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Inaugural CTA Holiday Bus draws an ‘A’ — and awes — from riders

Bus riders gave the CTA’s new decked-out Holiday Bus an “A” Tuesday as they shared a ride with Santa himself, seated on a throne next to a digitally-roaring fire.

“They did a great job,” said Maura Deptula of the West Loop, who sat with daughter Sloane, 3, on special red-felt and snowman-covered bus seats.

“So far, it’s an A.”

Deptula said she organized her calendar around taking the CTA’s new Holiday Bus, which joins the CTA’s Holiday Train in offering visitors a holiday-festooned ride. She planned to jump off and transfer to the Holiday Train on the Green Line later Tuesday.

The articulated Holiday Bus made its first run along the route of the No. J14 Jeffrey Jump, from 103rd Street and Stony Island Avenue into downtown.

Santa was perched in the back — in an area marked “Wonderland,” on a throne next to a stone fireplace with a digitally roaring fire. CTA South Shop Garage workers created the festive setting.

A CTA elf was nearby, handing out candy canes, in front of a red velvet rope that blocked visitors from trying to sit on Santa’s lap until the end of the route. That’s when Tuesday’s elf, also known as CTA employee Betty Evans, planned to unhook the rope and use a Polaroid camera to provide riders with instant photos of their Santa encounter.

Dozens of riders — and some non riders — lined up later Tuesday at the end of the line to get their free photo with Santa on the Holiday Bus, a CTA spokesman said.

While riders have to pay a fare to gain access to a CTA platform to get a photo with the Holiday Train Santa, non-riders can just meet the Holiday Bus at its end stop and jump on board for free during its 45-minute Santa photo stop, CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hoskinski said.

The Holiday Bus photo schedule is here. The next free photos with the Holiday Bus Santa will be taken  Thursday between 5:30 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. at the CTA’s Midway Terminal, 4612 W. 59th St.

“Santa is more than happy to be servicing the Chicagoland area,” Santa told reporters during a special media stop Tuesday at Jefferson and Washington. “It’s just one of many stops.”

Santa himself declared that the Holiday Bus had one advantage for him over the Holiday Train — “It’s indoors.”

On the Holiday Train, Santa sits outside, on his own open-air flatcar with room for reindeer and sleigh. But the Holiday Bus offers Santa a toasty inside perch — and gives kids the chance to actually share a ride with him.

However, Santa added diplomatically, both rides ”are magnificent — and well put together.”

At the front door, visitors were greeted by a large snowman, standing in a bank of snow with a CTA train winding through it.

“It’s Frosty the Snowman,” declared a fascinated Ela Wetzel, 3.

A map nearby indicated that the bus was headed to the North Pole, where Santa said Mrs. Claus was waiting for him.

Strings of colored lights powered by the bus decorated the inside; holiday songs wafted through air; and artwork created by students at Mahalia Jackson Elementary School papered the walls.

During the ride, Santa also popped out of an emergency exit at the top of the bus and waved to passersby and car drivers, wishing them “Happy Holidays!” He attracted honks in return. On one street, a woman held up a baby to greet Santa, said Elf Evans.

“They loved him, all the way down Madison Street,” Evans said.

Deputla said she enjoyed the experience so much she plans to make it an annual routine and “one of my special Chicago days.”

A friend, Maria Wetzel, also of the South Loop, called the Holiday Bus a “great idea for kids” that packs a special plus for parents — “it’s almost free.” Normal CTA bus fares apply.

Generally, the bus will operate  1 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on weekdays, and  10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends.

The bus will return to the No. J14 Jeffery Jump on Wednesday.

Other routes and days it will operate are below. For some routes, exact times  should be indicated in the future on the CTA bus tracker with candy cane icons:

  • No. 62 Archer: Thursday, Dec. 4 and Friday, Dec. 5
    • No. 3 King Drive: Saturday, Dec. 6 and Tuesday, Dec. 9
        • No. 12 Roosevelt: Wednesday, Dec. 10 and Thursday, Dec. 11
        • No. 66 Chicago: Friday, December 12 and Saturday, Dec. 13
        • No. 56 Milwaukee: Wednesday, Dec. 17 and Thursday, Dec. 18
        • No. 22 Clark: Friday, Dec. 19 and Saturday, Dec. 20
        • No. 124 Navy Pier: Monday, Dec. 22
        • No. 49 Western: Tuesday, Dec. 23

      The CTA also ran a Holiday Bus nearly a decade ago, the CTA’s  Hosinski said Tuesday, but its schedule was more limited and its decorations were “not nearly like this.” CTA workers at that time, Hosinski said, grabbed any holiday decorations that were just “laying around” to decorate the previous bus, rather than orchestrating the elaborate decor riders enjoyed Tuesday.