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Pace launches campaign to attract riders, restores some pre-pandemic service 

Riders board the Route 383 bus at Midway Airport. The route is returning to its pre-pandemic schedule, with some service changes, on August 8. Photo: Igor Studenkov

As Pace takes its first steps toward reversing some of its pandemic-related service cuts, it’s launching an ad campaign to bring riders back.

The move comes as Pace’s ridership has rebounded to about 55 percent of pre-COVID levels. The campaign is aimed at white-collar workers who are coming back to the office after spending much of the  pandemic working remotely. Pace released humorous ads where workers leave home wearing slippers, and struggling to remember how to wear pants and use an elevator. The campaign emphasizes that the buses are clean and safe.

But for all the focus on office commuters, Pace isn’t restoring any of the commuter expresses, “shuttle bug” routes for reverse-commuting Metra riders, and Metra feeder services that were suspended due to the pandemic. In fact, out of the 75 routes that were suspended and 25 routes that saw their schedules reduced, Pace is only bringing back three routes and only restoring five routes to their full schedules. (That’s not counting the two services Pace brought back in July – the Schaumburg Trolley, a free shuttle connecting Schaumburg’s major shopping areas, and free shuttles to the Ravinia music festival)

The biggest beneficiaries of the upcoming round of service changes will be high school students. Before the pandemic, 28 routes had special service that picked up and dropped off students at nearby high schools. When high schools went remote early in the pandemic, all those services were suspended, and they remained suspended as schools moved to a hybrid model in the spring of 2021. Starting in early August, 26 routes are getting the school trips back, and two out of the three restored routes serve schools.

But there are also perks for returning office workers. The service restorations beef up rush-hour service on some major corridors and improve or restore several Pace connections to Metra and ‘L’ lines. Many commuter expresses that use the Stevenson Expressway and the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway remained in service during the pandemic, and Route 626 continues to provide reverse-commuting service between the Dempster-Skokie Yellow Line ‘L’ station and the Lake Cook Road corridor in Northbrook. And while the ads don’t mention it, Pace has something the CTA and Metra don’t – free onboard wi-fi available on most vehicles.

The changes will take effect on Sunday, August 8 (for routes that run on weekends) and Monday, August 9 (for weekday-only routes). Pace hasn’t announced any concrete plans for if or when they might reverse some of the other pandemic changes, saying in a statement only “continues to evaluate the remaining suspended or reduced routes in terms of increasing commuter demand, evolving Metra schedules, and resource availability.”

Reversing pandemic changes

All three routes that will be restored have weekday-only, rush-hour-orientated schedules, with buses running in both directions. Route 241 ran between Golf Mill Shopping Center and the Cumberland Blue Line ‘L’ station, serving northwest-suburban Niles and Park Ridge and providing connections to the Union Pacific Northwest Line’s Uptown Park Ridge station and several major bus routes. Routes 566 and 573 both serve Waukegan and the village of Beach Park, with routes primarily running on Keller Avenue/McAree Road and Green Bay Road, respectively. While Routes 561 continued to provide service along the northern portion of McAree Avenue, Green Bay Road and most sections of Route 241 lost Pace service completely during the pandemic.

The five routes that got their pre-pandemic service levels back increase the weekday service frequency from an average of once an hour to an average of once every half hour. Route 356 runs between the Harvey Transportation Center and DeVry’s Tinley Park campus, running along the streets along or near Metra Electric Line as far south as Homewood and taking 183rd Street the rest of the way. Route 357 primarily serves the Lincoln Highway corridor in the south suburbs, providing connections to the Metra Electric line at 211th Street station and multiple Pace bus routes at the Chicago Heights Terminal transfer hub. Route 386 runs between Midway Airport and DeVry campus, primarily along the portion of Harlem Avenue south of 63rd Street. It provides transfers to Metra's SouthWest Service line’s Worth station and the Rock Island District line’s Tinley Park station. Route 569, the only north-suburban route of the bunch, serves the Lewis Avenue corridor in Waukegan and North Chicago.

Route 383, which runs along Cicero Avenue between Midway Airport and Oak Forest Health Center, is getting some service tweaks along with greater frequency. Buses will enter Rivercrest Shopping Center instead of stopping along its edge, and service to the 104th Street/Pulaski Road intersection, which currently runs Monday-Saturday, will become Saturday-only.

Route 320 remains suspended, so Pace taped over the signs that have the route rather than removing the signs altogether. Photo: Igor Studenkov
Route 320 remains suspended, so Pace taped over the signs that have the route rather than removing the signs altogether. Photo: Igor Studenkov
Route 320 remains suspended, so Pace taped over the signs that have the route rather than removing the signs altogether. Photo: Igor Studenkov

High School Trips

School trips are specialized trips geared toward high school students, with scheduled timed to account for the start and end of the school day and the end of after-school activities. Just how different those trips are from regular routing varies. On some routes, like Route 311, it’s as simple as the bus stopping in front of nearby Oak Park and River Forest High School. Others, like Route 213, go quite a bit out of the way to serve the Evanston Township High School, Loyola Academy, and New Trier Township High School’s Northfield campus.

Out of the restored routes, Route 241 serves Park Ridge’s Maine South High School, while Route 566 has school trips that serve Waukegan High School’s Washington campus and pass near Waukegan High School’s Brookside campus.

Pace is bringing back the school trips the way they are before the pandemic on 20 routes, including routes 241 and 566, while modifying the schedule on six routes. Two west suburban routes – Route 310 and Route 315 – aren’t getting the school trips back because of low ridership. But it’s important to point out that, unlike other routes, the school trips followed the regular routing – Pace just added extra trips to match school schedules. Route 310 will continue to serve Proviso East High School in Maywood and Proviso West High School in Hillside, while Route 315 will continue to serve Morton East High School in Cicero.

While high school trips are coming back, Pace isn’t restoring the suspended routes that serve colleges. Route 696, which was the only route serving Harper College in northwest suburban Palatine, remains suspended, as does Route 754, which provided express service between Lewis University, a Catholic university in southwest suburban Romeoville, and the Clinton Blue Line ‘L’ station. The later is less of an issue since Route 834 continued serving the campus throughout the pandemic, and students traveling from Chicago can transfer to it from either BNSF or RID Metra lines.

For the most up-to-date information about service changes, click here.

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