CTA and Metra Headaches Are Making Transit a Less Viable Option on the Far SW Side

Badly planned bus stops at the 95th Street station and poor off-peak Rock Island Line service are among the problems

The north side of the new 95th Street south terminal. Photo: Jeff Zoline
The north side of the new 95th Street south terminal. Photo: Jeff Zoline

In the 12 years I’ve lived in Beverly, the public transit picture in the area has evolved. With construction progressing on the new 95th St. Red Line station, I thought it was worth reaching out to learn how CTA and Pace had decided to configure bus stop locations in the final station layout.

Westbound CTA #95 95th Street and Pace Route 381 – 95th Street buses were assigned to the same stop at the station for a few years before construction. Since both buses travel between the station and Western Avenue, commuters traveling to destinations along that stretch could get on whichever bus arrived at the station first. This solved a problem caused by these buses previously having stops on opposite sides of the Dan Ryan Expressway, before the Transit app or video monitors in the station showing arrival times existed.

However, after the station is completed the westbound #95 stop will be located on the north side of 95th Street, by the future north terminal. (The old station house was recently demolished and passengers are currently boarding trains from the new south terminal. Once the new north terminal opens, the two facilities will be connected by a sky bridge over six-lane 95th Street.) The westbound Route 381 stop will be on the south side of 95th by the south terminal. That means you will no longer have the option of waiting at the same stop to catch whichever westbound bus comes first.

Currently there are temporary bus stops for the #95 and Route 381 buses on the east side of the south terminal, on opposite sides of State Street. The temporary #95 stop is on the west side of State, next to the terminal, and the Route 381 stop is on the east side of the street.

The temporary stop for the Pace Route 381 bus is located far from the station entrance near the stoplight. Photo: Anne Alt
The temporary stop for the Pace Route 381 bus is located far from the station entrance near the stoplight. Photo: Anne Alt

I wrote the CTA to ask if they would consider consolidating the two bus stops on 95th again after the station rehab is complete. “We took a look at the plans to see if there was a feasible option for making these routes adjacent, and considered a number of alternative options,” a CTA spokesperson responded via email. “After taking [your] comment into consideration, we determined that the [new] layout best served the needs of the majority of customers… There will be additional signage and screens that show real-time information at each stop and throughout the terminal to minimize confusion.”

Whoever wrote that response has obviously never tried to catch a westbound 95th Street  bus at this station. Their tone-deaf answer fails to take rider needs into account, especially those of people with disabilities or folks traveling with small children. The Transit app and the CTA Bus Tracker monitors sometimes show “phantom buses,” indicating that a bus is about to arrive when there actually isn’t one nearby, which adds to the problem.

Picture yourself at the 95th station looking at a Bus Tracker monitor or at the Transit app on your phone. It lists the next Route 381 bus arriving in five minutes and the next #95 in 7 minutes. You go to the 381 stop. At two or three minutes to arrival time, that 381 bus vanishes from the arrival list, which now shows the next 381 arriving in 30 minutes. The next 95 arrives in two minutes, not enough time to allow for going to the upper level of the station, crossing 95th via the sky bridge and going down to street level to reach the #95 stop. You miss the #95 and end up waiting 20 minutes or more for the next one.

I experienced a version of this recently, when a Route 381 bus vanished from the Bus Tracker, and I missed the next #95 because the stop was on the other side of State Street. That cost me an extra 20 minutes of waiting time for the next bus – and this was during the evening rush. Missing the next bus was a common problem in the days before the #95 and Route 381 buses assigned to the same stop. Having more monitors in the station showing arrival times will not solve this problem.

At a minimum, these stops need to be on same side of 95th Street. I understand that managing traffic flow for 11 CTA and five Pace routes, plus intercity buses, is complex. However, CTA’s planned bus stop configuration is the worst possible situation for passengers transferring from red line or other buses to the #95 or Route 381. It will result in missed connections for many riders, causing preventable delays in arriving at their destinations. More time spent waiting at a bus stop also creates personal security issues for customers, particularly female, elderly, and disabled riders, especially at night.

Meanwhile, Metra ticket prices have risen each of the last three years due to state transit funding cuts (CTA fare also rose by a quarter this year for the same reason), making it increasingly unaffordable to many people, while Metra service has been getting worse. So having reliable CTA and Pace service is more important than ever.

A Metra Rock Island Line train arrives at 95th Street and Wood. Photo: Anne Alt
A Metra Rock Island Line train arrives at 95th Street and Wood. Photo: Anne Alt

With fewer Metra Rock Island Line runs available, CTA and Pace service is crucial, even for Far South Siders who can afford the higher Metra fares. On weeknights after rush hour, the Rock Island runs at 75-90 minute intervals. On weekends, there are 2-3 hour gaps between trains. In addition, at the Rock Island’s downtown terminal at LaSalle Street, a lengthy construction project is making the facility more difficult and unpleasant to use.

