Regional transit ridership increased by 16 percent in 2023
January 25, 2024
Ridership across Chicago’s transit system continued to increase throughout 2023, according to the latest data from CTA, Metra, and Pace. The system finished out the year with a total of 326.6 million rides, marking the first time since the pandemic that ridership cracked 300 million. This represents a 16 percent increase in ridership compared to 2022.
All three transit operators worked to adapt their service to meet the changing needs of riders in 2023, one of the action items from the RTA’s regional transit strategic plan, Transit is the Answer.
In 2023, CTA rail provided 117.4 million rides, an increase over 2022 of 13 percent. CTA buses provided 161.7 million rides, a year-over-year increase of 15 percent, bringing overall CTA ridership for 2023 to 279.1 million. The CTA unveiled its Meeting the Moment action plan in summer 2022 to address workforce challenges, optimize schedules for more consistent service, enhance safety and security for riders, improve the customer experience at CTA facilities, and upgrade rider communication tools. 2023 saw reductions in crime on the CTA, improved service reliability, more accurate trackers, and regular station cleanings. To battle a workforce shortage impacting agencies across the country, CTA expanded full-time employment and benefits, attended more job fairs, removed financial barriers to obtaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL), offered signing bonuses, and improved starting rates for new hires. New quarterly surveys show improvements in customer satisfaction in 2023 compared with 2022.
In 2024, CTA plans to continue investing in its workforce to provide more frequent, reliable service. This year’s operating budget features commitments to add more rail service and ultimately return to 2019 levels. This requires hiring more operators, so the agency is doubling its number of rail operator training slots from 100 in 2023 to 200 this year. To support the goal of training 200 new rail operators, they are continuing an aggressive push to recruit flaggers, the entry-level position required for anyone interested in becoming a rail operator.
The agency is also continuing to partner with the Chicago Department of Transportation on implementing its Better Streets for Buses plan, which lays the groundwork for ongoing bus infrastructure improvements to facilitate faster, more reliable bus service. The agency also plans to expand its security program and continue its enhanced cleaning regimen at stations across the system. Investments will also be made in accessibility at rail stations, the Red Line Extension, bus electrification, and modernization of railcars.
Metra saw the largest year-over-year ridership increase at 37 percent, providing more than 32 million rides as it worked toward a new regional rail vision. This vision calls for providing more consistent, predictable service outside of peak work commute times. Early in 2023, Metra rolled out a new train tracking website, providing real-time tracking for the first time and allowing customers to see exactly where their train is. The agency also added service around major events like holidays, music festivals, and other special events. Various station rehab projects were completed in 2023, making the experience of waiting for a train safer and more welcoming for riders.
Metra expects to continue to gain riders in 2024 with new initiatives that make the service more useful and affordable, including a significant revision to and simplification of its fare structure. In January, the RTA, Cook County, and Metra announced the Access Pilot Program, providing reduced fares to riders experiencing low incomes based on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) enrollment. Metra also announced in January a permanent policy that bicycles would be allowed on all trains, and that new racks would be installed on its railcars to make room for more of them.
In 2023, Pace buses provided 14.8 million rides, an increase over 2022 of 10 percent. The agency rolled out lower fares and additional integrated unlimited-ride passes to make the rider experience more seamless and affordable. Pace also deployed more real-time bus tracker signs throughout its service area and launched a new user-friendly trip planning platform. Construction projects like the Harvey Transportation Center and South Campus project in Markham offer an improved experience for riders waiting for their bus. In addition to fixed-route bus service, Pace expanded its On Demand program and launched Pace Connect, a new late-night first/last-mile service.
More innovation is expected from Pace in 2024, including progress toward a fully electric system and a new Rideshare Access Program (RAP), offering subsidized rideshare options for all ADA Paratransit customers. Pace will also roll out free fares on Pace fixed-route services for all ADA Paratransit customers, making transit more seamless and affordable. The agency is developing ReVision, a comprehensive network revitalization and system restructuring plan, to meet existing and projected market demands.
Transit is the answer to many of the region’s challenges but is threatened by lack of sufficient operating and capital funding after years of disinvestment and a global pandemic. Our region’s current transit funding structure is also overly reliant on fares. Together this leaves our transit agencies to face an existential crisis that neither fare hikes nor service cuts can solve while preserving a useful and equitable system.
We need your help to win sustainable funding for transit and build a better system for everyone who relies on it. Learn more and join the Transit is the Answer Coalition.
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