More Chicagoans rode the ‘L’ in 2015 than ever before in the city’s history.
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) announced that there were 241 million rides last year, 3.5 million more than in 2014. 78.8 million of those rides were on the Red Line, the most-used ‘L’ line. Bus rides, however, were down 1.8 million during the same period, according to the CTA’s press release.
These train and bus-riding trends could be attributed to the completion of projects that are a part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s $5 billion infrastructure overhaul for Chicago.
“It’s more a function of completing some of the major track-work projects,” said Kenneth Thompson, professor of management at DePaul who specializes in intercity transportation. “There were a lot of disruptions of service, and that hurts ridership.”
Chicagoans’ desire to travel less by bus was due to one of the coldest-recorded Februarys in 2015, CTA officials said. Bus delays due to downtown construction could also have contributed to their decision to travel by other means.
Now that some of the construction is finished, such as the Red and Blue lines and the Cermak-McCormick Place station, commuters are eager to use the train system. Their other alternative, to travel by car, can be troublesome on the congested highways that crisscross Chicago.
The CTA system, called the “feeder system,” is built like a tree: the ‘L’ acts as the trunk, while the buses act as branches.
“So someone could take the ‘L’ out to say Jefferson Park or Rosemont, and then there are a series of buses you can take to cover other areas that aren’t covered well by fixed rail transportation,” Thompson said.
For those who study and work at DePaul, the CTA’s transit system is often the only way to commute from home to the Lincoln Park and Loop campuses.
All DePaul students receive a U-Pass, which allows unlimited rides on CTA trains and buses, a convenience included in everyone’s tuition.
However, once the U-Pass have been swiped, it cannot be used until 15 minutes has passed, a function used to dissuade travelers from getting a free ride.
According to a 2014 study by Illinois PIRG, millennials — those born between 1983 and 2000 — are traveling by transit, bike and foot more often than any other generation. Vehicles, in turn, are being used less.
During the colder months, most DePaul students seem to be taking advantage of their U-Passes to travel by train and bus, rather than by vehicle. During the warmer months, walking and biking might be the preferred option.
Ashley Castro, a graduate student, takes the train from Irving Park twice a day, five times a week. From the North Central neighborhood, her commute to school usually takes about 30 minutes.
While on the train, Castro once saw two men in their early 20s sit in the small booth cut off from the rest of the train.
“They were smoking weed,” Castro said. “And this guy walked in, took them a few minutes to realize what was happening, then they got into an argument. They argued back and forth, eventually the two kids got off the train.”
“I thought it was funny,” she added.
Rafael Bruler, also a graduate student, has had similar experiences on the train from the Jackson Red stop, and sometimes desires a calmer ride.
“Sometimes you just want to get in, and read a book, or, you know, listen to music,” Bruler said. When uncomfortable situations do happen during the ride, “you get annoyed and you just want to leave the train as soon as possible,” he said.
Stephanie Letlos, a freshman, rides the train twice a week from Lincoln Park to the Loop campus. She makes sure to get an early start in case the train is delayed.
Letlos said that one time on the train someone was handing out coupons. “If he gave you a coupon, he was expecting something,” Letlos said. “And the one person who accepted the coupon wasn’t going to give him money, so she wanted to give him the coupon back, and he just got really mad.
“Eventually he just stormed out, he left the car, he stormed out to another car, so it didn’t get violent. But it was a little nuts,” Letlos said.
In the end, choosing what to ride to school or work can come down to simple needs.
“People are looking for safe, fast alternatives,” Thompson said, “and the CTA could fit the bill on that.”