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CTA, Metra See Sharp Drop In Riders, Considering Service Reductions

“We have to keep the public transit system going," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday.

The CTA Brown Line
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CHICAGO — Because of the threat of coronavirus, ridership on CTA and Metra is down significantly and both agencies are considering reducing service.  

Along with the threat of catching the virus, ridership is down because of the closing of schools, businesses and entertainment venues in the city, along with a major increase in employees working from home, transportation officials said. But as of Monday, there were no immediate plans to cut back on service.

“We have to keep the public transit system going,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday. “I’m not aware of any public transit system in the United States, and I think only one in the world is actually shut down during the course of this pandemic. People need to be able to get to work. Lots of folks depend on public transportation to get to and from.”

CTA officials say overall ridership has been down 12 percent since March 11. Rail ridership took the biggest hit, with a 19 percent decrease in riders in that time. Bus ridership has declined six percent over the past five days, according to CTA spokesman Irene Ferradaz.

For Dusty Pilger, who takes the Green Line from East Garfield Park and then transfers to the Red Line to her job as a cosmetics salesperson on the Gold Coast everyday, the normally crowded “L” was empty. 

“This morning it was really light and on the way home there were six people in my train car. Usually it’s close to completely packed,” Pilger said. She added that the only people on it seemed to be blue collar workers.

“The demographic of the train was very different. It’s almost completely working class black and brown people. Like me, they have jobs that we can’t do from home,” Pilger said.

CTA officials say the drop started last Wednesday and continued to spike over the past weekend. The related cancellation of events like Chicago’s three St. Patrick’s Day parades also contributed to that ridership decrease, Ferradaz said.

Metra is also experiencing major drops in ridership, according to spokesperson Meg Reile.

“We don’t have an electronic gated system like the CTA does, so it’s a little harder for us to get ridership numbers but I can tell you from reports last Friday we were down about 50 percent,” Reile said Monday. “I don’t have the numbers today but my train was even lighter than it was on Friday.”

Other cities have already planned on reductions in public transportation service due to the COVID-19 outbreak. In Boston Monday, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority announced weekday reductions on its rail and bus lines which will be similar to its weekend transit schedules. Those changes  began Tuesday.

But CTA and Metra officials say it is too soon to know what impacts the coronavirus may have on future train and bus service levels.

“We’re continuing to monitor ridership levels,” Ferradaz said.

Reile echoed Ferradaz, saying, “Service changes are being looked at but no final decistions have been made.”

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