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Metra Riders Say Trains Are Empty As Workers Stay Home, But Ridership Steady So Far On The CTA, Agency Says

CTA riders are still packing buses and trains, the agency says, but that might change as more businesses urge staffers to work from home.

Metra riders say trains are emptier-than-usual as coronavirus panic sets in.
Octavio Ruiz Cervera/Flickr
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DOWNTOWN — As more companies tell their employees to work remotely, cancel travel plans or skip events in response to the coronavirus threat, ridership on Metra trains is down — but the CTA says it hasn’t been impacted.

Roberto Barbanente, who takes the Metra from suburban Palatine to his job at the Willis Tower, said he’s noticed a “big time” decrease.

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“Usually when I catch the 7:20 a.m. train I have to park on the third floor of the parking garage,” he said. “Today I was able to park on the first floor, and my train is usually full but today it was half-full.”

Natalie Koteles, who takes the Rock Island Metra from Beverly to her job at a Downtown accounting firm, echoed Barbanente, saying the normally crowded train she takes has been sparse — and she has been on edge.

“The minute someone starts coughing, everyone is shooting daggers,” she said. “Last week someone was hacking their head off and I’m thinking, ‘Get off the train and get into your car!’”

While Metra did not have ridership numbers immediately available, a spokesman said the rail has stepped up its cleaning efforts to combat the spread of the virus.

“We don’t have any ridership data to know if coronavirus has affected our ridership because we have an open system. We don’t have turnstiles. And anecdotally, we haven’t heard anything,” said Metra spokeswoman Katie Dalhstrom.

Dahlstrom said Metra cars are regularly cleaned with disinfectants and cleaning crews have been asked to pay special attention to high-touch areas like handrails, armrests and doors.

On the CTA, some riders noticed emptier cars — but most said it was business as usual Wednesday. Mike Kennedy, who takes a bus from Lincoln Park to his Downtown job at an advertising agency, said the bus he takes every day is still full.

“The bus has been packed the past few days,” Kennedy said.

CTA spokeswoman Irene Ferradaz said in an email the agency has not seen any slowdown.

“Currently, CTA has not seen any discernible change in ridership over the last few weeks and we continue to monitor ridership on a daily basis,” she said.

Ferradaz wanted to reassure commuters the agency was staying on top of cleaning.

“Keeping the CTA system clean is our top priority,” Ferradaz said. “CTA has a rigorous cleaning schedule for our vehicles and rail stations that is among the strongest in the transit industry. Vehicles and stations receive daily cleanings — which includes disinfecting surfaces, including seats, handrails, stanchions, rail turnstiles, Ventra vending machines and other areas — and more-concentrated spot cleanings as needed. These are in addition to regular vehicle deep cleans, which entail intensive cleanings of the interior and exterior surfaces.”

Red Line regular Mary May, who takes the “L” from Lakeview to her job Downtown, said she hasn’t seen any change and speculated the virus’ impact hasn’t been felt yet.

“I just don’t think it’s hit yet,” May said.

Commuter Gina Kapernekas, a Bridgeport resident, expects ridership to dip soon.

“I’ve noticed more people wearing masks and I think ridership will drop if more people are told to stay home and work remotely,” Kapernekas said.

Nick Davis, owner of Westons Coffee & Tap Co, located directly across Milwaukee Avenue from the Jefferson Park station, said it’s too early to tell if coronavirus is impacting his business.

“We aren’t feeling a pinch yet. It’s too early to tell and we have our regulars, but that obviously can change if this thing doesn’t stop soon,” Davis said.

At Philz Coffee, 1642 W. Division St., just steps from the Division Street Blue Line station, barista Elizabeth Carrazco said they have not felt a slowdown in business.

“Not really because we are in a pretty popular neighborhood. A lot of people call Ubers from here so we’re pretty steady,” Carrazco said.

While it may be a bit early for any large impact to CTA ridership, Jen Kramer, a Loop worker who drives to work from her Lincoln Park home, said she’s noticed it’s a lot less busy Downtown lately.

“The general Loop busyness is lighter. It’s less crowded,” Kramer said.

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