At the February Chicago Transit Board meeting, CTA President Frank Kruesi reported that Chicago Transit Authority ridership increased slightly for 2004, despite last year's fare increase, the uncertainty of service cuts proposed for 2005 and a reduction in public operating funding of nearly $12 million from 2003. CTA provided 444.5 million rides in 2004, an increase of 481,000 rides, or 0.1 percent, over 2003. CTA has now achieved ridership increases in six of the past seven years while operating in an increasingly challenging environment.
?The year began with a base fare increase from $1.50 to $1.75; however, pass prices remained at 2003 levels," said CTA President Frank Kruesi. ?We anticipated that the 25 cent base fare increase would trigger a ridership loss of 1.4 percent, or 6.2 million rides, in 2004 compared to the 444 million rides provided in 2003. Not only did we not see the projected decrease, ridership actually increased slightly."
In 2004, the bus system experienced a 0.8 percent increase in ridership ? or 2.2 million additional rides ? compared to 2003. The majority of the ridership increase occurred on weekends and is largely due to service enhancements made to Lake Shore Drive routes starting in fall 2003.
Ridership on the rail system decreased by 1.3 percent ? or 2 million fewer rides - in 2004 compared to 2003. The trend of decreased weekday rush-hour ridership proved to be an overall downward trend throughout 2004 largely due to the slow recovering economy.
"We continue our efforts to improve neighborhood facilities and service for customers, the most important elements in maintaining and growing ridership," said Chicago Transit Board Chairman Carole Brown. ?We hope that the General Assembly will appreciate the demand for public transit in the region and act accordingly to provide the funding needed to maintain and also improve service."
Ridership on the 54th/Cermak branch of the Blue Line continued to grow in 2004 as the rehabilitation project was completed. Ridership on the branch increased 12 percent in 2004 compared to 2003, reporting 8,750 rides on an average weekday, an increase of 950 rides per weekday over 2003.
The northwest side showed signs of recovery as air travel at O'Hare airport reached pre-9/11 levels. From Jefferson Park to O'Hare, ridership on the Blue Line increased by 3 percent or an additional 800 rides per average weekday. Ridership at the O'Hare station on the Blue Line increased by an additional 600 rides, or 7.5 percent, on an average weekday compared to 2003.
In addition to service improvements, the CTA completed the rehabilitation of the Cermak branch of the Blue Line and conversion of the Yellow Line from catenary power to third rail power, making it compatible with the rest of the CTA rail system. Several major construction projects designed to improve service and facilities are now underway, including rehabilitation of the Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line and expanding capacity on the Brown Line.
"Over the past seven years, the CTA has introduced numerous customer-focused improvements to its service and facilities. We have created new bus routes and added service on existing routes," added Kruesi. ?We have added service on all rail lines and have reopened shuttered rail station entrances. We have also upgraded our fleet and increased our accessibility for customers with disabilities. Finishing a year as trying as 2004 with increased ridership gives us momentum to carry us into 2005 with a rededication to our customers and proof positive that continued investment in public transit attracts customers."
?In a year where the region's economy struggled, it is particularly satisfying to record an increase," said Brown. ?I am proud of the CTA employees who worked hard to bring about improved services to our customers. I also am pleased to know that our customers have responded to these improvements."
Since 1997, CTA has worked to reverse a 30 percent loss in transit ridership under a 21-year old RTA funding formula that distributes public funding to CTA, Metra and Pace. If CTA public funding had simply kept up with inflation, CTA would have received over $100 million more for its bus and rail operations in 2005. This sharp reduction in public funding has led to multiple service cuts and fare increases over the past twenty years, and the loss of approximately 200 million annual CTA rides since 1985. Moreover, the Chicago region now has some of the worst traffic in the nation.
In spite of reduced funding, efforts by CTA to improve service have contributed to a ridership increase from a low of 419 million in 1997 to 445 million in 2004.
"CTA looks forward to working with the Governor and General Assembly to sustain the momentum it has generated over the past seven years," said Kruesi. "This can only be done with a commitment from the state and the region to provide sufficient funding to operate the region's buses and trains."# # #