CTA’s bus cuts in perspective

The 84 bus routes to be cut by CTA carried 308,262 passengers on an average September 2006 weekday. At an average vehicle occupancy (AVO) of 1.2,* that’s equivalent to 256,885 cars a day of capacity. Compare to these local roads’ AADTs (trucks excluded):

I-90 at Fullerton: 244,400
I-290 at Ashland: 189,700
Lake Shore Drive at Diversey: 150,650
Lake Shore Drive at Jackson: 131,700
I-55 at Damen: 131,500
and, just for kicks, let’s look at how many people some other transportation facilities nationwide carry on an average weekday:
Bay Area Rapid Transit: 365,300 (5th largest heavy rail system in country)
Miami-Dade Transit: 347,400
Portland Tri-Met: 325,400
Metra: 310,800 (2nd largest commuter rail system in country)
Seattle’s King County Transit buses: 294,500
Denver RTD: 267,400
San Diego MTS, Trolley, and Transit: 265,200
Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro Transit: 241,700
St. Louis Bi-State Development Agency: 186,200
All Illinois transit services outside Chicago or St. Louis: 58,500
I-35W bridge over Mississippi, Brooklyn Bridge: 140,000 AADT (incl. trucks)
Golden Gate Bridge: 106,400 ADT

If the Kennedy bridge at Fullerton collapsed, or if terrorists took out both I-55 and Lake Shore Drive, or if Metra just up and died, how would this state’s government react? I bet they wouldn’t spend years squabbling, dilly-dallying, grand-standing, and pork-padding. Just because buses aren’t sexy doesn’t mean that they don’t serve the honest purpose of moving people around the transportation network — or that, when they’re cut, that people won’t be as hurt as if other modes experienced similar capacity reductions.

Sure, people will adapt to bus route elimination (reducing trips, taking alternate routes and modes), but they’d adapt to a freeway shutdown, too.

(And to answer some conspiracy theories about which routes were to be cut, even high-ridership routes were cut if they roughly parallel other services. Rush-hour shuttles — regardless of how packed — are not very cost-effective, as they require additional equipment and employees at peak hours when the service is already stretched to its limits. And CTA’s legal mandate doesn’t require it to cover Evanston.)

I might try to dig up some numbers on how much money the “casino capital bill” plans to siphon from Chicago to waste on largely unused Downstate roads — compared to the number of people who will be affected by shutting down transit services. From the Sun-Times’ Wednesday editorial:

Lawmakers have proposed just $425 million for mass transit for the entire state, and that’s dependent on getting casinos. Even under the proposed plan, we’re spending only $1 on transit for every $11 we spend on roads. Three years ago, it was $1 out of every $3.

Somehow Springfield doesn’t grasp that mass transit moves Chicago’s economy, and Chicago’s economy drives the state. Our leaders shouldn’t wait for the buses and trains to stop running before they pay attention.

* A local AVO of 1.2 is suggested by 2001 CATS observations of 1.1 to 1.25 AVO in a study of vehicles entering I-94. ADTs and truck ADTs from IDOT. Metra ridership from 2007 budget book. Other cities’ transit ridership from APTA 2Q 2007 report. Golden Gate Bridge is twice average daily toll counts from 2005, from MTC.

8 thoughts on “CTA’s bus cuts in perspective

  1. and I posted this in response. Really, though, I don’t think my sense of humor quite comes through (the link to Our Lady of the Underpass should’ve been a clue). I should’ve put “terrorists” in scare quotes, I suppose.

    Well, glad to know that my dusty corner of the blogosphere (averaging 40 hits a day) has gotten attention. Actually, not really, since the blog is to organize my thoughts, not to be a “fearmongering” bully pulpit.

    I understand perfectly well where the routes are being cut (across the city, like half of the routes traversing my already hopelessly congested neighborhood), that not all riders will switch to driving (although most CTA riders are indeed “choice” riders), and that the effects will be distributed citywide (not like a single road closure).

    I don’t see how 300K bus trips = 150K car trips, since ADT counters also count “unlinked trips.”

    However, the net effect of removing current capacity that serves 300,000+ trips per day — whether those trips are made in cars or on buses — is going to be quite substantial. In particular, downtown office employment will be particularly affected by the elimination of many rush-hour routes. And honestly, I don’t see how it’s all that different from depaving roadways. The contrast between the hue and cry I hear whenever someone proposes removing road capacity (Depave LSD, anyone?), and the deafening silence that greeted CTA’s budget proposal is disheartening, to say the least.

