CTA 2015: Year in Review

January 4, 2016

Nation’s Second Largest Public Transit Provider Focuses on Infrastructure Investments, Customer Experience in Busy 2015

2015 was a year full of activity for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), as progress was made on a number of large projects, new initiatives were unveiled and the second largest public transportation agency in the nation continued to serve Chicago and 35 suburbs, providing approximately 82 percent of the region’s public transit ridership.

New CTA President Dorval R. Carter, Jr. was appointed in 2015 by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to helm the CTA’s day-to-day operations. President Carter, a 30-year transit veteran, has aggressively moved the agency forward by implementing his vision of a responsive and customer-focused CTA by re-establishing transit favorites, like returning express buses and the #11 and #31 bus routes to service.

The CTA saw significant progress in large and ongoing infrastructure projects in 2015. This includes work on the $492 million Your New Blue project, the new, $280 million 95th/Dan Ryan Intermodal Terminal, the $203 Wilson Station Rehabilitation Project, the $90 million Ravenswood Connector Project, and the new, $75 million Washington/Wabash Station, which replaces two century-old stations. The CTA also opened the new Cermak-McCormick Green Line Station and worked with the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) to implement Loop Link, which uses dedicated bus lanes on Washington, Madison, Clinton and Canal to move people through downtown quickly and reliably.

The CTA also developed unique partnerships with private companies to benefit its riders. Examples include the agreement with four major phone companies to bring 4G wireless to CTA subways and a sponsorship agreement with Sprint to cover costs for the CTA’s Holiday Bus and Train.  

The CTA plans to continue its visionary and aggressive investment into its programs services and infrastructure in 2016, as it improves the CTA customer experience. As the provider of a half-billion bus and train rides each year, the agency seeks ensure that it is always seeking to live up to its mission to “deliver quality, affordable transit services that link people, jobs and communities.”

A recap of 2015:



2400-Series rail cars retired:  After nearly 40 years of service and millions of trips, the 2400-series rail cars made their last in-service run on January 21, when the CTA retired the fleet’s remaining eight passenger cars. That day, the CTA hosted ceremonial last rides on the Brown and Green/Red Lines on a train made up of 2400-series cars that were restored to their original look inside and out.

4G Wireless comes to CTA: Mayor Emanuel announced a $32.5 million agreement, brokered by the Chicago Infrastructure Trust, with America’s four major wireless providers – T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint – to finance a network modernization project for CTA to upgrade the wireless network in the City’s subway system. T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint collectively agreed to fund the entire upgrade related to the design and construction of a next-generation Distributed Antenna System (DAS) capable of supporting the latest 4G wireless networks and mobile devices. 



$120M in Your New Blue federal funding: Mayor Emanuel and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that $120 million of federal funding was secured for the $492 million Your New Blue project, the largest investment in the O’Hare branch since it was extended to O’Hare International Airport in 1984. Your New Blue includes major track work and 13 station upgrades.

New Cermak-McCormick Green Line Station: The CTA and CDOT opened the new Cermak-McCormick Place Green Line station, which serves the growing area near historic Motor Row and provides a crucial additional transportation option for the Near South Side. Located near the intersection of Cermak Road and State Street, the station provides much-needed access to rapid transit for McCormick Place visitors and Near South Side residents and businesses.

New Wilson Station construction begins: The CTA announced that construction would begin in March 2015 on the Wilson Station Reconstruction Project, a $203 million modernization of the 91-year-old stationhouse and the station’s more than 100-year-old track structure. Upon completion in late 2017, riders will have a modern, spacious and more accessible station that will be a new transfer point for Red and Purple Line Express trains.



Loop Link construction begins: Mayor Emanuel announced the City of Chicago would begin construction on three major transit infrastructure projects that will redevelop and modernize transportation from Union Station to Millennium Park, including Loop Link Bus Rapid Transit, a new CTA bus terminal at Union Station, and a new Washington-Wabash CTA ‘L” station. Construction of the Loop Link and the Washington-Wabash station began in mid-March and the Union Station Transit Center construction began last spring.

Historic 2014 CTA rail ridership: The CTA announced that the number of rides provided on its rail system rose to 238.1 million in 2014, the highest level for rail ridership since the agency began tracking ridership in 1961. Additionally, 2014 was the seventh straight year in CTA history that the agency’s bus and rail system provided more than half a billion rides during the year.

