Skip to content

Posts from the Bus Transit Category


CDOT Vets and Other Leaders Discuss the Future of Urban Transportation


Mendoza, Tolson, Klein, Kubly, and Treat at the Shared Use Summit. Photo: Shared-Use Mobilty Center

Last week hundreds of civic leaders, entrepreneurs, and academics from across the U.S. convened in our city for the National Shared Mobility Summit, organized by the Chicago-based nonprofit the Shared-Use Mobility Center. This think tank focuses on practices and policies regarding bike-share, ride-share, car-share, and other mobility tools in an effort to maximize the positive impact of these new technologies.

The panel “Connecting the DOTs – City Commissioners on Shared Mobility” featured three former heavy-hitters from the Chicago Department of Transportation. The discussion was moderated by former CDOT commissioner Gabe Klein, now with the consulting firm CityFi and other transportation-related entities (including the board of OpenPlans, Streetsblog’s parent organization).

Joining Klein for the talk were his former CDOT deputies Leah Treat and Scott Kubly, who currently lead the Portland and Seattle DOTs, respectively. Earlier this decade, the three of them launched the Divvy bike-share system, as well as initiatives like the construction of 100 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes, the Bloomingdale Trail, and the Chicago Riverwalk. Rounding out the panel were Richard Mendoza, Atlanta’s transportation commissioner, and Clarena Tolson, deputy managing director for the city of Philadelphia.

“Connecting the DOTs” (get it?) focused on the new challenges and opportunities facing cities as we enter a brave new world of shared mobility, autonomous vehicles, and other emerging technologies. During the discussion, Klein and the city officials also talked about what they’ve learned as they’ve dealt with issues like aging infrastructure, changing regulatory demands, and current trends like ride-share that are disrupting traditional taxi and public transit models.

The officials started out by discussing some of the new shared-mobility and transit initiatives in their respective cities. Treat discussed Portland’s new BIKETOWN bike-share system, title-sponsored by Nike. Although the locally based sports-gear manufacturer is not known as a bike company, Treat said their sponsorship was probably the largest per-bike investment for bike-share at the time. One feature of the system that Chicago’s Divvy should consider emulating is the option of buying a single bike ride for $2.50, comparable to a transit ticket.

Treat also mentioned the new Portland Aerial Tram, a gondola service that carries commuters between the city’s South Waterfront district and the main Oregon Health & Science University campus, located on top of a hill. The university subsidizes 85 percent of the cost of the line, an investment that proportionate to the percentage of riders who are affiliated with the school.

Tolson discussed Philadelphia’s Indego bike-share service, which has been cited as an example of a system that was planned with equity in mind from Day One. The membership of American bike-share systems, including Divvy, have tended to skew white, male, affluent, and well educated, an issue CDOT began to address last year with the Divvy for Everyone equity program, which offers one-time $5 annual memberships to low-income Chicagoans.

Tolson said Indego was designed to be inclusive from the get-go, with early planning input from community groups and social justice advocates. Individuals who are eligible for public assistance can pay only $5 a month for use of the system instead of the usual $15 rate. Local media outlets have partnered with the city to promote the system to their audiences. As a result, Tolson said, Philadelphians have “embraced this as their own.” Over 900 residents have signed up for discounted memberships so far.

Read more…

No Comments

CTA and Pace Brainstorm Ways to Improve North Shore Transit Service


A Pace bus. Photo: Wikipedia

Two transit agencies working toward a common goal is unfortunately a rare phenomenon in our country. Thankfully this has not stopped the CTA and Pace from joining forces to brainstorm ways to improve public transportation in the Chicago region.

The two agencies, with assistance from Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates, are currently working on the North Shore Transit Coordination Plan, a comprehensive study of the northern edge of the city and the near-north suburbs primarily focused on improving the bus service of both agencies. The goal of the study is to develop a list of recommendations and a plan for the agencies to execute in the near future. Last week CTA and Pace held an open house in Rogers Park to show area residents what they’ve been working on. The results of the study are both expected and surprising.

During the event, I first took a quick trip around the room looking at all the information boards they had up. The first board featured a very promising Project Purpose stating, “The purpose of this plan is to improve the coordination of CTA and PACE services by better understanding existing travel demands and transit markets while leveraging changes in communities and transit investments since the last major service revision in that area.” The board also included a project timeline and study area, including territory in Rogers Park, West Ridge, Lincolnwood, Skokie, Evanston, Wilmette, and Kenilworth, showcasing the many towns, bus routes, and rail lines included in the study itself.

