CHICAGO — Community leaders are outraged that the city transit authority hasn't followed through on a planned study of the 31st Street bus route after restoring a portion of the busy busway this summer.
When the CTA board approved an ordinance in August reopening a part of the 31st Street route, Southwest Side activists were told the CTA would create an experimental test route on the west end of 31st Street while studying demand for it on the east.
But advocates said the CTA only partly held up their end of the bargain by implementing the 180-day test route, an extension of the No. 35 bus to 31st Street between Kedzie and Cicero avenues in Little Village.
"We've been promised that study, but that's not what is being done," said Maureen Sullivan, a Bridgeport resident and longtime proponent of restoring the old 31st Street routes, which were axed in 1997 due to ridership declines.
Now, with the experiment set to expire in March, community leaders are wondering what's next.
The options are to renew the test route for another six months, inch the route eastward or scrap it altogether.
In a meeting held at the transit agency's headquarters last week, CTA leaders told a small coalition of community groups that any developments are on hold until the CTA board is presented with ridership results from the existing route extension.
That’s drawn the ire of the community activists, who said CTA leaders have been coy about plans to study the feasibility of the proposed route, which would take riders from Cicero Avenue to the lakefront and up at the museum campus.
“[The CTA] hasn’t even done anything to create the study. They don’t know who’s doing it and they won’t give us any names,” said Joe Trutin, a McKinley Park resident and business owner.
At Tuesday's meeting, CTA government and community relations officer Sukmeke Watkins said the transit agency is “taking the steps necessary” to begin the study. That includes looking at census information in potential service areas and assessing the financial impact of implementing the route.
"At this time, financial analysis indicates that local matching funding is needed before CTA can proceed with expansion of service east on 31st Street," said CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski.
The CTA said operating the full route would cost $3 million annually.
Supporters of the restored route, including a growing chorus of South Side state representatives, senators and aldermen, say it would be money well spent.
"It is a necessity for a community that's grown from the time they terminated that particular bus... Having access for seniors, for students and for the residents here is an absolute necessity to improve their quality of life," said state Rep. Esther Golar (D-Chicago).
The test route has drawn about 300 to 350 riders each weekday, the CTA said. Those figures may be skewed because of the Chicago Teachers Union strike, which began roughly around the same time the test route began.
Meanwhile, ridership from January to November 2012 on the entire No. 35 route increased about 6 percent from the previous year.
Still, the data hasn't given the CTA enough to go off in its decision about what to do next.
“It’s too early for us to tell what those numbers reflect,” Hosinski acknowledged.
The next CTA board meeting is scheduled for Feb. 13.