By Gilbert Jimenez
Date of Publication: June 17, 1999
Source: Chicago Sun-Times
CTA ridership is up 10 million in less than two years as college students and other mass-transit bargain shoppers fuel a growth rate that hasn't been seen in years, officials said Wednesday.
And the pace of improvement is accelerating.
In 1998, there were 424 million rides given by the CTA, an increase of 4.9 million passengers or 1.2 percent from 1997.
But from Jan. 1 through April 30 of this year, the CTA handled 143 million trips, 5.1 million more in the same period in 1998, officials said.
Much of the credit, officials said, goes to recent innovations in the fare card programs.
"The most important news in terms of where this agency is right now is the continuation of our impressive ridership gains," CTA president Frank Kruesi told his board of directors.
"Part of it, I believe, is the new fare structure . . . because it is now showing very impressive results. The introduction of the one-day, seven-day, 30-day ride passes . . . the [college] U-Pass and visitor passes account for a large proportion of this increase," Kruesi said.
Since being introduced in December, more than 380,000 seven-day unlimited ride passes have been sold. Also, over 30,000 college students are taking advantage of the limitless U-Pass program that began last fall, officials said. CTA officials expect to expand the program to more schools next semester.
"The U-Pass has been a great program," said Ghingo Brooks, vice president of Harold Washington College. "It has saved our students a lot of money. The cost is nominal . . . [and] students have been very happy."
When the U-Pass program began, Harold Washington students led the frequent-users list, with 158,875 rides in the first 38 days, officials said.
"It's a great benefit," said Denise Matson, spokeswoman for DePaul University, another of the 12 schools to sign on for the program's first year. "The students love it."
One new subway rider, Mark Izraelewicz, who recently came to Chicago by way of New York and Texas was able to succinctly summarize the CTA's appeal.
"It's cheap," he said.
The CTA and Regional Transportation Authority are launching a joint program to spread a U-Pass-type program among businesses and their workers, officials said.
Although rail ridership has more or less held steady over the years, the number of bus passengers has plummeted, according to CTA data. There were 453 million CTA bus trips in 1980, but only 292 million last year.
Compared to all of 1998, CTA bus rides are up 5.2 percent and CTA rail trips increased by 5.3 percent in the first four months of this year.