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Bucks Stop Here? University of Chicago Souring on Supporting CTA Buses

By Sam Cholke | December 7, 2012 6:21am | Updated on December 7, 2012 11:11am
 The University of Chicago is considering pulling its financial support for the 172 bus route serving the residents of Regents Park and two other routes.
The University of Chicago is considering pulling its financial support for the 172 bus route serving the residents of Regents Park and two other routes.
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DNAInfo/Sam Cholke

HYDE PARK — The University of Chicago is considering cutting off its financial support for three public bus lines serving Hyde Park after the CTA upped its rates by nearly 90 percent.

“The CTA bus routes subsidized by the University of Chicago are important to the university community and to residents and businesses of the mid-South Side. In order to ensure that riders were not left without service, the university increased the subsidy it pays to the CTA by more than 30 percent for the current year,” said Steve Kloehn, a spokesman for the university, in an email.

The university pays the CTA an hourly rate to operate routes 170, 171 and 172 in Hyde Park. In contract negotiations this month, the CTA proposed raising the rate it charges the Hyde Park university to operate the three lines connecting the campus to Regents Park, the largest apartment building in Hyde Park with 1,026 units, and other apartment buildings in East Hyde Park.

The routes will be eliminated if the university declines to take on the full cost of operating the bus lines, said Catherine Hosinski, a spokeswoman for the CTA.

The CTA currently charges the university $83.07 per hour to operate the bus lines, up $26.52 per hour compared with the $56.55 rate in 2011. The buses are free for university students, faculty and staff riders. Regular CTA riders are charged the standard $2.25 fare.

“The university will continue to provide service similar to the 170, 171 and 172 routes to members of the university community. It cannot, however, continue to absorb cost increases of this magnitude,” Kloehn said.

Hosinski said that the CTA is curbing its support for nine routes created in cooperation with private institutions. The purpose of eliminating the subsidies is to reinvest in transit services where it is most needed, she said.

The CTA currently pays a quarter of the cost to operate the U. of C. routes.

The CTA proposed a $106 per hour rate for 2013, an 87 percent increase in operating cost over three years. The buses currently operate 190 hours a week, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on most routes on weekdays. At the 2013 rates, the cost to operate the bus lines would come to $1,047,280 per year for the university.

“Faced with still greater demands by the CTA for 2013 and beyond, the university is exploring its options, including discussions with private vendors who might provide similar service to the university community,” Kloehn said.

While costs to operate the buses are on the rise, service on the routes has been on the decline for three years. Two routes, the 173 express to Lakeview and the 174 route to the Green and Red Line trains, were eliminated in August last year at the university’s request because of low ridership. The frequency of the 171 was also reduced and the 172 eliminated an hour of service in the evening, at the time.

About 85,000 paying riders from the community were expected to use routes when the public-private partnership was launched in 2000, a first for the CTA.

Ridership declined sharply on the routes in 2011, according to figures from the CTA. An average  297 people rode the 170 on weekdays in 2011, a 23 percent decline compared to the prior year. Ridership on the 171 declined by 11 percent, and ridership on the 172 declined by 5 percent during the same period.

The university is in the process of shifting a large number of its students in dormitories to new facilities. Routes were changed to reflect the shift, and use of all three routes appears to have stabilized this year, according to CTA figures.