A pilot bus route on the South Side has been revived — at least temporarily — after being terminated just days before.
In a letter to community organizers, the Chicago Transit Authority had said the 31st Street bus pilot program would end Sept. 3 because not enough people were riding it. That was just three days short of its two-year anniversary. But last week, the agency notified riders service will continue for the “immediate future,” supported by a potential public-private partnership.
The No. 31 pilot route, started in September 2016, stretches 3.5 miles — from the Ashland Orange Line station east to the Lake Meadows Shopping Center. The service runs weekdays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., every 30 minutes. Riders and community organizers are happy the service will continue but upset at how the CTA has managed it.
Jesus Pineda, a 40-year-old security guard who has lived in Bridgeport since 1982, said the bus doesn’t run often enough. He depends on it to get to work and to the doctor, and worries about its uncertain future.
“There may not be as much traffic here as there is on Halsted or Ashland, but this is a very vital route to a lot of people,” Pineda said.
Debbie Liu, community development coordinator for the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, pushed for years to create the route, but says the hours of service, and gap between buses, set it up to fail.
“You can’t expect a person to wait in the extreme cold, heat or in the rain for a bus that appears only every 30 minutes,” Liu said.
A longer route and more-frequent buses would help, she said. Liu thinks the bus should extend to the 31st Street beach and Museum Campus. It should also start earlier, add weekend service and run every 15 minutes, she said.
The route has never met CTA’s target of 830 riders, on average, per day. Through March 30, the bus averaged 520 passengers per day.
Jon Kaplan, a CTA spokesman, said August riders haven’t been tallied, but in July, the bus averaged 298 riders per day.
“Like all pilot service, CTA’s goal is to provide service that meets the community needs, while also remaining cognizant of the constraints on our overall service levels and budget.”
The CTA said it has publicized the route using posters, fliers, and social media; it also worked with community groups to attract riders.
Quade Gallagher works with the Bridgeport Alliance, which is part of the efforts to save the 31st street bus. He said it can’t add riders if people don’t even know if it will be running.
“We don’t see how it can succeed the way the CTA has it right now,” Gallagher said. “The pilot program is inadequate for the needs of the community.”
Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.