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RTA 5-year Study Shows Economy’s Impact on Mass Transit Ridership: CTA Ridership Increased; Metra, Pace Continue to Rebound

February 6, 2014

The number of rides provided within the Regional Transportation Authority region’s system increased by 13 million, or 1.9%, from 2008 to 2012, with the CTA gaining passengers and Metra and Pace experiencing modest declines, according to the RTA’s five-year ridership study that was released today.

The RTA’s analysis conducted over the five year period indicates that the poor economy significantly affected each of the transit agencies and resulted in fewer commuters, cuts in service, and fare increases in the aftermath of the nation’s financial crisis beginning in 2008. Meanwhile, the economy’s gradual improvement during the past two years has helped to boost ridership to a total of 666.1 million riders in the RTA region in 2012 – the most recorded since 1990.

“The results show that public transit agencies were not immune to the negative impact of the economic recession and were forced to make adjustments,” said Bea Reyna Reyna-Hickey, RTA Chief Financial Officer/Sr. Deputy Executive Director, Finance and Performance Management. “However, as economic conditions have begun to steadily improve, transit ridership in the six-county region has risen among each of the transit agencies.”


Ridership on CTA buses and trains grew from 526.3 million trips in 2008 to 545.6 million in 2012, an increase of 3.7 percent. The increase occurred at the same time CTA reduced service frequencies, shortened service hours, and eliminated nine express bus routes to address funding shortfalls. In addition, beginning in 2009, ridership on CTA rail has increased at a greater rate than bus ridership, which dropped 4.2 percent, meaning 13.8 million fewer trips were taken by bus from 2008 to 2012.

Overall, the CTA’s rail ridership increased by 33.1 million passenger trips, or 16.7 percent, during the five-year period. The CTA’s Red Line has the highest number of riders with 75.8 million trips taken in 2012. However each of the rail lines showed increases from 2008 to 2012, with the Brown Line up by 39.4 percent (5.3 million riders); the Yellow Line by 31.6 percent (224,000 riders); the Blue Line by 18.4 percent (6.7 million riders); the Pink Line by 15.9 percent (709,000 riders); the Red Line by 15 percent (10.0 million riders); the Green Line by 5 percent ( 600,000 riders); the Orange Line by 4.8 percent (406,000 riders); and the Purple Line up by 1.6 percent (50,000 riders). Both the Brown and Yellow lines expanded service during this period.

CTA bus routes are organized by bus route group. Of the 14 CTA bus route groups, only four had an increase in riders during the five-year period. With 22 active routes, the North-South Cross-Towns route group claims the most riders with 70.4 million in 2012, increasing by 5.2 percent, or 3.5 million riders, since 2008. The North Side East-West route group, another high ridership route with 40 million riders in 2012, grew by 3.2 percent, or 1.3 million riders, since 2008. The Evanston route group, one of the smallest total ridership routes, experienced the most growth between 2008 and 2012, increasing by 14.7 percent or 303,000 riders. The most significant loss of riders was concentrated on the South Side and Special routes, which included the elimination of several routes during that time. North Side Downtown, North West Feeder, and Midway Feeder route groups also experienced significant ridership loss during the five-year period.


Metra rides declined from record high levels of 86.8 million trips in 2008 to 81.3 million in 2012, a decrease of 6.3 percent. This ridership loss was driven by significant job loss in the region and a weak recovery. It was further impacted by a significant fare increase in 2012; the elimination of the Seniors Ride Free Program in 2011; changes to the City of Chicago’s special events calendar which negatively impacted Metra’s weekend ridership; and construction on Wacker Drive presenting prolonged access issues to Union Station and Ogilvie Transportation Center. Overall, ridership declined on nine of Metra’s 11 passenger lines. The sharpest decreases were on the Union Pacific North line (13.7 percent or 1.4 million riders), Rock Island District (11.9 percent or 1.2 million riders), the Milwaukee District North (11.3 percent or 881,000 riders), and the Metra Electric District (8.8 percent and 910,000 riders)

Between 2008 and 2012, two lines showed increases in ridership – North Central Service (5 percent or 80,000 riders) and Union Pacific Northwest (3.9 percent or 412,000 riders) and two lines – the Union Pacific West and North Central Service – showed positive gains in 2012. Despite ridership loss on Metra Electric District main line service, the Metra Electric Blue Island and Metra Electric South Chicago branches both recorded ridership growth between 2008 and 2012. Metra’s BNSF recorded the agency’s highest volume of riders between downtown and Aurora with 16.4 million passenger trips.

Pace Suburban

Pace ridership dipped by 6.4 percent, or 2.4 million passenger trips, from 2008 to 2012. The agency had its second highest system-wide total for ridership in its history in 2008 as high gasoline prices drove numerous commuters to Pace buses and the vanpool program. The price of gasoline dropped in 2009, and that, along with the economy’s effect on employment, a fare increase and service reduction, caused a significant loss of riders in 2009. However, 2012 marked the second consecutive year of positive ridership results for Pace Suburban service, up 5.1 percent to 35.4 million trips, indicating that ridership is rebounding.

Pace-owned fixed route service recorded 30.4 million passenger trips in 2012, the third consecutive year of positive results after significant ridership decline in 2009. Of Pace’s nine fixed route operating divisions, three experienced growth during the five years – the Heritage (17.8 percent or 173,000 riders), North (12.4 percent or 229,000 riders) and River (6.9 percent or 80,000 riders). Divisions experiencing declines were the North Shore (17 percent or 300,000 riders); West (10.2 percent or 808,000 riders); Fox Valley (9.8 percent or 89,000 riders); South (5.6 percent or 435,000); Southwest (4.6 or 145,000 riders); and Northwest (0.6 percent or 35,000 riders).

Meanwhile, municipal fixed-route service ridership dropped by 9.2 percent or 86,000 riders as partner municipalities dealt with economic pressure. Privately contracted fixed-route service declined by 54.2 percent or 1.1 million riders during the five-year period as several routes transitioned to Pace-owned operating divisions to save costs. Pace Vanpool also experienced ridership loss, down 6.4 percent or 60,000 riders since 2008, when the agency hit an all-time high for the number of vans operated. In contrast, Pace Dial-a-Ride service has increased riders since 2008, growing 13.1 percent or 144,000 riders.

Pace ADA Paratransit

Ridership on Pace ADA Paratransit service has increased by 35.1 percent or 957,000 trips since 2008, the report noted. A portion of this growth was attributed to the inclusion of companion rides, per federal policy, in ridership figures beginning in 2011. Yet even discounting the new reporting practices, ridership still grew in 2012, increasing 7.8 percent, or 300,000 riders, from the previous year.

To read the entire report, please visit the RTA website at

Press Information

Melissa Meyer

Communications Manager
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