Against the flow: Can the ‘reverse commute’ fill empty RTA seats?

SHARE Against the flow: Can the ‘reverse commute’ fill empty RTA seats?
SHARE Against the flow: Can the ‘reverse commute’ fill empty RTA seats?

RTA Board Chairman John Gates | Ting Shen~Sun-Times Media

Has the RTA got it backward? It would like to think so. The new emphasis in Chicago transit circles these days is “reverse commute.”

Transit officials know they have lots of empty seats, particularly on Metra, on transit that’s going opposite the flow of commuters. Metra, for example, runs full trains into the city in the morning, then nearly-empty ones back out to start another inbound run. It repeats that pattern several times in a rush hour.

But what if more people would “reverse commute,” and take those trains that are going against the flow? Costs would hardly go up, but revenues would jump.

“One of the things we have to work on is the reverse commute,” says Regional Transportation Authority Chairman John Gates. “We have a lot of excess capacity and … Metra and Pace [the suburban bus service] have been working very hard on using excess capacity to take people who are available in the city and needed in the suburbs, but for whatever reason don’t want to drive their cars.”

Gates knows about the travails of reverse commuting. He worked for 15 years in Oak Brook, while living in the city.

“It could take me well over two and a half hours to get home on Friday night,” he says.

Right now, the big problem with reverse commuting is the “last mile.” Even if Metra can get you out to the suburb where your job is, how do you get from the station to your place of employment? So the RTA has been targeting the area along Lake-Cook Road, where businesses, along with the RTA and Metra and Pace, are running van pools from the Metra station. The businesses decide where the van pools are going to go.

“They have been very successful in luring high-technology workers from the cities to the suburbs,” Gates says.

About half the funding comes from the businesses, about half comes from RTA and Metra. Lake County kicks in a bit, too.

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