At the monthly meeting of the Chicago Transit Board, Frank Kruesi, President of the Chicago Transit Authority, reported that ridership increased by nearly 5 million rides during 1998. Notably, ridership increases were seen on both bus and rail lines, the first combined increase since 1985.
Ridership for 1998 was 424.1 million rides, compared to 419.2 million in 1997, a total increase of 1.2 percent. With 132.4 million rides, the CTA's rail lines experienced a 1.9% percent ridership increase. The 291.7 million bus rides in 1998 added up to a .9% increase.
Board Chairman Valerie Jarrett noted that what was most encouraging was seeing progress on the bus system as well as rail. In the last few years, rail ridership has increased, however bus ridership declined and the net result was a loss in ridership. This year, both posted increases.
"I see the increase in bus ridership as a very positive sign of progress," said Jarrett. "We've had to make some difficult decisions in our efforts to control costs, but we've also put an emphasis on customer service and these results show that we are on the right track. When we focus on our customers' needs and provide service that is on-time, clean, safe and friendly, people use it. Going forward, our responsibility is to make sure we continue to provide a good product and that we also continue to look for ways to improve it."
"This past year we've put a lot of emphasis on rebuilding the CTA - rebuilding ridership, rebuilding our infrastructure and rebuilding customer satisfaction. We've done a great many things to improve our service and to provide incentives to get people to use the CTA. It is gratifying to see that those efforts are starting to pay off, " said Kruesi.
Kruesi cited a number of projects which contributed to the increase in ridership. Leading them was the University Pass program (U-Pass), a discounted pass program for full-time college students, which began last fall. For the first time, the CTA has data on the number of college students using the system. CTA staff estimates that of the approximately 3,000,000 rides generated last fall during the first phase of the U-Pass program, about 1,000,000 were new rides.
The CTA also had several smaller scale projects designed to attract additional riders. Last year the Visitor Pass program was expanded to include 2-Day, 3-Day and 5-Day passes in addition to the original 1 -Day pass. Visitors to Chicago used the passes to take more than 700,000 CTA rides in 1998. The CTA also began a direct mail campaign to welcome new residents to the CTA's service area and to invite them to try CTA service. These solicitations resulted in a nearly 15 percent response rate-a very high response rate for direct mail.
Other contributing factors were CTA's ongoing programs to clean subways and rail stations and to make CTA more user-friendly by posting timetables, converting station exits into entrances and installing bus shelters throughout the city.
Late last year the CTA also revamped its fare structure, reducing the price of a 30-day pass, simplifying the fare bonus options, and introducing a new 1 -Day Fun Pass and a new 7-Day Pass. Kruesi said that while it is too soon to draw conclusions about the impact these new products will have, the initial customer response has been very favorable.
Several service enhancements and new types of service were added in December, including a new express bus on Western Avenue, weekend express service on Cermak Avenue, and later weeknight service on the Brown Line. Kruesi said that service enhancements such as these were in response to ridership demands and that the CTA will continue to look for ways to provide service where there is a clear demand for it.
"All of these initiatives were done with the goal of increasing ridership and better fulfilling our mission of providing affordable transit services that link people, jobs, and communities," said Kruesi. "We hope to see continued ridership improvements in 1999 as some of these more recent initiatives, and new ones, begin to show results.
"Our employees also deserve credit for the enthusiasm and awareness with which many of them have responded to our call for increased customer service," said Kruesi. "Employees at all levels have contributed ideas and shown a willingness to try new things. We've seen a culture shift here at the CTA. We know that not every new idea is going to succeed, but we recognize that the real failure is in not trying."###