    The magnitude of these cuts is stunning, and will damage our city in ways we cannot quite foretell.

    Oh yeah, and your smarmy “let’s be constructive” ending really grates on my nerves. I’ve done more than arguably any other private citizen to improve bicycling options in my neighborhood, for one. But the biggest challenge for bicyclists is safety from cars, and no amount of transit cutting will help that situation.

  2. another response left there.

    Oh yes, and just to reiterate: the city’s most bicycled street (and my bike commute route) is Milwaukee Avenue. I’m sure that eliminating the #56 bus (13,000+ riders a day, on a street with an AADT of about 15,000!) will be endlessly helpful in further “improving” this bike commuting option, especially since there just aren’t enough drivers trying to pull stupid tricks just to fight their way through the congestion.

    The “150,000 new cars” statement is still a non sequitur. The point of the original piece is to say that a transportation facility that currently moves 308,262 Chicagoans every day is going to disappear soon. It should not matter if that’s 308,262 people in buses, or 308,262 people driving in 256,885 cars, or 300,000+ people aboard commuter trains — but evidently, it does matter. That’s a point worth lamenting.

  3. I kinda like the Southtown editorial board’s take on Springfield:

    “As we’ve written before, at a time when there should be more financial support for public transportation as the region increases in population and roads become more congested, our elected officials treat it merely as a legislative poker chip. Funding, as we’ve found out in this current legislative session from hell, never is a certainty.

    “How can our state leaders be so ignorant about the potential consequences of their inaction? Don’t they see the necessity of public transportation? Considering that very few legislators rely on public transportation, it’s no surprise they are out of touch with the impact it has on millions of citizens. Jobs and businesses are affected, and that in turn impacts the state’s economic health.

    “Springfield offers no solution. Instead we get folly after folly. It’s like the ghost of Flo Ziegfeld is controlling things down there.”

  4. comment at Cap Fax

    As I’ve said before, “according to AAA’s annual cost-per-mile estimates, the real cost of driving has declined 9.9% since 1998 (adjusted for inflation). Meanwhile, as of next week, cash CTA fares will have increased 59.6%. We riders are already paying far more than our share.” Even going back to 1986, CTA fares have outpaced inflation — hardly a way to encourage people to use public transit. (Yes, public transit is a good thing. It promotes clean air and water, saves farmland from urban sprawl, curbs our thirst for oil imported from unstable dictators, increases regional economic productivity, raises regional property values, etc.)

    Besides, the truly scary bit isn’t fare hikes, it’s service cuts. 308,262 people a day ride the bus routes that CTA is going to cut by January. 308,262 people will have to rearrange their lives. You worried about how people would get around the collapsed I-35W bridge in Minneapolis? That only affected 140,000 cars a day. We’re talking TWICE as many people here. Even the Kennedy moves fewer than 300,000 passengers a day.

    No mass transit system anywhere in the country garners 75% of its revenues from fares.* That’s a fact of life. No public school anywhere in the country pays 75% of its costs from bake sales, either. And another thing: I have been using the system regularly (not daily) for ten years, and I have never seen the overstaffing that people always talk about in these blog comments. Six employees at one station? I’m lucky to find one most of the time.

    * Not the USA, but Toronto has a farebox recovery ratio of around 80%. Then again, it can cost $20 in tolls to drive across Toronto, too, and gas costs $3.75 a gallon.

  5. and another. Getting wackier.

    Pluto responded to Nyborg [saying that drivers complaining about gas prices chose their fates by choosing to live in auto dependent locations] thusly: “public transit riders have also elected to live where the transportation is convenient for them and their daily routes.” Well, yes. That’s because we assumed (falsely, you would say) that such services would continue into the future. In my case, I think that was a reasonable assumption — given that six generations of Chicagoans have relied on the #56 Milwaukee bus, in one form or another, since the Civil War.

    By that same logic, I should immediately cease use of my toilet and use a chamber pot instead, because the good taxpayers of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District could at any moment shut off my neighborhood’s sewer lines. [After all, the sewers arrived long after the Milwaukee line.]

    I’m sure that news will come much to the chagrin of my downstairs neighbors. Well, they’ll just have to grin and bear it, because it’s all in the name of Lower Taxes!

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