CTA will let equity and inclusion drive decisions about service

As post-pandemic ridership demand and patterns continue to emerge, we will make more revisions to various routes, based on serving all neighborhoods, not just finances or ridership.

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A commuter boards the CTA’s southbound No. 49 bus on North Western Avenue in Dec. 2020.

A commuter boards the CTA’s southbound No. 49 bus on North Western Avenue in Dec. 2020.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Last week, the Chicago Transit Authority approved permanent changes to four pilot bus routes serving communities on Chicago’s South and West sides, extending and realigning the routes to provide a higher level of service.

None of the pilot routes had met its projected ridership goals, even when those goals were lowered to reflect lower ridership during the pandemic. But making this service permanent allowed us to achieve an even more important goal: providing equitable service across the city, especially in communities dependent on public transit.

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These changes reflect the goals of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Invest South/West initiative, which is addressing long-standing disparities in those communities.

Historically, public transit performance has been measured by ridership and revenue. By state law, every year CTA and our regional transit partners Metra and Pace must earn half of our operating revenue from fares and system-generated revenues. That means higher-ridership routes subsidize lower-ridership routes, effectively guiding decisions about where and how much service to provide.

This dynamic has an unintentional but inequitable effect on how we provide service. CTA is among the public transit leaders seeking to change how we serve our most transit-dependent customers.

At the start of the pandemic, the CTA maintained all of its scheduled service, recognizing that transit is crucial for essential workers and transit-dependent riders. And even though the pandemic has impacted our workforce — making it difficult to provide all bus and rail trips, and occasionally resulting in longer wait times for customers — CTA continues to provide as much service as possible, as transit peers across the country make cuts.

Service decisions like the one made last week are just the beginning. As post-pandemic ridership demand and patterns continue to emerge, we will make more revisions to various routes based on equity and inclusion, not just financial or ridership considerations.The CTA Board — which approved last week’s service changes and comprises long-time transit and equity advocates — deserves credit for its continued support of these important policy decisions.

Of course, doing so will require important conversations about how public transit is funded. That dialogue should include federal, state and local participants. Public transit funding decisions directly reflect who we value in our society. Unfortunately, in many cases, the current state of transportation funding suggests a diminished value placed on low-income and minority individuals. That must change.Resolving long-standing inequities is not easy, and it shouldn’t be, but we owe it to our customers to wrestle with and accomplish this. I don’t have the answers yet, but look forward to a robust discussion.

Throughout my 30-year transportation career, equity and inclusion have remained core values that guide my decisions.Public transit can and should be a catalyst that links disenfranchised and underserved neighborhoods to jobs, education, and economic opportunity. At the CTA, I’m committed to making sure that happens.

Dorval R. Carter, Jr., president, Chicago Transit Authority

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