Ridership on the L is falling, CTA figures show — a decline one expert attributes to “a perfect storm” of factors including competition from ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.
For the first three months of this year, the CTA provided 52.7 million L rides — down 3.7 percent from 54.7 million in the same period last year.
And ridership was down at 119 of the 143 L stations versus last year, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of CTA data found. Twenty-three saw an increase, while the Washington-Wabash station didn’t exist at the same time last year.
The number of people riding CTA buses has been dropping since 2008. But the fall in train ridership began more recently. The L’s popularity peaked in 2015, with 241.7 million rides. Last year, that figure had fallen to 230.2 million — down 4.7 percent from that high two years before.
“It’s been a perfect storm for public transit across the country, with growing rideshare competition, low fuel prices and greater work-from-home lifestyles,” says Joseph Schwieterman, director of DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development, who has studied the impact of ride-sharing on public transit.
But it’s not people heading to or from downtown who are choosing Lyft or Uber or to drive themselves, according to Schwieterman, because Loop commuters often decide the L is cheaper and quicker.
Ride-sharing “has had little impact on the traditional downtown-oriented commuters,” Schwieterman says. “Trips like Lake View to Jefferson Park — those are slow trips where ride-sharing is much more attractive.”
CTA spokesman Steve Mayberry said that population shifts in addition to the factors that Schweiterman outlined, have contributed to the ridership decline. But, he notes that “CTA overall ridership is essentially level with where it was 10 years ago.”
“It’s difficult to sustain that kind of overall growth. While our AM and PM rush ridership remains strong, our off-peak and late-night/early morning hours began to see decreases in 2016,” Mayberry said. “Like transit agencies across the country, the CTA recognizes that the transportation ecosphere is changing.”
“As many other transit agencies across the U.S. have acknowledged, some ridership loss can be attributed to increased use of ride-hailing services,” Mayberry said.
Some stations downtown have seen significant declines in ridership — the Red Line stop at Jackson Boulevard, for instance, has seen average weekday ridership fall by 12.7 percent this year.
But others have seen increases. The Cermak Green Line stop and the Morgan Pink / Green Line stop — two of the CTA’s newer stations — have seen usage climb this year, 18.1 percent at Cermak and 11.7 percent at Morgan.
Another station that’s seen significant growth through March is State/Lake. Already one of the CTA’s busiest stations, it saw ridership rise by 16.8 percent.
Among stations that saw the biggest drops in ridership are some that have undergone extensive renovation work, including the Illinois Medical District Blue Line station, down 26 percent.
Special events and weather also factor in, according to Kyle Whitehead, a spokesman for the Active Transportation Alliance, who says that, although the declines are cause for concern, more money needs to be invested in public transportation.
“We need to improve geographic coverage, frequency, off-peak service and last-mile connections so more people can get by without the expense and headaches of owning a car,” Whitehead says.