Bus passengers switching to rail - CTA's cuts push up ridership on rapid-transit lines

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Chicago Tribune (IL) - Thursday, March 11, 2010
Author: Jon Hilkevitch, TRIBUNE REPORTER

Thousands of CTA riders frustrated by long waits and crowded buses have switched to trains since service cuts were imposed last month, new data indicate.

Overall, CTA ridership declined only 1 percent in February compared with February 2009, CTA President Richard Rodriguez told the agency's board Wednesday.

But bus ridership was down 4 percent, while rail trips increased 3 percent, Rodriguez said. Two-thirds of CTA rides are on buses.

Weekend ridership in February was stronger, growing 5 percent compared with the same month last year. Weekday trips decreased by 2 percent, or about 37,000 rides a day.

Total ridership in the first two months of this year was slightly higher than the same period last year, up 0.8 percent, Rodriguez said.

"It's too soon to reach solid conclusions," he said, adding, "I thank our riders for sticking with us."

The CTA on Feb. 7 slashed bus service by 18 percent and rail operations 9 percent, and it laid off 1,059 employees to eliminate a projected $95.6 million budget deficit.

There are no plans to restore service or rehire workers, Rodriguez said.

"Discussion of service restoration is unrealistic until public funding is no longer at risk," he said, referring to the state's holding back on $250 million in payments to the Regional Transportation Authority.

"Our goal is to make sure we don't have to take another service cut this year," Rodriguez said.

Meanwhile, the CTA's revenues in January were lower than budgeted, officials reported Wednesday. About $39 million in fares were collected during the month, or $5.8 million less than budgeted. But the agency reported a $1.9 million surplus for the month, attributed to lower operating expenses than anticipated, said Karen Walker, CTA chief financial officer.

Rodriguez expressed hope that the Obama administration and Congress will approve a second round of federal stimulus funds and that the state would also provide help.

In other business, the CTA board approved a contract to place more automated teller machines at rail stations and employee facilities. The agreement will increase the number of ATMs on CTA property to 97 from 77 and generate about $1.3 million over five years to the transit agency, officials said.

The 20 additional ATMs will be furnished by Fifth Third Bank, PNC Bank and JPMorgan Chase Bank, officials said.