’s based in simple numbers and not finding out the riding patterns, boarding times, etc. of all riders on the #11 route. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that the de-crowding initiative probably won’t go that far if it just takes bus riders and makes them into train riders on already-crowded train lines.

I wrote before that the CTA should have developed a better train interior design to actually make it more comfortable to fit the same amount of people in its trains. Coupled with the (meager) increase in the number of trains, this might actually help – a little. As it stands, the CTA is only planning to add capacity for around 6,000 riders on all train lines in the morning rush, and between 4,000 and 5,000 extra riders for the evening rush. That’s less “de-crowding” and more “we’re just making it look like we’re doing something.”

CTA 5000-series/RATP MP 05

Left: CTA 5000-series car (Credit: Steven Takaki/Chicago-L.org)
Right: Paris Métro MP 05 car (Credit: Wikipedia)
There is no optical illusion here: The MP 05 train is a foot narrower than the new CTA cars and each car is roughly the same length, yet the MP 05 holds more passengers. It’s all in the design.

What else is hard to believe is that the CTA thinks it can actually manage the extra trains; from my experience on the morning and evening rush, the trains often sit on the track waiting for signal clearance, especially in the Loop. Last Friday there were significant delays in the Loop just at the heart of the evening rush – Purple line service to Belmont was completely suspended.

If it’s hard to manage the amount of trains/keep their headways spaced at appropriate intervals (I’ve seen trains come 2 minutes apart, then the next train is 11 minutes away), I don’t know how the CTA plans to add even more trains and keep them orderly. The only way to change that is to upgrade the technology.

This initiative is also bad for some neighborhoods because it eliminates bus service where the nearby train stations are not handicap accessible. Buses on routes 145, for example, are handicap-accessible, but no nearby Red line stations are accessible. The elimination of that route also eliminates bus service along Wilson. I know for a fact there is an health care/rehabilitation center just a half-block south of Wilson (the #22 bus route is nearby but, like I stated before, it is important to have many options in transportation) near this bus route.

As I’ve said before, the only way to truly de-crowd these trains is to make them run more efficiently, which the CTA cannot do until it modernizes the signals it uses along the track or automates at least its busiest lines (yes, that’s politically difficult, and yes, that’s expensive). Redesigning the interiors of the train cars and enabling people to walk between them would also help.

What you can do: The CTA is having several upcoming budget meetings (dates/times below). There is also a group of residents going with 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar going to today’s budget meeting at 6:00 PM. While these are budget meetings, you can still make your voice heard about the CTA and how it impacts you.

You can also contact your local aldermen (they don’t make budget decisions, but they can act as a voice for a group of people), the Mayor or Governor (who appoint positions to the CTA Board), and Illinois legislators. Or you can go to one of these meetings:

Budget meetings:

December 10, 2012 (today), 6:00 PM
567 W Lake St.
Chicago, IL

December 17, 2012 (next Monday), 6:00 PM
Westinghouse College Prep Auditorium
3223 W Franklin Blvd.
Chicago, IL