CTA rail ridership in 2014 soars to highest levels in more than 50 years; Seventh straight year overall annual ridership has topped half a billion rides

March 6, 2015

Bus ridership declines in 2014, but stabilizes late in the year and rebounds in January

The number of rides provided on CTA’s rail system rose to 238.1 million in 2014, the highest level for rail ridership since the agency began tracking ridership in 1961. What’s more, 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.

This historic rail ridership in 2014 occurred during an unusual year that saw total transit ridership affected by a number of extraordinary circumstances -- including Chicago’s coldest, snowiest winter in decades. CTA ridership was also affected by the continuing long-term migration by riders to rail from bus transportation, a trend seen nationwide among many transit agencies. Bus ridership grew for a second straight month in January 2015, a sign that bus ridership is stabilizing.

For the year, CTA ridership reached 514,546,175, a 2.8 percent decline from 2013 that was in line with CTA projections. Total rail ridership grew 3.9 percent during 2014 compared with 2013 and bus ridership fell 8.0 percent, particularly affected by the extreme weather during January and February 2014.

“These historic increases in rail ridership prove that our investments in the CTA are starting to pay dividends for residents in every neighborhood. These projects are creating local jobs all throughout Chicago today and helping to keep our city on the move for tomorrow,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “While we have made progress, there is more work to do so now is the time to keep our momentum going so we can drive ridership higher and make sure that Chicago remains economically competitive in every neighborhood for years to come.”

“The record demand for rail service continues as the CTA continues to make the unprecedented transit investments initiated by Mayor Emanuel to improve and modernize our system,” said CTA President Forrest Claypool. “We’ve been able to make these extensive improvements while still holding the line on base fares and while adding service to meet demand.”

The modernization investments since 2011 include:

  • Nearly a third of CTA rail stations receiving renewal, renovation or reconstruction work
  • Improving rail service by reconstructing and upgrading tracks, from the Red Line South reconstruction in 2013 to multiple track projects across Blue, Brown and other rail lines to reduce slow zones and increase service speed, reliability and comfort
  • Replacing or overhauling nearly all of CTA’s bus and rail fleets
  • Improving technology, including adding more CTA Bus and Train Tracker displays at shelters and rail stations for customer convenience


Bus and rail ridership both climbed in January 2015. Total ridership for the month rose 5.2 percent compared with January 2014. Bus ridership climbed 5.6 percent and rail ridership increased 4.7 percent. The bus ridership increase for January 2015 continues to demonstrate a trend towards stabilization of bus ridership following December 2014’s slight bus ridership increase of 0.1 percent.

Rail ridership

The CTA’s total rail ridership in 2014 increased to 238.1 million, a nearly 4 percent increase from 2013 and topping by 7 million the record rail ridership set in 2012. The CTA has continued to see a long-term shift in rail ridership similar to other large transit agencies.

Factors influencing rail ridership include:

  • Unprecedented rail investment/modernization in last four years. About one-third of all CTA rail stations received some form of significant improvement work to full reconstruction, in addition to CTA’s “Renew Crew” effort that updated 100 rail stations in 2012.
  • Population has grown in areas of the city near rail lines, including the Red and Blue lines. New stations—Morgan (2012) and Oakton (2012) have attracted new riders. The CTA’s newest station, Cermak/McCormick Place, opened February 8, 2015 and provides new rail access to the burgeoning Near South Side.
  • Red Line South—Ridership has surpassed pre-reconstruction levels for branch between Roosevelt and 95th Street in just one year’s time, following 2013’s full reconstruction that reduced commute times by up to 20 minutes.
  • Rollout of CTA Train Tracker to every rail station increasing convenience of rail.
  • New rail cars – more than 600 new rail cars added to fleet.  Rail cars built in late 1960s (“2200-series”) and mid- to late-1970s (“2400-series”) have been retired.
  • The CTA has reduced slow zones throughout its system by about 20 percent since 2011, improving reliability of travel for our customers.
 
Bus ridership

Bus ridership declined 8 percent in 2014 over the previous year to 276.3 million. Bus ridership was significantly affected by the bitter cold and snowy weather experienced in the first part of 2014; however, bus ridership by the end of 2014 showed that ridership had stabilized, which is expected to continue in 2015.

Factors affecting bus ridership last year included:

  • Bus rides are more susceptible to extreme weather conditions such as the extraordinary snow and cold that hit Chicago in January and February 2014, during which nearly 6 million fewer bus rides were taken than in January and February 2013 – a historically severe and unusual decline in ridership.
  • Since bus is the primary transit mode for many Chicago students, bus ridership is affected more than rail by loss of school days. In the 2014 calendar year, Chicago Public Schools had 10 fewer school days than the prior year. 2013 had the earliest ever district-wide start for students, August 26, after having the latest end to a school year for students, June 24.
  • Bus ridership in 2013 was boosted for the five months the Red Line South was closed for reconstruction, as displaced rail customers switched to nearby bus service and free bus shuttles during the construction period. In line with expectations and as bus customers returned to the Red Line South, ridership on many of those routes was lower in 2014 because the Red Line South was open. Bus ridership in 2013 was also bolstered by unusually warm weather in January and February, including a high of 63 degrees on January 29 and multiple days in the 40s and 50s.


The CTA continues to invest in improving bus service. The agency’s efforts include replacing or overhauling nearly its entire fleet of more than 1,800 buses; partnering with the Chicago Department of Transportation on the Loop Link project to improve transportation in the central business district and between Chicago’s neighborhoods and the Loop; continuing to study proposed Bus Rapid Transit for Ashland Avenue; seeking funding for traffic signal prioritization on some heavily traveled bus routes in Chicago to increase bus speeds and route efficiency; and expanding CTA Bus Tracker at bus shelters and rail stations to improve customer convenience.

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