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Sure, Uber Is Faster Than CTA for Getting to O’Hare — If the CTA Rider Gets Lost

The main reason that the Uber trip from Randolph/Michigan to O’Hare’s Terminal 1 was 11 minutes faster than the Blue Line journey was that the CTA rider wasted time heading towards Terminal 3. Image: Chicago Tribune

Update 7/17/19, 12:15 PM: Chicago Tribune editor Ben Meyerson provided this update on Twitter. "Hi friends, that detail was in the original story, but that portion of the narrative was lost in translation from our regular CMS to our more robust digital projects platform. Thanks for giving us that benefit of the doubt. We're adding it back in now." 

It's good to hear that the Tribune is correcting this error. But it still didn't make sense for the paper to write, "What's the best way to get to O'Hare?... The winner was an Uber ride-share that took 69 minutes," when the CTA is likely at least as fast as ride-hailing during business hours, faster during rush hours, assuming you don't get lost in the terminal.

Kudos to the four reporters from the Chicago Tribune who undertook a colorful experiment in comparing travel modes, racing from the Loop to O'Hare to try to determine which is best way to get to the airport. The contestants included Lauren Zumbach in a private car, Ally Marotti in an Uber vehicle, Abdel Jimenez on the CTA Blue Line, and ace transportation reporter Mary Wisniewski on Metra, traveling between Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue and Security Gate 3 in O'Hare's Terminal 1, leaving at 2:15 p.m. on a Wednesday.

But I'm less enthusiastic about the way the results of the competition were presented by the Tribune, which declared that "the winner" was the Uber journey, which took 69 minutes total, whereas the paper stated that CTA trip took a whopping 80 minutes. (The article stated that the private car trip, which included parking at an economy lot, took 90 minutes, and the Metra voyage clocked in at 98 minutes.)

Now, there's obviously no question that the Blue Line is your best option if you want to save money. The Trib writeup noted that it's a mere $2.50 to travel to O'Hare on the 'L' ($5 from the airport), while the Metra journey is $6.25, the Uber trip was $38.97, and the private car trip with parking at both ends of the voyage was $57.44, or about 23 times as expensive as the outbound CTA trip.

But I'm not the only Tribune reader who scratched their head at the supposed 80-minute travel time from Michigan/Randolph to security. How the heck did that happen? It's hard to imagine the transit trip taking that long under normal circumstances, considering that the CTA estimates the Blue Line trip from the Loop to O'Hare at 40-45 minutes (which is only getting faster with Your New Blue track, signal, and power upgrades), and trains leave every few minutes during business hours.

Google maps estimated the trip from Michigan/Randolph to the O'Hare 'L' station at that time of day on a Wednesday takes a mere 47 minutes, including the five-minute walk to the Washington Blue stop. It couldn't possibly take anywhere near 33 minutes to get from the O'Hare station to security unless something weird happened

I tweeted out my puzzlement, wondering if Jimenez tried to take a bus to the Blue Line and got stuck in traffic, and/or his train got delayed. Wisniewski replied that Jimenez rolled a carry-on suitcase to the Washington Blue stop, and his train wasn't delayed. So what could explain his lengthy total trip time? The online version of the article provided no clues.

Excerpt from the print edition of the Tribune article, including the key passage omitted from the online version in yellow. Image via Dennia McClendon
Excerpt from the print edition of the Tribune article, including the key passage omitted from the online version in yellow. Image via Dennis McClendon
Excerpt from the print edition of the Tribune article, including the key passage omitted from the online version in yellow. Image via Dennia McClendon

However, cartographer and Streetsblog reader Dennis McClendon pointed out that the print version of the article mentioned that Jimenez mistakenly started walking towards Terminal 3 instead of Terminal 1 before he realized his error. That's totally understandable, since he's new to Chicago and can't be expected to already be an O'Hare blackbelt. (Speaking of which, if you ever want to have a swanky eating or drinking experience with live piano music at O'Hare in an amazing turn-of-the-century-style setting without breaking the bank, check out the Gaslight Club inside the O'Hare Hilton, mere steps from the Blue Line stop -- thank me later.)

But if Jimenez walked more than 5.5 minutes in the wrong direction, that means that if he hadn't made that mistake his 80-minute trip would have been shorter than the 69-minute Uber journey. In that case, the Tribune would have declared cheap, efficient, and eco-friendly transit the winner of the competition, rather than the relatively expensive, road-clogging, gas-guzzling ride-hailing.

But there was no way to know that unless you picked up a print copy of the Tribune. So most readers were left with the false impression that their fastest option for getting from the Loop to the airport is Uber, when the Blue Line may actually be a bit quicker during business hours, and it almost certainly is during rush hours.

But let's give the Trib the benefit of the doubt and assume that leaving this key information out of the online article and declaring automobile transportation the winner was just an oversight, rather than a case of tailoring the piece towards the paper's largely suburban, conservative, car-loving readership.

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