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Public transit use inched up in the past 5 years: RTA study

GRAPHIC: RTA ridership increase: 2008-2012

GRAPHIC: RTA ridership increase: 2008-2012

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Updated: March 8, 2014 6:27AM



Fueled by healthy jumps in CTA rail and special Pace disabled service, transit use over the Chicagoland area inched upward in the past five years — providing 13 million more rides over the period, a new RTA study indicated Thursday.

The economic recession clearly took its toll during the beginning of the years studied — 2008 to 2012, said RTA Chief Financial Officer Bea Reyna-Hickey.

It led to fewer commuters, cuts in service and fare increases.

“However,” Reyna-Hickey said, “as economic conditions have begun to steadily improve, transit ridership in the six-county region has risen among each of the transit agencies.’’

Metra suburban rail, Pace suburban bus and CTA bus service all saw rides decline between 2008 and 2012. However, Pace rides were up in the last two years analyzed, and Metra ridership is finally expected to take an uptick in 2013.

Meanwhile, every CTA rail line showed an increase during the half-decade, with the Brown Line leading the pack — up 39.4 percent. Overall, CTA rail ridership jumped 16.7 percent from 2008 to 2012.

Some of the boost in Pace ADA paratransit ridership for the disabled, RTA officials say, could be tied to the aging of the area’s Baby Boomers — the largest and first batch of which would have hit age 66 in 2012. Pace ADA paratransit special-order van rides increased 16 percent over the five years studied, RTA officials said.

During that time, Pace improved its paratransit booking and dispatch system, which may have encouraged more ridership, said Pace spokesman Patrick Wilmot.

But in addition, the increased use of paratransit may reflect that more people with disabilities are opting for an independent living situation over a nursing home, Wilmot said. That means they could be ordering paratransit for transportation to grocery stores, medical appointments, work or other events that a nursing home would have arranged transport to — or would have made unnecessary — in the past, Wilmot said.

“We’re proud to do our part to help people live independently,’’ said Wilmot.

Metra suburban rail and Pace suburban bus service both saw declines of just over 6 percent between 2008 and 2012, but both dropped from either all-time or nearly-all-time highs in 2008 — the kickoff year of the nation’s recession.

CTA bus ridership also took a hit, down 4.1 percent over the five-year period, according to the RTA study. The CTA increased fares and reduced both its rail and bus service over the period analyzed, but trimmed bus service more severely, the study indicated.

Metra rides dropped by 6.3 percent over the half-decade, with ridership falling on nine of its 11 lines. The period included three Metra fare increases but the biggest Metra ridership loss came in 2008 as a result of the recession, the study found.

Metra officials say they are now on the rebound. They expect 2013 rides to be up more than a full percentage point from 2012 following several marketing campaigns, new promotions and other efforts.

Add together the ups and downs and the number of transit rides over the Chicagoland area increased 1.9 percent between 2008 and 2012, the study found.

Ridership hit more than 666 million in 2012 — the most recorded since 1990.

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