Your New Blue progress: The Chicago Transit Board approved the award of a $25.6 million contract to F.H. Paschen and S.N. Nielsen for the renovation of five O’Hare branch CTA stations—part of the historic Your New Blue modernization project. The contract was part of a $43 million station improvement plan that will provide customers a safer, more comfortable transit experience, and are part of the ongoing modernization of CTA train and bus service across the city.   As a result, the CTA began the rehabilitation of the Addison, Irving Park, Montrose, Harlem and Cumberland stations this fall, which combined had more than 5.3 million station entries in 2014.

Second Chance Program expansion: Mayor Emanuel, Congressman Bobby Rush and then-CTA President Forrest Claypool announced that the CTA would expand its successful Second Chance program to offer diesel mechanic training to program participants—teaching a career skill that will see significant demand here in Chicago and across the country over the next decade. The program provides valuable job skills and career opportunities to Chicago residents who often face challenges re-entering the workforce. 



Ravenswood Connector: The CTA announced that it would begin the next phase of the $90 million project to rehabilitate the Ravenswood Connector, the elevated rail structure that carries Brown and Purple Line Express trains between Armitage and the Merchandise Mart. The project’s goal is to eliminate slow zones and create a smoother, more reliable ride for customers for the more than 40,000 customers who ride Purple and Brown Line trains to and from the Loop each weekday.

Red-Purple Modernization Environmental Assessment, part I: The CTA announced its plans to move forward with the Red and Purple Modernization (RPM), a transformational, multi-phase program to completely rebuild and add passenger capacity to the northern section of the Red Line, as well as the Purple Line north of Belmont. CTA published the first of two federal documents, called Environmental Assessments (EA), that are associated with Phase 1 of RPM and are part of the federally required process. The documents are an important step in the process of informing the public and gathering feedback about this critical project, all of which contribute to the project’s development and allows the CTA to apply for federal funding for RPM. The environmental review process was completed in Fall 2015.



Wilson Station art: The CTA hosted a community meeting to allow local residents and businesses to provide input on new public art that will be installed as part of the historic Wilson Station Reconstruction project. Attendees were given the opportunity to meet Cecil Balmond, the internationally acclaimed artist, designer and engineer hired to commission the artwork.

New CTA President: Mayor Emanuel introduced Dorval R. Carter, Jr. as the new CTA President. Carter, who has more than 30 years of experience in public transit at both the city and federal levels, came to the CTA from the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C., where he most recently has served as Acting Chief of Staff to Secretary Anthony Foxx. Carter became the first African-American president of the CTA since the agency’s inception in 1947.

CTA unveils new bus tracking tech: The CTA provided a public demonstration of new technology designed to provide more consistent and reliable bus service. The technology, known as Bus Transit Management System (BTMS), provides real-time monitoring of bus movements and modern real-time communications between bus drivers and CTA’s Control Center. The system allows buses to more quickly adapt to changing traffic and street conditions, and helps avoid the two biggest challenges facing bus service: bus “bunching” and long waits between buses.

RPM EA, Part II: The CTA continued to move forward with its RPM program by publishing the second EA associated with Phase One of RPM. The CTA published a separate EA in April 2015 (see above) for the Lawrence to Bryn Mawr Modernization Project—the proposed reconstruction of four Red Line stations (Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr) and more than one mile of adjacent track structure. The environmental review process was completed in Fall 2015.

CTA Customer Courtesy Campaign: The CTA unveiled its 2015 Customer Courtesy Campaign, an effort to promote dialogue about courteous behavior on buses and trains. The informational campaign, developed in-house by CTA staff, features a series of messages that were placed on buses and trains and reflect some of the most commonly heard feedback from riders about the behaviors of fellow public transit passengers. Later the 2015, the campaign won a first-place award from the American Public Transportation Association.

Purple Line Express study: The CTA offered an additional Purple Line Express train during weekday evenings as part of a six-week pilot to determine demand for later evening service between the downtown Loop and Evanston/Wilmette. The pilot was part of a study to gain valuable information in determining the viability of extending the Purple Line Express service hours, which the agency later decided against.



