The #31 Bus Pilot Is Safe From Cancellation — For Now

The test has been extended until September, but service hours are still limited

Photo: Jeff Zoline
Photo: Jeff Zoline

The pilot of restored service on the CTA’s #31 31st Street bus route launched in September 2016, and last January the CTA board voted to extend the test until June. Last week Streetsblog reader Cameron Puetz reminded me about the pilot by comparing it to the city of Chicago’s limited test of dockless bike-share on the Far South Side. Puetz argued that, with service hours that only run from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and don’t include weekends, the #31 test, like the DoBi pilot, seems designed to fail. Here’s an update on what’s going on with the bus test.

Photo: Jeff Zoline
Photo: Jeff Zoline

Ridership on the #31 route averaged 674 rides each weekday in November 2017. That was 81 percent of the ridership target, and a 23 percent increase over November 2016, according to the CTA. At the May 9, 2018, CTA board meeting, the board voted to extend the #31 pilot until the fall bus service schedule change in September, to allow the CTA to further evaluate ridership and collect more community feedback on the service, according to CTA spokesman Stephen Mayberry. “Extending the #31 pilot through the summer of 2018 allows CTA staffers time to gather further data to evaluate the viability of this bus service.” Mayberry added that the CTA is continuing its efforts to promote the #31 service via ads, social media, and more.

So the 31st Street pilot has a new lease on life. But with its limited hours — which are no help for getting to work or school during the morning rush or doing any sort of weekend trip — how long will ridership stay at acceptable levels before the CTA pulls the plug on the pilot, as it did with the #11 Lincoln Avenue bus test back in August 2017?
  • Is it supposed to a ridership route or a coverage route? Is it to be judged a success based on enough riders or a success because it serves an important service for a needed social purpose. Limited service so an elderly non-working population can shop or make doctors appointments does not need to run weekends and high rush hours to be deemed a success.

    I say this every time an article is written but it I is never posed by the reporter to the CTA. I can only assume that the reporter doesn’t get it. And therefore will will never learn if the CTA gets it.

    This approach is not mine. It comes from Jarrett Walker if I may ‘appeal to authority’.

  • Jeremy

    The #11 Lincoln Avenue route is a head scratcher. Ald Smith advocated hard for reintroducing the route, then kills TOD housing developments that could lead to increased ridership. There is a closed gas station and a closed 7-11 on Lincoln Avenue that could easily be turned into apartment buildings.

  • CIAC

    “Limited service so an elderly non-working population can shop or make doctors appointments does not need to run weekends and high rush hours to be deemed a success.”

    Do you have anything to indicate that the #31 bus is used largely by elderly people to shop and go to doctors appointments? What evidence is there that there are a large amount of elderly people living near that route who only are able to have doctors appointments in places where the route travels? If you look at the map you will see that the vast majority of the route is near other bus and train service. And this other service travels through areas that are much more likely to include doctors offices as well as stores than this bus would. You can’t just add routes for the only purpose being to serve the occasional non-mobile person who lives nearby and who may not have other transportation options. That just takes away from other service, which is at least equally as likely to serve the type of population being discussed.

  • Cameron Puetz

    It appears to that the CTA is running it as a coverage route, but I’d question why it wasn’t given a chance to be a ridership route. It connects 3 El lines, a college, and relatively dense neighborhood. With minor tweaks it could also connect to a popular beach. The route seems to have the potential to be a ridership route, but the service to make it one hasn’t been attempted.

  • I meant appointments and shopping for elders as an general example not a specific need for the 31.

    The way ridership vs coverage routes works is that the transit agency requests community and political input to decide what percentage of the transit budget goes to each. So for another example 70% to ridership and say 30% to coverage.

    Then once your budget priorities are set then you fund as many routes as each budget allows for. So if two new ridership routes are competing for the last of the ridership budget the the route that generates the most net ridership revenue wins and gets permanent status.

    But coverage is different. The measures for success of a coverage route are not net revenue but rather other social and community identified needs.

  • Quite right. I repeatedly point this out because I bet the CTA does not approach it as ridership vs coverage. Therefore the CTA finds it hard to justify its decisions to the public and therefore loses faith and confidence in their decision making ability.

    Of course if even we here at Streetsblog do not articulate the concept as well how can we enlighten the CTA?