CTA plan to reduce crowding on buses and trains is improving customer commutes

May 8, 2013

Additional service from Crowding Reduction Plan has resulted in less-crowded buses, trains; CTA continues to seek improvements

Three months after the Chicago Transit Authority added service to the busiest bus and rail routes under a crowding-reduction plan, CTA riders are experiencing less crowded conditions and better service on numerous bus and rail routes across the city, CTA officials said today.

In a first-quarter report card to measure the effectiveness of CTA’s Crowding Reduction Plan, nearly all of the bus routes that received extra service had reductions in crowding, even as ridership remained steady or grew. In addition, rail riders have seen similar benefits on the six rail lines that received additional service.

“The CTA’s goal was to reduce uncomfortable congestion on the busiest bus and rail routes, and we have made significant progress,” said CTA President Forrest Claypool. “The CTA has reduced the frequency of sardine-like commutes on bus and rail routes used by more than 76 percent of CTA’s customers, through the addition of $16 million of bus and rail service. We have a good start, and will continue to monitor trends and make service adjustments with the goal of more comfortable commutes.”

In mid-December 2012, the CTA launched a comprehensive plan to restructure its routes and schedules based on changing ridership patterns and growing ridership. The changes were based on the first holistic review of service the CTA had conducted in 15 years. Working in concert with Northwestern University’s Transportation Center (NUTC), the CTA analyzed data on ridership numbers, ridership patterns and route configurations, as well as the availability of other transit options, to maximize service quality.

Under the plan, 48 bus routes and six rail lines received additional service primarily during peak times, financed by the discontinuation of 12 duplicative and low-ridership bus routes. In nearly every case where service was discontinued, there is duplicate CTA bus or rail service, or overlapping bus service by Pace. The CTA has also been renegotiating nine contracted bus routes that the CTA subsidizes on behalf of corporate or institutional entities, to help defray the cost of adding additional service The crowding-reduction plan provided the equivalent of $16 million in added service to the busiest routes, at no cost to taxpayers.

The CTA defines overcrowding on buses as at any point on a trip when the number of passengers on a standard 40-foot bus exceeds 53, and 79 people for a 60-foot bus, and defines overcrowding on trains as at any point during a trip the average headcount per rail car is 75 or more people.


The CTA added capacity and/or extended the hours of service for 48 popular bus routes. More frequent service was provided on 42 of those routes, primarily during rush periods, though some midday and evening frequency was also added. The remaining six routes had service added in other ways, such as earlier and/or later hours of operation.

Comparing the first quarter of 2013 to the most recent quarter, the fourth quarter of 2012, the CTA reduced overcrowding on those bus routes by 27 percent. The CTA achieved those results by adding more than 9,000 bus seats on those routes and reducing wait times by nearly 8 percent. 

The CTA reduced crowding on all but one of the 42 routes that received increases in service frequency.

Looking at results on a year-over-year basis, the CTA in the first quarter of 2013 reduced crowding on buses by 28 percent compared to the first quarter of 2012. Examples include:

  • #26 South Shore Express – crowding declined 59 percent and average wait times fell 12 percent, as ridership increased 3 percent
  • #3 King Drive – crowding fell 20 percent and wait times declined 6 percent, as ridership remained steady #76 Diversey – crowding fell 35 percent and wait times decreased 6 percent, as ridership grew 2 percent
  • #134 Stockton/LaSalle Express -- 33 percent reduction in crowding and a 12 percent decline in wait times, with a 13 percent increase in ridership.
  • #49 Western -- crowding fell 37 percent and wait times declined 7 percent amid a slight decline in ridership of 3 percent.

Overall, ridership on the bus routes receiving additional service grew by 1 percent in the quarter, even as bus ridership systemwide fell by 4 percent, evidence that CTA is putting service where the demand is highest.


On the six of eight rail routes that received added service, the CTA reduced by more than half (52 percent) the percentage of rail trips with overcrowded conditions between the first quarter of 2013 and the previous quarter. All six lines showed reductions in crowding conditions and exceeded the CTA’s previously stated goal of reducing crowding by 10 percent to 15 percent.

To accomplish that, the CTA increased capacity by 12 percent, adding 18 additional trips during the weekday rush periods -- the equivalent of more than 5,800 additional seats during a rush period. Average wait times for trains were reduced by nearly 12 percent.

Crowding on each line declined as follows: Blue, 54 percent; Brown, 61 percent; Green, 68 percent; Orange, 55 percent; Red, 37 percent; and Purple, 21 percent.

On a year-over-year basis, the CTA in the first quarter of 2013 reduced crowding on rail trips by 35 percent.

Note: All first quarter 2013 bus and rail data excludes the period of March 4-8, 2013, related to the shutdown of the Wells Street Bridge to allow reconstruction of the bridge. Because that extraordinary event dramatically affected scheduled service and ridership patterns, the first quarter data includes an average of 12 weeks instead of 13 weeks of data.



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