WEST ENGLEWOOD — Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. announced plans Tuesday to return express buses along Ashland and Western avenues.
The new service along the No. 9 and 49 routes will stop "roughly every half-mile" during rush periods, saving commuters up to 22 minutes each way compared with local buses, according to Carter.
He said the new service was part of an initiative to "improve bus service and improve ridership," while allowing that "the service isn't always as fast as we'd like it to be."
Emanuel blamed that for a decline in bus ridership while CTA train ridership has risen, saying, "What are commuters telling you? Time matters to them."
Carter pointed out the Western and Ashland lines were "two of CTA's busiest routes."
"These two routes are also the only ones to touch every line on the train system," Emanuel added.
Ted Cox says don't expect more express routes to come next:
This would be the city's first reintroduction of express service since it was phased out in 2010 "due to declining public funding in the wake of an economic recession," CTA officials said.
Buses on those two routes will also be equipped with new transit-signal-priority technology that will allow longer green lights for them to clear intersections and quicker red lights when they're already stopped at a corner for passengers, resulting in "faster, more reliable service," according to city Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld.
Scheinfeld insisted that the technology "improves overall traffic flow" and would speed travel times, "especially if buses are running behind schedule."
The CTA estimated it would cut the travel times for local buses by 12 minutes.
Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, called the announcement "good news," but said it "should be a first step towards CTA building a true bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor on Ashland with dedicated bus lanes, improved stations, and enhanced sidewalks and medians."
Scheinfeld said the Ashland express bus would have no effect on long-range plans for a bus rapid transit line on the major West Side artery. She called the express buses "real improvements, immediately, in the short term," while the Ashland bus rapid transit project remains in the drawing-board stage.
Emanuel echoed that, saying, "It's way in the future" and "the only bus rapid transit I'm focused on right now is the one we're investing in in the central business district," along Washington Boulevard and Madison Street.
While the express bus service should mean faster trips, a 2013 CTA analysis showed they would be nowhere near as fast as under bus rapid transit, Burke said.
"Currently, the average bus speed on Ashland is less than 9 mph. With express service it could tick back up to just over 10 mph. Buses will still be stuck in traffic during peak periods, however, and trips will remain unpredictable," Burke said.
"The CTA found building a rapid transit corridor on Ashland could speed up trips to as fast as 16 mph, an 83 percent increase over current speeds. The project would also result in predictability similar to a train, more efficient traffic patterns, and dozens of blocks of sidewalk and crosswalk enhancements," he said.
"As more Chicagoans choose to ride transit every year, it’s time for the city to invest in expanding the city’s rapid transit network to give riders faster, more convenient options. Restoring express service is only a first step, and implementing [bus rapid transit] must come next.”
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