In response to the current iteration of the CTA financial crisis, a deal came out of Springfield that prohibited a fare increase and continued to let seniors ride for free, but paved the way for reducing bus and “L” services in order to preserve operating cash. The service reduction took effect on February 7, 2010.
The CTA says that, overall, the reductions are 18 percent of bus service and 9 percent of ‘L’ service. The way the media have treated this, one would believe the changes could dislocate everyone’s life and bring the city to a halt. True, the service reductions may create some inconvenience and hardship, but it appears that the CTA has implemented the cuts in a way that minimizes negative impacts. While the changes are regrettable, I don’t think they are as awful as they’ve been made out to be.
First, nobody is being left without service. The nine eliminated routes were all prefixed with “X,” such as X55, indicating a so-called express route. Those routes weren’t really “routes;” they were overlays on primary “regular” routes, on the same streets. All of those regular routes remain. Further, the “X” expresses weren’t really expresses. Rather they were limited-stop services that stopped at intervals of about a half-mile. Generally, they ran only during weekday rush periods.
The “X” service was nice, but did not save a whole lot of time. For instance, between the Museum of Science and Industry and Midway Airport, the X55 was nine minutes faster than the 55 local. The “X” routes were subject to the same traffic, speed limits, rates of acceleration/deceleration, and red-light delays as the local routes. They tended to have longer dwell times at bus stops, because their boardings and alightings were more concentrated.
Citywide, CTA’s route-by-route specifics indicate that where intervals between buses were lengthened, they were relatively small and incremental. On some routes where “X” buses were taken off, the local service actually increased somewhat to compensate.
It is also worth noting that the “X” services had initially been regarded as experimental, implemented only in the relatively recent past, and were not part of the historical operating pattern.
As for the “L,” all of the routes are intact, with slightly later morning start times and slightly earlier finish times, and minor headway lengthening. As with the bus routes, lines that had all-night “Owl” service continue to have it.
For the long run, at least, there may be some positive aspects to all of this. I can think of three.
1. Everyone now knows the precipice is not a mirage. Because of all the previous false alarms and last minute reprieves, there was widespread feeling that it was all posturing, and service reduction just wasn’t going to happen. Well, this time it did happen.
As for the CTA’s operating unions, they could have forestalled a good portion of the service and job reductions by making some concessions, including postponement of a wage increase. However, the prospect of an 18 percent reduction in bus service meant the large majority of bus drivers—those with enough seniority—could keep their jobs without making concessions. Union members voted to reject the concessions. Thus the service cuts were made and jobs were lost. It would be interesting to know if the vote went more or less according to seniority.
2. The cuts enabled the CTA to mothball their oldest buses. These were pretty well beaten up, having run on Chicago streets for 15 years. They have less effective emission controls than newer vehicles, and do not have the low floors now required for accessibility.
By reducing the number of buses on the street, CTA can close its 103-year-old Archer Garage. The Archer Garage began life as a streetcar barn, before there even were buses. It never was a very good bus building. One problem has been the garage’s narrow doors. Streetcars could go in and out with very small clearances on each side. The track kept them centered. Buses had a tendency to lose outside mirrors at the doors.
I would imagine the CTA will sell the Archer Garage and property, and let others fight over the building. Look for a battle between preservationists and developers. Maybe Save the Point people & co. will forget the Point and take up the cause of the old streetcar barn. Thus, positive aspect No. 3: Archer Garage is not in Hyde Park.