Despite weak economy, CTA worked within limits to upgrade in 2009
With the onset of the recession this year, government agencies, private businesses and individual households all faced budget challenges and the CTA was no exception. Due to the significant consequences presented by the slowing economy, as the CTA developed its 2009 Budget, staff sharpened their pencils and looked for ways to streamline operations and reduce costs without impacting the quality or level of service provided. Despite financial constraints, the CTA continued to innovate in 2009 and apply the best solutions to keep Chicago moving.
This year many bus customers began to see environmentally-friendly new buses operate on their routes. Delivery of 150 hybrid articulated buses was completed by spring and, based on the performance and cost savings provided, the CTA ordered an additional 58 buses with $50 million in federal stimulus funds received through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In addition to improving the reliability of service, hybrid electric engine systems help reduce emissions and improve gas mileage, which, in turn, helps reduce operational costs. CTA estimates that hybrid buses will save the agency nearly $7 million annually in maintenance, parts and labor costs, including more than $900,000 annually in fuel costs.
Stimulus funds were put to good use for rail riders to improve travel as well. Work began in the spring to replace seven miles of track, remove existing slow zones and prevent future slow zones on the Blue Line from Division on the O’Hare branch to Clinton on the Forest Park branch. A total of $88 million in stimulus money was used to fund the work, the majority of which was completed this month.
This year CTA also completed its roll out of Bus Tracker to all of its bus routes and introduced a new customized e-mail feature that sends estimated times for the next buses arriving at a customer’s preferred bus stop(s) that can be sent to an e-mail address or mobile device. The agency also introduced a feature that makes bus arrival information accessible to customers via text messaging. Bus Tracker is a Web-based program that uses global positioning system (GPS) technology to provide customers with estimated bus arrival times and service information.
Several projects representing critical investments in CTA’s infrastructure also were completed throughout the year. In March, renovation of the Howard station on the Red Line was completed. The Howard station was originally built in 1908 and rebuilt in the 1920s. The project brought the station into the 21st century by providing riders with a new ADA accessible stationhouse equipped with four elevators, two new escalators, gap fillers and tactile edging.
The final two Brown Line stations that closed for construction as part of the capacity expansion project reopened in 2009. Both the Paulina and Wellington Brown Line stations reopened in the first half of the year and feature two new elevators that made both stations newly accessible to customers with disabilities. Work at the final two of 18 stations in the project is nearly complete. Both Belmont and Fullerton, which have remained open for service throughout the project, will be completed by the end of this year. The $530 million investment in the Brown Line has improved transit for many customers who were unable to board a Brown Line train during rush hour because of overcrowding, or who could not use many of the stations along the line because they were not accessible.
Adding to an improved travel experience, efforts to reduce slow zones continued in 2009. In the summer of 2007, the CTA began an aggressive plan to eliminate existing slow zones throughout the system. At its peak, slow zones existed on 22.3 percent – or 263,526 feet of the rail system. As of last week, slow zones occupy 5.9 percent or 70,176 feet of track. The CTA rail system contains approximately 1,181,106 feet of track – the equivalent of 224 miles.
Significant progress was also made with projects that look to the future to expand service. Locally preferred alternatives were determined for extensions of the Red, Orange and Yellow lines. The next step will be to develop Environmental Impact Statements as the agency works to secure funding through the Federal Transit Administrations New Starts program.
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