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CTA credits Taylor Swift, other concerts and festivals for highest weekly ridership since COVID hit

The agency credited a series of Taylor Swift shows at Soldier Field, plus popular concerts and festivals in various neighborhoods, for lifting the number of passengers in early June.

The crowd at one of the weekend’s three Taylor Swift’s concerts at Soldier Field. Many of these attendees got there by CTA. Photo: Miriam Nemitz

Update 6/20/23, 5:15: The Active Transportation Alliance provided the following statement in response to the news about the recent CTA ridership boost:

"We’re pleased to see transit ridership increasing and hope to see this upswing continue. Kudos to the frontline workers at the CTA who have enabled these increases to take place. As one of the most equitable and affordable modes of travel, public transit is crucial to economic development and it’s a central part of our response to congestion and climate change."

This has been a rough era for the CTA and its riders, including staff shortages, unreliable service, high crime rates, and generally low ridership. But there was a little good news today as the agency announced its best weekly ridership since COVID-19 first struck Chicago in March 2020. And the CTA credited a series of Taylor Swift shows at Soldier Field, plus popular concerts and festivals in other locations, for lifting the number of passengers in early June. 

According to the CTA, the system provided 5.63 million rides for the week of June 4-10, the most since the onset of the pandemic. "The week started off strong, Sunday June 4, thanks to the Taylor Swift fans who chose to use the system to get to the sold-out concert at Soldier Field," the agency said in a news release. "This was an increase of about 15,000 over a normal Sunday. The three-night concert generated more than 43,000 additional bus and rail rides at the Roosevelt station and on the #146 Inner Lake Shore/Michigan Express route."

The CTA added that about 690,000 people used Ventra cards on Saturday, June 10, with many going to populars fests and concerts like Andersonville's Midsommarfest, Millennium Park's Chicago Blues Fest, Wrigley Field's Dead & Company show, and the Old Town Art Fair.

The CTA says this boom reflects the system's general increase this spring. "Notably, since the start of the Kennedy reconstruction project in late March, the CTA has seen increased ridership on the O’Hare branch of the Blue Line, which parallels the expressway," the release stated. "Weekday morning ridership on the O’Hare branch of the Blue Line reached a new high the week of June 4, gaining another 200 rides per day on average, totaling more than 70,000 riders for the week."

A CTA bus heading to Soldier Field early June 2023. Photo: John Greenfield

The grassroots transit advocacy group Commuters Take Action applauded the news. "The CTA seeing the highest weekly ridership since the start of the pandemic is great news," the group said in a statement. "Concerts and other events contributing to the increase in ridership show the need for frequent, reliable transit during off-peak hours."

However, the advocates argued that CTA schedules continue to over-promise service levels to riders, causing sub-optimal performance. "Over the course of the Taylor Swift weekend, our members observed the crowds at Roosevelt station and saw a less than ideal service delivery operation," the group stated. "During the post-concert hours of 11 p.m. through 2 a.m. over the course of the weekend, the CTA averaged 75 percent of operated scheduled service and intervals ranged between 15 and 21 minutes on average. To accommodate ridership growth this summer and beyond, we urge the CTA to run more buses and trains and to provide riders with more accurate schedules."

But that's advice the CTA should know "All Too Well."

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