The overall quality of Rock Island service has taken a steep dive in the past five years, and whether or not transit access is convenient and reliable has a big impact on whether a neighborhood is considered a desirable place to live. It’s already having an effect in the 19th Ward, where I live.

I have met singles and couples in their 20s and 30s, mostly from other parts of the city, who moved to Beverly or Morgan Park in recent years partly because they valued the ability to conveniently walk, bike, and take transit to where they need to go. A number of them have left because Metra, CTA and Pace have failed to provide service that would allow them to enjoy activities downtown and in other parts of the city without requiring a lot of driving or extremely long transit trips. This is critical during non-commute hours, especially on weekends.

In the last few years, Metra has become increasingly stingy with the number of available, open cars on off-peak trains. Many off-peak trains now have only one open car. If that car is overcrowded or there are too many passengers to allow all who need ADA space to use it, the two conductors (each is supposed to cover up to two open cars) often refuse to open a second car so that people who don’t need ADA space can move to accommodate those who do. As a result, Metra is losing potential passengers, whether or not they need ADA accommodations. This practice, combined with skyrocketing fares, frequent delays and reduced service frequency, has alienated many people.

If you identify with these problems, you have probably experienced some version of them. Perhaps they are eroding your quality of life and ability to get things done. Maybe they drove you to give up on transit and spend more time in cars, whether you are driving or taxing taxis or ride-share. When transit doesn’t feel reliable or becomes so unpleasant that it doesn’t seem like an option anymore, we all lose. We have less time for what we want to do, more congestion, road rage and air pollution, and less money in our pockets because we end up spending more to get where we’re going.

You may have specific issues that are different from the ones I described above, but I’m sure you have some. We need to fight for better transit, not give up and become part of the car-dependency problem. Please write to your alderman, state senator and state representative, Cook County commissioner, and Metra, the CTA, and Pace. Reach out to Chicago mayoral candidates and tell them that better transit matters to you. I know that all of this is a lot to ask, but we have a lot to lose if transit gets worse instead of better.

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  • Carter O’Brien

    Preach, Anne Alt!!!

  • Tone deaf is exactly right. A serious answer would have provided at least one example of a situation where their version of the bus stops was better for other rider situations. It sure sounds like the CTA is not interested in working with the community. Shame on them!

  • CIAC

    “Picture yourself at the 95th station looking at a Bus Tracker monitor or at the Transit app on your phone. It lists the next Route 381 bus arriving in five minutes and the next #95 in 7 minutes. You go to the 381 stop. At two or three minutes to arrival time, that 381 bus vanishes from the arrival list, which now shows the next 381 arriving in 30 minutes..I experienced a version of this recently,.”

    My guess is that’s probably an issue with routes that start at or near the particular location, which I see on Pace’s website is the case with the 381. The one recent time I took a westbound bus on Madison on the so-called “Loop Link”, which the CTA spent millions of dollars to look shiny and nice, the arrival information was complete garbage. I think the arrival information sign said at first there were about three buses coming within five minutes and it ended up being about ten minutes before the first one arrived. Perhaps someone can chime in to say whether that’s something that occurs regularly in that area. It’s probably a result of the fact that most bus routes there start a couple blocks east. It’s likely a little harder for the system to predict arrival times of buses that aren’t on route yet.

  • what_eva

    A few issues I’ve seen:

    Often a bus may turn around at the end of the route and start back the other way. If you look at individual buses, when they’re on time/early, you’ll see a time gap where the bus is sitting at the endpoint for 5-10 minutes (or longer depending on schedule). If the bus is running late, bus tracker will assume the bus will start back without any stop. That may or may not be the case, as the driver may have a break or might need a restroom which takes time.

    Bus tracker seems to do a terrible job with traffic and bad intersections. I often get a bus just after it’s gone through a major 6-way intersection. It can take 2-3 lights to get through that intersection but bus tracker always shows it as being quick. With Loop Link buses that may be turning around on Michigan Avenue in bad traffic, this could easily be affecting the times you saw.

  • Anne A

    I think that some of the phantom bus situations may be buses that are approaching the end of a run, then going out of service. Perhaps they are empty and they go directly to the garage rather than going into the station – just a guess.

    The 95th St. red line station is the eastern endpoint for the 381 Pace bus. Throughout the day, most of these buses come into the station. The driver has a break for a little while, then gets back on the bus to start the next westbound run.

  • Anne A

    “If the bus is running late, bus tracker will assume the bus will start back without any stop. That may or may not be the case, as the driver may have a break or might need a restroom which takes time.”

    True, but the bus would still need to come into the station for this to happen. In the phantom bus situation I described, no 381 bus came to the station anywhere near the time frame predicted by bus tracker.

