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Life in the Fast Lane: Shuttles Are Still Illegally Using the Loop Link Route

GLADSTONE Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 11.32.36 AM
An Aries Charter Transportation bus and an Aon / Prudential Center Shuttle in the Loop Link lane on Madison at Wacker.

Private bus lines in the Loop Link bus rapid transit lanes is definitely a thing.

Last week I posted footage of the red lanes, clearly marked “CTA Bus Only,” being used by Aon / Prudential Center shuttle buses, as well as shuttles operated by The Free Enterprise System. A Streetsblog Chicago reader who wished to remain anonymous provided the videos.

This week that person, plus another reader named Matt Kaynee, provided still more photos and videos of private buses using the Madison Loop Link lane during the evening rush. In addition to the aforementioned companies, shuttles run by Aries Charter Transportation were also captured using the red lanes. In some cases, the shuttles stopped to drop off passengers on Madison, which forced CTA buses to merge into the mixed-traffic lanes to get around them.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 1.19.46 PM
A Free Enterprise System bus in the Loop Link lane on the Madison bridge.

Yesterday I shared the images with staff members responsible for the shuttle buses. “Thanks for bringing that to my attention,” said Aon Center manager Matt Amato. “Right now I have someone calling our third-party bus service provider to let them know they have no business driving in the CTA bus lanes.” Amato didn’t mention which bus company operates the shuttle.

A staff member from The Free Enterprise System, who asked not to be named, was unapologetic about the company’s drivers using the red lanes. “When the city sold Loop Link to the public, they said that there would be bus, bike, and car lanes, but they made no provisions for private buses,” he said. He claimed that it’s legal for the shuttles to pull into the red lanes to pick up and drop off passengers.

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 9.32.42 AM
An Aries Charter Transportation shuttle in the Loop Link lane on Madison west of Franklin. Photo Mike Kaynee

Anthony George, general manager of Aries, says the company has had a couple of meetings with the Chicago Department of Transportation to discuss the issue. “We’re doing our best to stay out of the lanes and we’re working with the city to try and come up with a solution, but we haven’t gotten much help from them,” he said.

Aries runs shuttles for the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois headquarters and other large downtown office buildings. “Loop Link was implemented sooner than we thought it would be,” George said. “For the last 15 years we’ve been picking up and dropping off passengers at the same locations. We move 350,000 people a year through the Blue Cross contract alone. We still have to be able to provide service for these passengers.”

The Aries shuttles serve the Ogilvie Transportation Center, Union Station, and LaSalle Street Station Station, but there aren’t currently red lanes by the pick-up and drop-off areas for those stations. Therefore, it’s unclear why drivers would feel the need to enter the Loop Link lanes, except to get around traffic jams.

CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey said private bus operators definitely aren’t allowed to use the Loop Link lanes. “CDOT has been involved in ongoing communication with the operators of private buses in the Loop,” he said via email. “One issue that we have emphasized in our communication with the operators is that it is a moving violation for private buses to drive in the red lanes that are marked for CTA buses only, subject to a $90 fine.”

“We are closely monitoring traffic patterns for the Loop Link,” Claffey added. “While we recognize there is a learning curve, we expect all users of the corridor to comply with the law.”

Map of the Loop Link system. Sections outlined in gray have not been built yet.

CTA spokesman Jeff Tolman said his agency is aware of the problem. “Driving in CTA bus-only lanes is prohibited, and the CTA is working with the city to make sure the traffic rules are enforced so that Loop Link delivers improved transit service as intended,” he said.”

While it’s good to hear that this issue is on CDOT's and the CTA’s radar, the city needs to reach out to the shuttle companies and make sure that there are no compelling reasons why their operators need to enter the red lanes. If there are, a solution needs to be found so that the shuttles can serve their customers without negatively impacting Loop Link service.

But if it’s the case that shuttle drivers are breaking traffic laws merely because it’s convenient to do so, the city needs to step up ticketing of the offenders. That would hit them where it hurts – in the pocketbook.

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