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CTA announced additional ORD branch trains, quietly cut scheduled service on other lines

The Division Blue Line station. Photo: John Greenfield

I got a little salty the other day when Mayor Lori Lightfoot heralded plans for pricey e-helicopter air taxi service to O'Hare Airport at a time when regular Chicagoans simply want more reliable and frequent Blue Line runs. You know the drill: Currently wait times are long and unpredictable; platforms and cars are often packed during rush hours; and in February the CTA quietly cut scheduled Blue service for the second time since last fall. That means the total number of scheduled runs is currently down 39 percent compared to 2019, per the grassroots advocacy group Commuters Take Action, which analyzes CTA data.

On Friday the CTA did announce a new effort to provide better service along the Blue Line's O'Hare branch in conjunction with lane closures on the Kennedy Expressway for a $150 million bridge reconstruction project. Starting Sunday, the transit agency began adding extra “short-turned” Blue runs on the O’Hare branch between the airport and the UIC-Halsted stop, the busiest stretch of the route.

The CTA was already running short-trip trains to add rider capacity and improve reliability during rush hours prior to this weekend, but now the strategy is being employed throughout the day. The agency says the change will help the the Blue Line absorb additional riders as Kennedy commuters opt for transit instead to avoid the roadwork. The CTA is encouraging them to use Park and Ride lots at the Cumberland and Rosemont stations.

The CTA also touted recent Blue Line initiatives such the addition of two additional trains from Jefferson Park to the AM rush schedule; the deployment of more staff to monitor the morning rush situation and keep passengers informed via announcements; and a rush-hour livestream of platform crowding on the O'Hare branch between Logan Square and Chicago Avenue.

"Despite CTA president Carter making promises that 'L' service is improving in his latest board meeting report, these schedules paint a different picture," Commuters Take Action added. "The new schedules now represent an 18 percent reduction of service compared to early 2020 (scheduled service was [reduced] 17 percent in February 2023 and 12 percent in January 2023 versions of the schedules). Not mentioned in the press release, the Red, Purple, and Yellow lines all saw about a further 10 percent service cut compared to last month."

According to the advocacy group, the increase to the scheduled service on the Blue Line's O'Hare branch comes at the expense of the Forest Park branch, which now has 38 percent less total service compared to early 2020. "As is customary, the CTA isn’t eager to share the news about cutting service in their press release. The CTA notes an addition of two extra AM rush hour trains, but looking at the crucial 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. hour at the California station for Loop-bound trains, there's still only ten of them scheduled. This same one-hour block used to have 21 trains pre-pandemic. 

Commuters Take Action has updated its interactive map of changes to CTA service to reflect these new schedules. View the updated map here.

Screenshot of Commuters Take Action's service reduction map
Screenshot of Commuters Take Action's CTA service map. Positive percentages denote added service, negative percentages denote reduced service.
Screenshot of Commuters Take Action's service reduction map

The advocacy group also criticized the rollout of the new schedules. "The CTA unveiled these less than two days before their effective date. As of [Thursday evening], there were no posted notices at 'L' stations about these changes. Riders deserve better communication so that they can adjust their trip planning accordingly."

The group added that some of the new timetables simply denote train times as "every 20 minutes" without giving specific times. "With such miserable intervals for rapid transit, riders deserve to be informed of specific arrival times rather than a general 20-minute window. No other agency provides such ambiguous schedules as the CTA."

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