2016-10-04 13.00.19

Staff and residents at Tuesday’s open house at the Rogers Park library. Photo: Charles Papanek.

The next board was an overview of current bus service with stop-level ridership and a zoomed in version of the main RTA map showing the area in context with the surrounding landscape along with several performance indicating charts. Unsurprisingly, terminals like Old Orchard Mall, the Davis Street CTA and Metra stations, and the CTA’s Howard stop dominated the stop-level ridership, with between 2,000 and 5,000-plus boardings.

The third board was on demographics and travel patterns. It featured surprising info about the number of people moving into the study area instead of out of it. By an almost two-to-one ratio, more users entered the zone than left it for places like downtown Chicago. This is extremely important to highlight as it emphasizes the need for more investment in outlying urban and nearby suburban bus service.

The next two boards reiterated the CTA/PACE ridership survey and a study-specific drilldown on occasional riders. Several facts stood out. For example, 50 percent of riders are between 18 and 40 years old, rith a disproportionate number of riders aged 18-24. However, in the “occasional rider” breakdown, there are a disproportionate number of adults aged 65 and over.  Evanston was also singled out as the primary destination that people are going to and from with even downtown Chicago taking a back seat. The final interesting fact was that frequency was considered the most important factor in increasing ridership while additional destinations beat out both on-time performance and extending service hours.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
View Comments

Sprawl Is a Global Problem


Even in the places with the best transit systems, there’s a steep drop in transit access once you venture outside the central city. Graphic: ITDP

Sprawl isn’t just a problem in car-centric America. Even cities with the world’s best transit systems are surrounded by suburbs with poor transit access, according to a new report by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. As billions of people migrate from rural to metropolitan areas in the next few decades, these growth patterns threaten to maroon people without good access to employment while overwhelming the climate with increased greenhouse gas emissions.

For 26 global cities, ITDP looked at the share of residents with access to frequent, high-capacity rail or bus service quality, rapid transit within 1 kilometer of their homes, or roughly a 10- to 15-minute walk. Then ITDP looked at the same ratio for the region as a whole. The results suggest that coordinating transit and development will be a major challenge in the fight against global warming.

In Paris, for instance, fully 100 percent of residents have access to good transit. But the city of Paris is home to only 2 million people in a region of 12 million. And looking at the region as a whole, only 50 percent of residents live within walking distance of good transit. That still manages to beat most other regions ITDP examined.

In New York, the highest-ranked American city, 77 percent of residents live within reach of high-quality transit, but region-wide only 35 percent of residents do.

Read more…


Active Trans Wins $150K Grant to Help Accelerate Slow Chicago Bus Service


Prepaid boarding is currently being tested at Madison/Dearborn — riders swipe their fare card at a portable reader before the bus arrives. Photo: John Greenfield

There was some good news for Chicago straphangers last week. TransitCenter, a New York-based foundation dedicated to improving urban mobility, awarded 16 grants, totaling more than $17 million, to civic organizations, universities, and municipalities, and the Active Transportation Alliance was one of the winners. The Active Trans proposal, called Speeding Up Chicago’s Buses, involves working with the CTA and the Chicago Department of Transportation to eliminate some of the roadblocks to faster transit and higher ridership.

Like many large U.S. cities, Chicago has seen an increase in rail ridership but a decrease in bus use in recent years. In 2015, ‘L’ ridership hit record levels, with 241.7 million rides. But, while buses still accounted for the majority of the rides last year, bus use dropped for the third year in a row, falling by 0.6 percent from 2014 levels to 274.3 rides.

“Declining bus use is not acceptable,” said Kyle Whitehead, director of government relations for Active Trans. When bus ridership falls, he noted, it can lead to reductions in the hours and frequency of service, which in turn can reduce ridership, creating a vicious cycle.

“That has an equity impact,” Whitehead said. “Many parts of town without easy rail access are low-to-moderate-income communities of color. If bus service declines, it disproportionately affects people in these neighborhoods.”

