CTA Ridership Up, Along With Public Transportation Use Everywhere

Public transportation use in Chicago has hit levels not seen since the 1990s, mostly because of rising gas prices and employment. It’s up throughout the U.S., though the increase is mostly in rail rather than buses.

vintage CTA map

 

Crain’s reports that the CTA ridership is the highest it’s been in 20 years, remarkable given population trends during that time:

A total of 531,960,253 rides were taken in 2011, according to figures the CTA released today. That marks a 3 percent increase from 2010 ridership, but it does not beat the previous high of 540 million rides in 1991.

It wouldn’t surprise me if that continues to increase. The two biggest drivers of public-transportation use are gas prices and employment—Bus Tracker has played a modest role—and both show signs of being higher in 2012 than 2011. And while the latter isn’t guaranteed to keep going up, gas prices should continue to rise as need in developing countries increases, and China and India will just keep having more need:

Nevertheless, Iran is not the “dominant explanation” for rising oil prices, according to Pack. “More fundamentally, we still have this very rapid growth in China … and India continues to grow,” he points out. According to Bloomberg News, China is building four emergency petroleum reserves and planning to stockpile more oil to help reduce price fluctuations locally. Such growing economies will push demand higher and “will undoubtedly have an impact on oil prices,” Pack says.

According to a recent report by the American Public Transportation Association, public transportation ridership is up all over the country, particularly in certain segments. Light rail saw the biggest increase; buses, the least. In Chicago, the increase in El ridership (heavy rail by APTA definitions) is almost four times the increase in bus ridership. (Bus use actually fell last year in New York City, while subway use is at 50-plus-year highs.)

Light rail is doing well where our Midwestern neighbors have built it:

Or consider Minneapolis, often compared to Indianapolis. Its light rail system that was projected to serve 24,000 riders by 2020 surpassed that number in 2005. A light rail in St. Louis exceeded its 20-year ridership projection in just a few years.

It will hopefully give some momentum to the CTA’s attempt to sell naming rights to some of its offerings, including New Year’s penny rides, and its attempt to sell alcohol advertising; the two of them seem like a good match.

 

Photograph: Eric Fischer (CC by 2.0)

 

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