CTA saw huge spike in riders last year – most since ’91

SHARE CTA saw huge spike in riders last year – most since ’91

CTA Clark/Lake station, Chicago - Passengers enter a crowded outbound CTA Blue Line train at the Clark/Lake station Tuesday in the Chicago Loop. -John J. Kim/Sun-Times file photo

Millions more took rides on CTA trains and buses last year, resulting in the system’s busiest year in the past two decades.

More than 530 million rides were recorded, an increase of 3 percent over 2010. In total, train ridership was up 5.2 percent while bus ridership jumped 1.4 percent.

The Blue Line saw the largest increase, a boost of 8 percent, to 50 million riders – while the Brown Line wasn’t far behind with 32 million riders, 7 percent more than in 2010, the CTA said.

The busiest line was still the Red Line, which had 82 million riders, a 3.3 percent increase.

“There is a real and growing demand for public transit in the city and the suburbs,” said CTA President Forrest Claypool.

The more than half-billion total rides on the system beat out the average 2011 ridership among all U.S. transit systems by 30 percent. In just rail traffic alone, Chicago’s numbers topped the national average by more than 50 percent, according to a study by the American Public Transportation Association.

The increase in Chicago is part of a nationwide trend – the study found Americans took 10.4 billion rides on public transit last year, the second-highest number since 1957. The CTA’s ridership was only slightly less than the 540 million who took the CTA in 1991.

The CTA isn’t taking all the credit for last year’s bump in riders: the rise of gas prices had many ditching their cars for public transportation. But there were agency improvements – like the addition of 1,800 security cameras at 78 rail stations and the launch of CTA Train Tracker – which officials say factored into the increase.

To keep up with the growth in ridership – and a likely boost as gas prices rise again – the CTA is planning a number of improvements, including replacing older series buses.

“We have to continue to make the customer experience better and that means less crowded trains and buses, which means cleaner and more convenient service,” Claypool said. The agency also hopes to eliminate slow zones, rebuild the rail network and stations and begin to focus more on buses.

“We’re not resting on our laurels,” Claypool said. “There’s a lot of work to do, a lot of improvements to make. We’re just beginning to scratch the surface.”

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