Whitehead said Active Trans will use the grant to expand on the transit advocacy they’ve done over the last few years, including outreach on the city’s Ashland Avenue bus rapid transit proposal. That project is currently on hold due to backlash from residents and merchants against plans to create bus-only lanes and limit left turns from the avenue. But if the downtown Loop Link BRT corridor, which opened last December, is ultimately judged a success, it could lead to renewed interest in the Ashland proposal.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
View Comments

Finally Some Relief for Memphis Bus Riders

The shameful state of Memphis’s bus system is one of the more outrageous stories in American transit.

Buses in Memphis are in such bad shape, there have been a number of fires. But help is on the way. Photo via Memphis Bus Riders Union

Buses in Memphis are in such bad shape, they’ve been known to catch fire. But help is on the way. Photo via Memphis Bus Riders Union

When we checked in with the advocates at the Memphis Bus Riders Union in March, they told us the local transit agency, MATA, was running buses so poorly maintained that they were known to catch fire. In the midst of this crisis, local business leaders had marshaled enough cash to restore the city’s historic trolley system, which mostly serves tourists. Meanwhile, MATA was struggling just to maintain bare-bones operations, with a 17 percent service cut looming.

The current condition of buses is so poor, riders can’t even be assured a bus will arrive no matter how long they wait, said Bennett Foster of the Bus Riders Union.

“Some routes are not being served throughout the day due to a lack of buses,” Foster told Streetsblog. “When a bus breaks down they don’t have another bus to send out. There are people in the city every day who experience just no buses running.”

But the advocacy of the Bus Riders Union is getting results. Mayor Jim Strickland has allocated an additional $7.5 million from the city budget toward the transit system this year. About $5 million of that will be reserved for replacing buses — an absolute necessity.

Read more…


Eyes on the Street: CTA Tests Prepaid Boarding on the Loop Link BRT System


Customers swiped their card at a portable Ventra reader before entering the waiting area. Photo: John Greenfield

Besides being the day Chicago was ranked the top biking city by bicycling magazine, September 19, 2016, may also go down in history as the day the Loop Link bus rapid transit system started getting faster. While the corridor, which debuted last December, seems to have been resulting in modest timesaving gains for bus riders, it’s been missing a key element of robust BRT: prepaid boarding. Today the CTA launched a test of this feature at the Madison/Dearborn station, the busiest of the Loop Link stops, and it appears to be working well.


The pilot only runs during the evening rush. Photo: John Greenfield

In June the CTA launched a six-month test of prepaid boarding for westbound #77 Belmont Avenue buses departing from the Belmont station of the Blue Line’s O’Hare branch during evening rush hours. Riders pay their fares at a portable Ventra card reader, staffed by a customer assistant, and waiting in a fenced-off bullpen until the westbound bus shows up.

The system at Madison/Dearborn was simpler to set up, since the raised station was already surrounded by railings, except for the side of the platform the bus pulls up to and the entrances to the ramps on the east and west sides of the facility. For the downtown prepaid boarding pilot, which will run for from 3:00-6:30 p.m. on weekdays, for a three-month period, CTA staffers are stationed at each side of the shelter with Ventra readers.

During the pilot hours, customers may only pay their fares with Ventra card or ticket, or personal credit or debit card, not cash. The CTA is encouraging customers at Madison/Dearborn who need to add transit value or unlimited ride passes to their Ventra account to do so at the Ventra machine inside the Walgreens directly behind the platform. Other options for adding value include ‘L’ stations and the Ventra app.

As you can see by comparing the two videos below (the first one was shot a few days after the December launch), prepaid boarding significantly shortens the bus “dwell” time at the station. With onboard fare payment, it took about 30 seconds for 11 passengers to get on the bus, but with today it took only about 15 seconds for ten customers to board – a roughly 50-percent timesavings.

Read more…

1 Comment

The Wait Is Almost Over: The Loop Link Prepaid Boarding Pilot Starts Monday

Screen Shot 2016-09-13 at 11.27.13 PM

The three-month prepaid boarding pilot will take place at the Madison/Dearborn station, which has a Walgreens with a Ventra machine right behind it. Photo: Google Street View

Since it launched last December, the Loop Link bus rapid transit system’s timesaving benefits have been modest, but they’re about to improve. The CTA just announced that this Monday, September 19, it’s starting a three-month test of prepaid boarding — in which customers pay their fare before the bus arrives — at the BRT system’s Madison/Dearborn station.