CTA adopts new safety initiative: President Carter announced that CTA was expanding and customizing training for bus operators as part of the agency’s ongoing effort to improve operations and enhance safety for customers. Carter said that he’d directed CTA staff to implement a number of training changes and undertake a study to identify the most challenging routes in terms of operations and technical skill.  The analysis considered a wide range of data, including traffic levels (vehicular, bike and pedestrian), ongoing construction, number of crashes/citations, passenger volumes, and other factors. The changes are in line with a new safety framework being developed by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), known as the Safety Management System (SMS). In November 2014, the FTA chose the CTA as the first transit agency in the nation to assist in the development of SMS, which will develop uniform standards to upgrade and ensure safety for transit operations throughout the country.



CTA continues crackdown on fraud: The CTA announced that its efforts to curtail the fraudulent use of free- and reduced-fare cards led to a significant drop in unauthorized rides – an important step toward ensuring the program continues to serve qualified senior citizens and persons with disabilities. Through card-verification efforts at rail stations throughout the city and suburbs, CTA teams have been verifying that individuals using any type of free or reduced-fare card are the authorized user. As a result, CTA had seen a decline in both excessive use of cards and use by unauthorized individuals since November 2014, when the CTA announced a first-ever effort to ensure proper participation in the program.

Purple Line Express track improvements: Mayor Emanuel and President Carter announced a new $30 million track improvement project on Purple Line Express tracks between Lawrence and Jarvis, a continuation of the ongoing investment in the Purple Line to improve service for customers. The project includes the replacement of track ties, restoration of track alignment and partial replacement of running rail along aging Purple Line Express tracks that serve more than 3.5 million passenger trips each year.

CTA celebrates 25th anniversary of ADA: The CTA joined the City of Chicago and transit agencies across the country to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act – a landmark civil rights law enacted in July 1990 to provide equal access to public transportation, employment, public accommodations and telecommunications for people with disabilities. As the nation’s second-largest transit agency, CTA has made and continues to make great strides in converting a more than 100-year-old infrastructure into one that is modern and meets the needs of individuals of all abilities. Under the leadership of Mayor Emanuel, CTA has added accessibility to five CTA rail stations, with seven more stations slated for upgrades; opened three new, fully accessible rail stations; added more than 700 latest-generation rail cars with new and expanded accessibility features; and added LED displays and audio assistance to rail cars, stations and bus shelters.


Bus fleet modernization progress: The CTA announced its plans to purchase 125 new buses as part of Mayor Emanuel’s plan to modernize the CTA’s bus fleet and improve service reliability and comfort for CTA customers. Since 2011, the CTA has acquired an almost entirely new bus fleet, including 400 new buses purchased by CTA, excluding the 125 new buses that were announced, and the nearly completed overhaul of more than 1,000 buses to make them like new and extend their lifespans. With the purchase of an additional 125 buses, nearly 85 percent of the CTA’s bus fleet will be new or like new, providing customers with safe, reliable and more comfortable transportation.

Improving Ashland, Western Avenue bus service: Mayor Emanuel and President Carter unveiled plans to improve the speed and performance of buses on two of the CTA’s busiest routes—Ashland and Western Avenues—through a three-phase effort designed to provide faster, more reliable commutes for bus riders on the #9 Ashland and #49 Western bus routes. The plan reintroduced rush hour express service on both routes; optimized the spacing of bus stops for the local routes based on ridership; and expanded the installation of special transit signals to Ashland and Western that would make it easier for buses to proceed through major intersections.

FTA grants $750K to Second Chance program: Mayor Emanuel, Congressman Rush and President Carter announced that the FTA had awarded $750,000 to CTA to continue its Diesel Mechanics Training Program—part of CTA’s successful Second Chance Program.



Brown Line modernization: The CTA approved a contract to begin design work on the Ravenswood Loop Connector Signal Project to replace a 40-year-old signal system on tracks serving the Brown and Purple Line Express between Armitage and Merchandise Mart stations. The modern signal system will enhance CTA’s ability to move trains more efficiently and safely. This signal project complements the historic Ravenswood Loop Connector Rehabilitation Project.

Clark/Division Red Line Station renovation completed: Mayor Emanuel joined President Carter and CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld to announce the completion of a $50 million renovation project to the Clark/Division Red Line CTA station. The project added a new entrance, added and elevator to make the station accessible, and fully renovated and modernized the station.



