Skip to Content
Streetsblog Chicago home
Streetsblog Chicago home
Log In
Streetsblog Chicago

CTAction: Free CTA service on New Year’s Eve “not quite as bad as last year,” still not great

While scheduled runs often didn't show up on time on New Year's Eve / Day, this year, most of them at least showed up. That's more than one could say a year ago.

“Puttin’ On the Ritz” for New Year’s Eve last Sunday, at the Belmont Blue Line station in Avondale. Photo: Olivia Gahan, Commuters Take Action

This post is sponsored by the Active Transportation Alliance.

Update 1/3/24, noon: I asked the CTA for a statement about recent New Year's Eve and New Year's Day service for this article yesterday afternoon. While they didn't immediately reply, after publication they asked how Commuters Take Action's Brandon McFadden defined "on-time" service in the graphs he provided to Streetsblog.

McFadden responded to Streetsblog: "It’s all based on the scheduled intervals according to the [CTA's General Transit Feed Specification] package. If the scheduled interval is 10 minutes, I give a 25 percent buffer in each direction – so to be "on-time," the headway (or interval) in minutes of each arrival has to be between 7.5 and 12.5 minutes. Since it is by percentage, the longer the scheduled interval, the bigger the buffer." 

"For comparison sake, Washington DC's WMATA did 99 percent Service Delivery and 65 percent On-Time Performance (systemwide) on both New Years Eve and New Years Day using the same constraints," McFadden added.

That suggests that our nation's capital, a city not exactly known for honesty and transparency, left Chicago in the dust when it came to reliable and accurate transit schedules.  

New Year's Eve / Day service did have some low points. Based on CTAction data, this Blue Line train at around 2:30 a.m. Monday had a 55 minute gap between it and the prior train (which explains the crowding), with another 50 minute gap behind it. Photo: Olivia Gahan, CTAction

As Streetsblog discussed last Friday while Chicago was gearing up for New Year's Eve, the CTA was offering free rides for the big night. But their free bus and train service was awful on NYE the previous year, when only 44 percent of scheduled Blue Line runs actually showed up. At the time, the transit agency blamed the long waits for buses and trains on workforces shortages, with a spokesperson stating there were "a higher-than-usual number of unplanned absences" compared to recent months.

This year Streetsblog didn't want Chicagoans to avoid public transportation after the big ball fell in New York City (or the big pierogi dropped in Whiting, Indiana) in favor of cars just because last year's CTA service was a mess. So we asked the transit agency what it had planned in order to avoid another fiasco after 2024 hit.

The CTA Media Department wasn't particularly hopeful when I contacted them last week. "We unfortunately have no way of predicting when an employee will call in sick," a spokesperson said. But they had taken a few precautions (their language):

  • Scheduling added trips for bus routes serving Navy Pier, as well as the most heavily traveled rail lines – Red, Blue and Brown
  • Issuing reminders to personnel of the importance of reporting for their scheduled shifts (and on-time)
  • Promoting over-time pay opportunities
  • Actively recruiting eligible personnel to take on additional shifts for the New Year’s holiday

However, the grassroots transit advocacy group Commuters Take Action (CTAction) said they were "cautiously optimistic that things will be better [for NYE] this year." But they added that the transit agency should be upfront with customers if any problems arose.

According to some Twitter users, there were, in fact, major delays Sunday night through Monday morning. Here's an example of a disappointed post.

But Commuters Take Action data blackbelt Brandon McFadden said CTA statistics show that overall bus and train service wasn't terrible on New Year's Eve this year. However, he said New Year's Day service was nothing to brag about.

"Service yesterday was okay the first half of the day [on Sunday, New Year's Eve] and rough in the evening, but not quite as bad as last year," McFadden wrote me around 3:30 p.m. Monday afternoon. "Today however is at 68 percent of systemwide rail service and trending down."

Here are some graphs McFadden put together to show the CTA's recent overall New Year's Eve / Day performance.

Graph showing what the percentage of runs that were on-time was per hour on New Year's Eve 2023 (Last Sunday).
Graph showing the percentage of scheduled runs that actually materialized was per hour on New Year's Eve 2023 (last Sunday).
Graph showing what the percentage of runs that were on-time was per hour on New Year's Day 2024 (Yesterday).
Graph showing the percentage of scheduled runs that actually materialized was per hour on New Year's Day 2024 (Yesterday).

See more graphs about the quality of service on the various 'L' lines on NYE and NYD at the bottom of this post.

So while scheduled runs often didn't show up on time on New Year's Eve / Day, this year, most of them eventually materialized. That's more than one could say a year ago.

I haven't heard back from the CTA today, but I'll add their statement about New Year's Eve performance if they send one. But an agency spokesperson ended last week's somewhat gloomy statement about NYE with an optimistic note about this year's staffing strategy.

"Further strengthening the rail operations workforce is a key focus in 2024, as we plan to double the number of rail operator training slots – from 100 in 2023 to 200 in 2024," the spokesperson said. "The first CTA hiring event of 2024 will focus on filling flagger positions, the entry-level position required for anyone interested in becoming a rail operator. Additional details of the January 26th hiring event will be outlined in the coming days."

So, fingers crossed, the non-disgraceful CTA performance over the past couple of days is an encouraging sign. Hopefully in 2024 Chicago transit service will be getting a little better all the time.

Update 1/3/24, 11:45 AM: How did the various various 'L' lines perform on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day? Brandon McFadden recently provided the following graphs.

Percentage of runs that were on-time per hour on various 'L' lines on New Year's Eve 2023. (The Yellow Line was closed following a 11/16/23 crash.) Click here to view a larger version of this chart.
Percentage of runs that were on-time per hour on various 'L' lines on New Year's Day 2024. (The Yellow Line was closed following a 11/16/23 crash.) Click here to view a larger version of this chart.
donate button

Did you appreciate this post? Please consider making a tax-deductible donation.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog Chicago

We are all in an underperforming Chicagoland transit network. But some of us are looking at the Star:Line.

According to Star:Line Chicago, "The 2034sight Plan is an ambitious — and achievable — ten-year framework to lay the groundwork to modernize Chicagoland’s existing local passenger rail system."

July 19, 2024

A semi driver fatally struck a person walking on Lower Wacker Drive. Did a locked gate contribute to the crash?

The victim may have been walking in the street because a gate limiting pedestrian access on the south side of Wacker was locked at the time.

July 19, 2024

This is Grand! CDOT cuts ribbon on new protected bike lanes on a key West Side diagonal street

The project also has lots of other nifty Complete Streets features, like raised crosswalks, bus islands, and the conversion of a dangerous slip lane to a new plaza.

July 18, 2024
See all posts