For several months after the December launch, the CTA required bus drivers to creep towards the raised stations at 3 mph in order to avoid striking waiting customers with side-view mirrors or crashing into the platforms. In recent months the transit agency lifted that overly cautious requirement.

Unauthorized vehicles in the red bus-only lanes – especially private shuttle buses – certainly aren’t helping Loop Link speeds. The #NotaCTABus social media campaign has raised awareness of the problem, so hopefully we’ll see some action from the city to address the issue in the near future.

But this latest announcement is the next step towards Loop Link reaching its full potential. Having passengers pay their fares before boarding the bus eliminates the delay caused by a line of riders having to swipe their Ventra card (perhaps multiple times) or put cash in the fare box while the bus waits.


A sign at Madison/Dearborn notifying customers of the upcoming pilot. Photo: Kevin Zolkiewicz

Prepaid boarding is one of the key timesaving elements of BRT, and originally it was anticipated that Loop Link would launch with this feature at all eight stations. But in 2014, before construction on the corridor began, the city revealed that it planned to initially implement prepaid boarding only at Madison/Dearborn.

And in fall 2015, the city announced that prepaid boarding wouldn’t even be in place at that station in time for the system’s December debut. Instead, the CTA planned to pilot it at Madison/Dearborn sometime this summer. Monday is a couple of days before the fall equinox, so they’re the agency is just barely keeping its promise.

Meanwhile, in June the CTA launched a six-month test of prepaid boarding for westbound #77 Belmont Avenue buses departing from the Belmont station of the Blue Line’s O’Hare branch, only during evening rush hours. Riders pay their fares at a portable Ventra card reader, staffed by a customer assistant, and waiting in a fenced-off bullpen until the westbound bus shows up.

At that point, since everyone has paid the fare already, passengers can quickly board through both the front and rear bus doors. Customers I interviewed said they were pleased with the timesaving effect of the new style of boarding.

Some BRT systems in other cities, such as Mexico City, have turnstiles with fare card readers and enclosed platform stations where you wait until a bus shows up, similar to how payment on a subway works. New York’s Select bus routes feature kiosks where you buy a paper ticket while waiting for the bus, which you must present when the occasional onboard inspection occurs or else face a stiff fine.

Since the primitive, labor-intensive system at Belmont seems to be reasonably effective, the CTA is trying it at Madison/Dearborn from 3:00-6:30 p.m. on weekdays, for a three-month test period.

“By allowing CTA bus customers to pay fares in advance much like they do to ride the “L”, we will be able to determine how much more quickly customers are able to board buses and how bus service reliability is improved,” said CTA President Dorval Carter in a statement.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
View Comments

No, Uber’s Not Going to Replace Buses, But It Can Complement Them

Not a day goes by without a raft of stories about “new mobility” providers — ride-hailing companies like Uber or car-share services like Car2Go that have tapped into recent technological advances to provide new ways to get around.

ansas City is using the private vanpool service Bridj to link two neighborhoods with weak transit connections. Image: Bridj

Kansas City teamed up with the private vanpool service Bridj to link two neighborhoods that the bus network didn’t connect well. Image: Bridj

In a new report, “Private Mobility, Public Interest” [PDF], TransitCenter deflates some of the hype surrounding these services while laying out several opportunities for productive collaboration between public transit agencies and private mobility providers.

Despite what you may have read, none of these services will replace transit — at least not buses and trains that move large numbers of people. But that doesn’t mean they can’t help transit agencies improve service, diversify their offerings, and operate more effectively.

Based on interviews with more than a hundred people working on mobility in the public and private sectors, TransitCenter’s report examines the opportunities for transit agencies to team up with mobility companies. If transit agencies keep the core values of providing “equitable, efficient, affordable, and sustainable transportation” in mind, TransitCenter writes, they can forge new partnerships that yield broad public benefits.

Here are some of the most fertile areas for collaboration.

Convenient, Cost-Effective Paratransit

Paratransit for riders with disabilities is usually among the most expensive types of service for transit agencies to provide. This can strain budgets and drain resources from other transit services. If agencies can provide paratransit at lower costs per trip, they can free up resources to run more bus or train service.

Both Boston and Washington have started to experiment with contracting paratransit to taxi and ride-hailing companies that can not only operate the service more cost-effectively, but also offer riders more convenience.

Read more…


The 31st Street Bus Rides Again – Now Can Residents Keep It Rolling?


