WEST LOOP — Rush-hour CTA riders, your commute might be getting more crowded.
Chicago Public Schools has pushed back the bell times of 60 high schools to 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. That means more students could be crowding bus stops and CTA "L" platforms closer to the heart of rush hour starting this fall.
CTA officials estimate about 89,000 CPS students use CTA regularly, based on the number of student discount-fare cards issued.
The potential for a more crowded commute has already led to an online petition urging CPS to reverse its decision.
CPS "decided to change the start and end times of several schools including my own (Walter Payton College Prep) from the times 9:00 AM-4:30 PM, which is unfair for the far majority of students in the school who use public transportation," the petition reads.
The petition complains that students will now "be caught in the center of rush hour," risking their "well-roundedness and safety" for those with long commutes or involved in extra-curricular activities.
The petition had garnered more than 350 signatures as of Monday evening, well more than its goal of 200.
But the transit agency says it should have no problem dealing with the CPS bell times.
"As we do every year, we'll work with the schools to time our fall bus-schedule service with the school days’ beginning and end, when students need service," said CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase. "Our evening rush period is spread out over the period of a few hours, and 4:30 would be at the early end of rush period, so we don’t foresee any issues."
According to Chase, CTA is used to students who stay after school for sports or other programs now using public transit during the afternoon rush hour.
"We are accustomed to students involved in extracurricular activities taking later buses, so it’s not unusual to have students riding during rush period," she said.
Still, the CTA is going to have to make changes on the fly, as CPS has yet to make a full list of schools — which in addition to high schools includes 17 elementary schools — with later start and finish times available to students, parents or even the transit agency.
CPS projects it will save $9 million as buses will be able to double up on high school and elementary routes.
Researchers have also urged high schools to adopt later start times, as teens need the extra sleep and generally have trouble falling asleep early enough in the evening to give them a full night's rest. The City Council was sympathetic to that view at a committee hearing last year.
"Our service planning department is now in the process of obtaining the changes to develop the bus schedules to meet the school schedules, and that will reflect later dismissal times and students' afterschool activities," Chase said. "Once the school year begins and we can see travel patterns in real time, we would make additional service schedule adjustments if and as needed — which is standard practice for us whenever we make schedule changes."
CPS did not respond to requests for comment.
"Obviously, our No. 1 goal is to provide Chicago students with safe, affordable and reliable transit by providing service at the times and locations when and where it’s needed," Chase said. "Each fall we adjust our service to ensure enough bus service is available to students at the times of day they need it, since many students take CTA buses to get to school."
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