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
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

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.

 

  • Tooscrapps

    I’m a little puzzled they didn’t break down the segments like time waiting for Uber, time on the platform, time on the train, time looking for a spot, etc…

    Good idea for an article, but as you pointed out, very sloppy execution. I also think T2 would have been a fairer endpoint, but that’s just me.

  • TRPCLRMNTCST

    The Tribune has to be the most car-loving newspaper in this town. At every moment, they decry common sense investment in public transit and bicycle infrastructure.

  • Jeremy

    This makes me feel better about subscribing to the Sun-Times.

  • Tooscrapps

    Surprised they didn’t pick 4AM for the test time. Look ma, no traffic!

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Wisniewski’s coverage is very balanced, and she’s a multimodal commuter herself.

  • FlamingoFresh

    Wasn’t aware that online articles differs from the print articles for the Tribune. That’s upsetting. If anything you’d think the online articles will contain the additional information since space is limitless and updates to breaking stories are routinely added.

  • TRPCLRMNTCST

    I agree with you and respect her and her excellent coverage (am a subscriber). It would be nice to also get some voices from minority areas on the south and west sides. A lot of the Tribune focus is on suburban commuters and north siders. Although, a big thank you to Kristin McQueary for calling for the end of the Peotone Airport!
    (Almost makes up for that Katrina snafu)

  • ardecila

    The authors were frank and open that the Blue Line would (probably) clearly be the winner during peak periods, so they were interested in measuring the travel times during other times of day.

    Anyway, an airport traveler is probably more likely to be heading to the airport in late morning, early afternoon or evening… or on a weekend when periods of heavy traffic are more spread out. Flight departure times don’t necessarily sync up with rush hours…

    Also, I think the Trib made a good decision by assigning their cub reporters to the Uber, which is door-to-door, or the Blue Line, which has pretty good directional signage, and reserving the complicated, confusing Metra trip for Mary the transit veteran.

  • Eureka

    You really think that Mary Wisniewski’s article was a possible “case of tailoring the piece towards the paper’s largely suburban, conservative, car-loving readership”? WOW.

  • KevinM

    Great catch, Dennis!
    And solid write-up, John.
    Very disappointing work by the Tribune. Total bunk that they’d bury this detail in the print but leave it out of the online version of the story. I’m actually surprised they printed this detail at all; seems it would have been easier to just bury it all the way and not get caught.
    “Boo!” all the way on the Tribune for this false lead and obvious pandering to their windshield audience. I wouldn’t put it past them to have accepted some under the table payback from Uber/Lyft for this disgraceful advertising-in-journalism’s clothing story.

  • Jeremy

    If information in the print version is not in the online version, that is likely a decision made by an online content editor.

  • Tom Hagglund

    The 98 minute Metra trip is odd, while the Ventra app reports a 32 minute journey from Union Station to the O’Hare transfer station. Part of the discrepancy is that Wisniewski WALKED from Randolph & Michigan to Canal & Adams, while real world multimodal travelers would have covered that distance quickly via Divvy bike, taxi, Uber, the Green Line or CTA bus. Even with the time from transfer station to terminal, there’s an hour or so of unnecessary slop time in the Tribune’s Metra trip.

  • Tooscrapps

    This is why it would have made sense to break down the time of the segments. It was not fully thought out.

  • planetshwoop

    Choosing which mode to travel on depends on a lot of factors. Who is paying for it, you or your company? Do you want to pay extra for it to be quiet so you can talk on the phone? Do you care about the planet? Do you have a lot of luggage?

    One thing that I know is verboten: riding your bike at O’Hare. It would be nice (if infrequently used) if that were an option.

  • rohmen

    Agreed. I actually think it would be fair to then include the time the reporter was lost at O’Hare as a “segment” as well, as taking transit (at least in a city you’re somewhat unfamiliar with) will include how easy it will be to navigate to terminals once you hit the airport.

    Without actual segment breakdowns, though, the “competition” becomes pretty meaningless.

  • rohmen

    Hard to say how each person would handle that situation, but walking from Randolph/Michigan for someone reasonably fit is probably faster than any available CTA train/bus option, and Divvy proves hard to impossible to use if you have any sort of luggage outside of a backpack.

    That leaves Uber/taxis. But like probably a lot of people, if I’m hailing and waiting for an Uber/taxi, I’m likely going to just take it all the way to the airport at that point.

    TL;DR – walking is probably pretty realistic for most that would be in that situation.

  • Tooscrapps

    FWIW, my carry-on roller bag (soft-sided) fits in the Divvy rack!

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Correct, and see the update to the Streetsblog post.

  • kastigar

    It IS possible to ride your bike to O’Hare!

    http://homepages.neiu.edu/%7Erkastig1/bike/bik2ohar.htm

  • rduke

    As bad as this flub was, it does show that wayfinding and additional time spent walking from the station DO matter when considering taking the Blue Line to ORD. God help you if you have a flight at T5, especially now that the people mover is under construction.

    It’s always bothered me that those arriving by car get practically valeted to the terminal, while the transit riders have to come in through the dank, piss filled basement and hoof it to check in. The train station should be IN the airport, IN terminal two, with very fast and easy connections to interterminal people movers adjacent to it. Let the cars go into some crappy dark tunnel and choke on the air.

    Don’t even get me started on how inconvenient the Orange Line is at MDW.

  • skelter weeks

    It is possible to ride your bike to O’Hare Airport. I did it years ago. I had a good reason. I wanted to catch the southbound Mannheim bus, but it doesn’t stop on Mannheim – it’s nonstop there. So I rode my bike to the terminal. Not the baby way using the taxicab route, either. I went down 190! Later they shifted the buses to an outer lot, so I didn’t have to go all the way to the terminal. But you can still do it.

    The Trib should have sent someone on a bike to O’Hare. That would have been fun reading!

  • skelter weeks

    Should have taken the Loop Link bus to Union Station.You can take a bag (luggage) on board.

  • Guy Ross

    Dank, piss filled? The distances are long but I’ve never thought this.

    Thanks for the heads-up on the people mover. So, shuttle busses? (Shudder)

  • Tooscrapps
  • quinnkasal

    Thank you for writing this important call-out! The lazy Trib journalism was creating an uproar in the Chicago NUMTOT page, where none of us had seen the print version so we hadn’t even seen their half-assed disclaimer for the 80 mins.

  • rohmen

    Fair point, and interesting. I’m a daily cyclist that’s used to cycling with heavy loads on a bike, and I never would have thought to even try it with a suitcase.

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