Tuesday’s Launch. Photo: Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community

On Tuesday, almost 20 years after the CTA axed the 31st Street bus route, the line began running again on a pilot basis. A little after 10 a.m., the first run of the resurrected route rolled out of the Ashland Orange Line station, cheered on by residents, community activists, and politicians.

The question is, with a limited route, frequency, and service hours, and weekday-only operation, will the route garner the 830 average daily trips the CTA wants to see during the six-month test in order to make the bus line permanent? Locals are determined to make it happen.

Groups like the Bridgeport AllianceCoalition for a Better Chinese American Community, and the Crosstown Bus Coalition lobbied the transit agency to restore the service, in conjunction with Northsiders’ efforts to bring back the full #11 Lincoln Avenue bus route. The #11 relaunched in June for a six-month pilot with buses running every 16-22 minutes between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays, and a target of 1,500 average daily trips.

14183686_10157299833935532_214233846197782672_n 2

The maiden voyage of the #31 bus. Photo: Tom Gaulke

The #31 pilot features the same limited service hours, but the South Side buses are only running every half hour. The CTA has noted that this is twice the frequency that existed when the 31st Street line was canceled. But residents have also pointed out that the new service doesn’t provide access to 31st Street Beach and the Lakefront Trail but instead stops more than a half mile west at the Lake Meadows Shopping Center.

Regardless, at Tuesday’s launch community activists celebrated their successful campaign to bring back the bus. “We’ve been working on this for several years,” First Lutheran Church of the Trinity pastor Tom Gaulke, a member of the Bridgeport Alliance, told DNAinfo. “For a while I thought we weren’t going to get it, but it turns out that the persistence of grass roots organizing and a collaboration across communities, across racial and economic lines, across ethnic lines, actually does pay off sometimes.”

A press release from the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community notes that the Near South Side’s changing demographics means there’s more demand for the bus than there was back in the Nineties. “The neighborhoods along 31st Street have changed significantly in the past twenty years, with more diverse residents, particularly new immigrants who are low-­income with limited English proficiency,” it stated. “Without many east­-west public transit options between Cermak/Archer and 35th, many struggle[d] to access the increasing number of churches, parks, senior centers, businesses, schools and tutoring centers along 31st Street.”

Read more…


Improvements to South Side Bus and Rail Service Kick Off This Weekend

South Side Improvement poster

Map of the new transit service. Click to Enlarge. Image: CTA

The announcement that, starting Labor Day weekend, six bus lines on the South Sides will offer more frequent and/or extended service, appears to be good news for transit riders in underserved neighborhoods. The service improvements will be paid for out of the CTAs operating budget.

Mayor Rahm Emauel and CTA president Dorval Carter, Jr. heralded the new bus service at the CTA’s 95th Street Red Line Station. While these improvements are much needed in South Side communities with limited transit service, the initiative is also part of Emanuel’s campaign to improve his standing with African-American voters in the wake of the LaQuan McDonald police shooting scandal.

Streetsblog’s Steven Vance also floated the idea that, since some of these service improvements will occur in parts of town that would be served by the Red Line extension, the initiative may also be a strategy to reduce demand for that project, which would cost more than $2 billion.

“This increase in bus service will mean greater access to jobs, education and opportunities for residents of the South Side,” said Emanuel in a statement. “By providing improved and more frequent service, we help customers get to their destinations more conveniently and create a positive impact on the surrounding regional economy.”

According to the CTA, the first recent improvements to bus service on the South Side began on June 20, when service on the #26 South Shore Express was extended into the weekday morning and evening hours.

The following improvements will go into effect this Sunday, September 4.

  • A new #95 95th bus line will combine the former #95E 93rd/95th and #95W West 95th routes to create a continuous route between 92nd/Buffalo on the east to 87th/Damen on the west. This will make the 95th Street bus the furthest-south east-west route to cover the entire city – currently it’s the #87 8th bus. More frequent service will be provided west of 95th/State on weekdays and weekends.
  • #4 Cottage Grove: Some trips will be extended south of 95th to 115th Street/Cottage Grove to provide connections to 95th Street retail for residents along Cottage Grove.
  • #71 71st/South Shore: The route will offer more frequent bus service south of 73rd/South Shore to 112th/Torrence on weekdays and weekends

Read more…