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CTA Adds Rail Service To Accommodate Rising Ridership

CTA L service from 2008 to 2015
CTA rail service was cut 10 percent in 2010, but has slowly rebounded since. Ridership has increased nearly 20 percent since 2008. Data from CTA, compiled by Metropolitan Planning Council.

The Chicago Transit Authority expects that more people will ride the 'L' next year, especially in north side neighborhoods. To accommodate this increased demand, it added six new rush-hour trips on the Brown, Red, and Purple lines at the end of September, and will add even more frequency to the Brown Line and Orange Line this weekend. Additionally, its 2015 budget will add two more rush hour trains to both the Blue and Orange Lines.

CTA projects that this year's rail ridership will be 2.5 percent greater than last year, and they predict rail ridership will grow another 1.1 percent from 2014 to 2015 -- adding up to a 20 percent increase since 2008, despite the steep recession. The CTA expects ridership to continue growing as Illinois' unemployment rate continues to fall, and the cost of parking downtown continues to rise.

CTA will add a lot of new service to the Brown Line starting on Sunday. The CTA will add five more evening trains on weekdays. On Sundays, service patterns will now nearly match weekdays and Saturdays. Instead of running the Brown Line as a shuttle between Belmont and Kimball, trains will go all the way to the Loop on Sundays starting at 5 a.m. (instead of 6:30 a.m.) until 1 a.m. (instead of 11:50 p.m.). This eliminates the transfer at Belmont, resulting in a one-seat ride for Albany Park residents going to and from the Loop. Now, the only times when the Brown Line will operate as a Belmont shuttle is between 1-2 a.m. from Tuesday through Sunday (i.e., the weekday and Saturday schedules).

The new all-Loop Sunday service on the Brown Line means that stations in River North, Lincoln Park, and Lakeview – including Merchandise Mart, Chicago, Armitage, and Wellington – will open earlier and close later on Sundays. Substantial population growth on the Near North Side may be contributing to weekend ridership growth.

These additional Brown Line trains will benefit in the coming years from construction to repair the Ravenswood Connector slow zones between Armitage and the Merchandise Mart. CTA started working on the structure last year, and moved into track work this year.

Not all expanded service is going to the north side. The CTA will add 12 more runs on the Orange Line on Saturdays, responding to a five-year trend of increasing ridership. Saturday ridership has increased 22 percent since 2009, said CTA spokesperson Tammy Chase, and just this year (January to August) is up five percent over last year. The new Saturday service should reduce crowded rider conditions on what Chase called the most packed off-peak trains in the network, with standing-room-only conditions throughout the day.

"Service levels [on the Orange Line]," Chase said in an email, "have stayed near 2010 levels... until now, when we're able to add service to meet demand."

Systemwide rail service, measured by the number of trains and hours running each day, was cut 10.2 percent in 2010, and dropped further in 2011. Since then, CTA added some service back in 2012 and 2013, but hasn't yet restored 2009 levels of service.

Population in CTA transit shed versus Orange Line shed
The population within 1/2 mile of Orange Line stations outside downtown increased from 2000 to 2010, even as the population near all CTA stations decreased. Image: Federal Transit Administration

The Orange Line's popularity is growing in spite of incompatible land uses and unwalkable stations along the line. Increasing ridership could be a result of the southwest side's growing population and larger households. The population in areas around the Orange Line grew between 2000 and 2010 [PDF], even while dropping considerably across the CTA transit shed as a whole.

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