The CTA today announced that 2006 combined bus and rail ridership increased by 2.4 million rides, a gain of 0.5 percent over 2005 ridership, for a total of 494.8 million rides. It is the highest ridership level since 1993. CTA has now achieved ridership increases in eight of the past nine years.
CTA's rail system posted particularly strong gains. The rail system provided 195.2 million rides, an increase of 8.4 million rides over 2005, or a gain of 4.5 percent. Throughout the year, rail station entries on the system surpassed levels not seen since 1969. Bus ridership levels fell by 1.6 percent in 2006, or 4.8 million fewer rides than in 2005, but at 298.4 million rides still recorded higher levels than in 2004. These gains occurred despite the fact that CTA transferred paratransit operations to Pace in July 2006. Paratransit rides account for 1.2 million rides.
?Factors that have contributed to ridership gains in recent years include the successful completion of major capital improvement projects such as the rehabilitation of the Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line and the 54th/Cermak branch, as well an investment in new buses for the fleet," said CTA President Frank Kruesi. "Improvements such as the current initiative to expand capacity on the Brown Line will allow CTA to accommodate even more customers in the future."
At the beginning of the year, CTA raised cash fares by 25 cents to help avoid service cuts due to insufficient operating funding. The increase was carefully designed to increase revenues while minimizing ridership losses. The range of CTA fare media ? unlimited ride passes, Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus ? allowed the majority of customers to continue to travel on CTA for $1.75.
?The healthy growth of ridership in 2006 reflects the fact that our commitment to improving transit is being recognized by our customers despite some of the inconveniences that go with making those improvements. In the long run we are improving our system for our customers and providing service while that work is underway," said Chicago Transit Board Chairman Carole Brown.
CTA also implemented experimental service enhancements for the West Side and near western suburbs in 2006. Improvements include the introduction of a new rail route, the Pink Line, increased service levels on the Blue Line's Forest Park branch and improvements to 13 bus routes. Customer response to the improvements has been largely favorable and the ridership on both the bus and rail routes included in the experiment continues to grow.
Since 1997, annual CTA ridership has grown by nearly 55 million ? an increase that alone approximately equals the total transit ridership in greater St. Louis. These substantial gains mark a turnaround from the period between 1985 and 1997, when insufficient public operating funding resulting from a 1983 state law contributed to a downward spiral of service reductions, rapidly escalating fares, and major ridership losses. Customers have responded to CTA's efforts to increase bus service, reopen and renovate rail stations, rehabilitate rail lines and improve system accessibility for customers with disabilities.
Despite these improvements, the underlying 1983 state law that fueled CTA's earlier ridership decline still remains. Without changes to this law and increases in operating funding, CTA will face a budget shortfall before the end of 2007, leaving few options but to reduce service and raise fares. If transit is not convenient or is too expensive, then people will turn to their cars, resulting in more traffic congestion and pollution for the entire region.The expiration of the Illinois FIRST state program at the end of 2004 has also meant fewer capital resources ? as much as $176 million annually ? for CTA to maintain its infrastructure in a state of good repair. To ensure safe and reliable transportation, additional capital funds from the state are also needed to purchase new buses and trains and to keep tracks and stations, some of which are over 100 years old, in top shape.
CTA is working with the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), Metra and Pace, along with the support of hundreds of community partners, on the ongoing Moving Beyond Congestion initiative to raise support for increased transit funding. ?With high gas prices and congested roadways, CTA's ridership increases demonstrate that people want more transit, not less," said CTA President Frank Kruesi. ?As the RTA has noted, 2007 is the year for decision. After several years without state capital funding for transit and more than 23 years without sufficient operating funding, it is time for the region, and the state, to focus on funding transit at an appropriate level in order to expand service and fight growing traffic congestion."# # #