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CTA Rail and Metra Ridership Hit New Highs

In a year that saw an overall decrease in regional ridership in the six-county Northeast Illinois Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) service area, a just- released RTA study finds a few bright spots in the 2014 report.  Metra and the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) rail recorded strong ridership gains last year, with CTA marking its highest ridership number in 50 years and Metra recording its second highest ridership in the commuter railroad’s history.

Still, growth in these sectors could not stem an overall system ridership decline of more than 2 percent, from 651.4 million passenger trips in 2013 to 636.5 million passenger trips in 2014.

Despite decreased ridership, the RTA regional system achieved some ridership milestones in 2014. CTA rail ridership reached 238.1 million passenger trips. Metra also had a strong year, recording 83.4 million riders; both of these numbers were record-setters for the transit agencies. Over the past five years, Pace’s bus ridership has increased by 8.2% and its I-55 Bus on Shoulders routes have grown more than six fold since 2011. The I-55 Bus-on-Shoulder program continues to be successful and was expanded in 2013 to meet the growing demand. In 2014, this service saw ridership increase by more than 30 percent.

Declining bus ridership is not unique to the RTA region. Bus ridership is down nation-wide, as increasing congestion on city streets slows local bus travel and riders opt for faster alternatives when available.  This trend is supported by an RTA analysis that shows traditional bus ridership in the region has declined in recent years at the same time riders respond positively to service improvements, like CTA and Metra station upgrades, increased ‘L’ service, and BRT (bus rapid transit) options, that reduces bus travel times. Riders also favor rail over bus in colder months with stations offering relief from extreme weather environments.

The RTA takes its role of providing regional data seriously, and works hard to track and analyze changes in regional transit ridership.  The RTA is currently executing a multi-year marketing campaign to improve public awareness and perception of public transportation and to attract new transit riders to the system in the RTA’s six-county region. The transit agencies’ “Ride On.” campaign targets riders who could take transit during non-peak hours where capacity exists, such as visitors, tourists, older adults and reverse commuters.

To read the entire report, please visit the RTA website at

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