    It seems like a lot of bus tracker weirdness happens around the start or end of routes. I’ve seen bus tracker weirdness with the Loop Link, so I get what you’re saying. Michigan Ave traffic can really mess with projected arrival times.

  • TRPCLRMNTCST

    Once again, the South Side and burbs get stiffed by the transit authorities. We pay the same taxes but have no weekend service on Southwest and Heritage Corridor. That means that some lucky schmo in Kenosha, WI— pays no sales tax—- gets weekend service. Oh, what it must be like to live on the north shore!

  • CIAC

    The Metra Electric has the most service of any Metra line and it has the most stops in the city. In fact, the south side has far more Metra stops than the north side. You are not correct that the Southwest line has no weekend service. It has somewhat limited weekend service, but it does have weekend service. The North Central line, by the way, doesn’t have any weekend service. So if the logic you are using, that there’s one line that goes to the south that has limited weekend service and this means the “south side and [south] burbs get stiffed”, it doesn’t go very far. The Rock Island Line also has service that is as frequent as the average Metra line that goes north or west. As for the CTA, the trains on the south side go much faster than the north side because there are fewer stops and the buses go faster because there is less traffic congestion. So I don’t see much evidence that the south side and south suburbs “get stiffed” especially when you consider there are both fewer residents in those areas and fewer transit passengers.

  • TRPCLRMNTCST

    1. No connections between Metra and CTA on the South Side- Look at Evanston, Jefferson Park for North Side Examples. The BNSF doesnt connect to the Pink Line at all and they serve the same area.
    2. The fact that Metra Electric is not a Rapid Transit Service (see CTA Gray Line) is further example for my point- South Side public transit is not invested in. Stations every half mile, service every hour, twice as expensive at CTA- how does that make sense?
    3.There are three trains on saturday on Southwest. If that counts as “service”, you have no clue what its like not to have a car. Also, there are two lines NEXT TO EACHOTHER with poor service. This is not the case on the north side and suburbs, where a better train is a short car or bus ride away.
    4. As for your claim about the CTA trains going faster, it is generally because the stations on the newer lines are not located in the center of neighborhoods, but rather on the edges. The Dan Ryan was built to segregate black Bronzeville from white Bridgeport. Oh and incidentally there is a transit stop in the median. The Orange Line station locations are pitiful and neglect neighborhoods like Archer-focused Brighton Park.
    5. Perhaps you dont see evidence because you dont go there. My biggest complaint about this city is the mental redline that most residents have in their head about “good” and “bad” neighborhoods. Let’s hope that in the future the funding sources dont make those same choices.

  • Anne A

    Most of the orange line stations are in locations that aren’t exactly pedestrian and bike friendly. The one at 49th & Western is the worst. If you aren’t getting there by bus, it’s a bit challenging.

  • Anne A

    If I get together with friends downtown after work, or go to a concert, there’s a good change that the reduced Metra schedule won’t synch well with my plans (especially for a concert). Then I’m depending on CTA/Pace and I never know how long my connection will take at 95th St. When the 95 and 381 were at the same stop, I generally didn’t wait more than 15 or 20 minutes and sometimes got a bus right away, which meant that my door-to-door time for getting home was somewhere in the 60-75 minute range. With the 95 and 381 at stops far from each other, making that connection is less predictable.

    If I’m coming from Albany Park or Lakeview or Rogers Park, it may take as long as an hour to reach 95th St. With less frequent evening/night runs, I sometimes end up waiting 30 minutes or more for a bus, followed by a bus ride of about 15 minutes. I never know what my door-to-door time will be. I think the longest was 2.5 hours.

  • david vartanoff

    Part of the issue with bus tracker, assuming it is similar to the original NextBus is that the software includes the
    official schedule of the busrun. So, when a bus is ‘invisible’ to the system, the tracker ‘assumes’ it will depart on time. In some online versions a prediction will have an asterisk noting it has not yet actually left the terminal.
    Want to agree with the other poster who mentioned the Gray Line Project. IMHO both MED and at a minimum RI Suburban division should be fare integrated w/ CTA.
    As well, the conductors on Metra system wide need to open more cars when they are part of the train.
    In terms of the presumed ‘need to lift tickets’ exzcuse, it is longpast time for Metra to go POP with Ventra card readers on all platforms. On board crews should no longer emulate 19th century behavior punching tix.

  • Anne A

    Ironically, one of the problems I’ve sometimes seen when they don’t want to open additional Metra cars is overcrowding to the point where conductors are unable to collect fares. That’s a lose-lose in terms of ridership and fare revenue.

  • david vartanoff

    And then, of course mgmt complains about low farebox recovery because they can’t get the crews to do their jobs correctly.

  • neroden

    What the *hell* is wrong with Metra? They need to force their conductors to do their damn jobs. And if the conductors don’t wanna, lock them out and bring in scabs. With this federal administration, you could probably get a law passed to break the Metra conductors’ union if that’s the problem.

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