CTA awards 95th Street Terminal construction contract: The Chicago Transit Board awarded a construction contract for the new, modern and larger 95th Street Terminal, one of the largest rail station projects in CTA history and an investment by Mayor Emanuel that will modernize transit and promote economic opportunity on Chicago’s South Side. Paschen Milhouse Joint Venture IV won the $180 million contract to engineer, design and build new north and south passenger terminals at 95th/Dan Ryan, following a comprehensive Request for Proposals process.

First CTA subway section gets 4G: Mayor Emanuel announced the completion of the first phase of a project to bring 4G wireless coverage to the CTA subway system. The CTA Blue Line O’Hare Branch riders were the first to have full 4G wireless coverage in the Kimball Subway, a 1.2-mile section serving the Logan Square and Belmont stations. Upon completion of the network upgrade, the Mayor noted that the City of Chicago would be the largest city in North America to have a subway system with full 4G wireless coverage across its entire system of subway stations and tunnels.

Yellow Line returns to service: Yellow Line service was restored following the May 2015 embankment collapse that resulted from construction on MWRD property. CTA and the Village of Skokie announced that they would continue to offer free parking at CTA’s Park and Ride facility at the Dempster-Skokie station through the end of 2015.



CTA passes balanced 2016 budget: The CTA approved a balanced $1.475 billion operating budget that—for the fifth year in a row—held the line on base fares and maintained or improved service, while continuing historic investment to modernize the CTA and improve the customer experience.

4G comes to Blue Line: Mayor Emanuel announced the completion of 4G wireless coverage on CTA’s Blue Line—the latest milestone in Mayor Emanuel’s goal to bring 4G wireless coverage across CTA’s 22 miles of subway stations and tunnels on the Blue and Red Lines, CTA’s two busiest rail lines.

New Ventra app: CTA, Metra and Pace launched the new Ventra App, making the free app available for download and use on Apple and Android smartphone and tablet devices. The Ventra App is the first of its kind to allow customers to pay for rides on all three transit systems – CTA, Metra and Pace – from their mobile devices, transforming the way people across Chicago take transit each day. The app provides riders with a “one-stop shopping” experience that essentially puts both a Ventra vending machine and a Metra ticket vending machine in customers’ pockets.

Sprint sponsors 2015 CTA Holiday Train, Holiday Bus: The CTA and Sprint announced sponsorship support for two of the CTA’s most popular offerings: the Sprint-CTA Holiday Train and the Sprint-CTA Holiday Bus. As part of the first-ever sponsorship arrangement, the CTA received $300,000 from Sprint, one of the nation’s largest mobile carriers. The sponsorship covers all of the 2015 operational costs for the train and bus, and allows the CTA to add an extra day of service for the holiday train.

CTA expands online gift store: The CTA announced that it would expand its line of CTA and Chicago-themed gifts at www.ctagifts.com. New items include knit caps, mugs, T-shirts, socks featuring the ‘L’ map, puzzles and more.



Green Line West Track Renewal Project: The Chicago Transit Board awarded a $13 million contract for the Green Line West Track Renewal Project, a track improvement project on the Lake branch of the Green Line and an important investment for the Green Line and the Austin neighborhood and Oak Park. It will upgrade track infrastructure between the Laramie and Harlem/Lake stations to provide Green Line riders smoother and more reliable commutes and prevent imminent slow zones from developing as infrastructure ages.

Loop Link launches: Mayor Emanuel, CDOT, and the CTA announced the beginning of CTA bus service on Loop Link – a major modernization of the downtown transportation network. Loop Link aims to make it easier, safer, and more reliable for commuters to travel the downtown area by providing a balanced separation of CTA bus, bike and regular traffic. The Loop Link uses dedicated lanes on Washington, Madison, Clinton and Canal to move people through downtown, improving reliability and speed for six bus routes in the area and extending benefits to neighborhoods throughout the city where these routes originate.

Return of the X9 and X49 Express buses: The CTA reinstated the Ashland and Western Express routes as part of a three-phase effort to improve the bus speed and performance on two of CTA’s busiest routes. As part of the initiative, the #X9 Ashland Express and #X49 Western Express bus routes now run during the morning and afternoon rush periods. The express service reduces travel times for passengers on these heavily traveled corridors.



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