LINCOLN SQUARE — Is it the end of the line for the No. 11 Lincoln bus?
The Western-to-Fullerton leg of the route made a triumphant return in June 2016 after being axed in 2013, but the year-long trial period for the route is nearly up, and ridership is still well below the target set by the CTA, according to Jeffrey Tolman, a spokesman for the agency.
Throughout the pilot, daily ridership has hovered at 500 — nowhere near the 1,500 riders CTA said was needed to make the route sustainable, Tolman said.
Although the pilot, originally set for six months and then extended for a full year, still has time to go, there "definitely needs to be an increase" in riders, said Tolman.
"We have to look at our resources and balance with demand across the system," he said.
The question the CTA needs to answer isn't whether people want the bus, Tolman said, it's, "is this the best use of our resources?"
Proponents of the route, among them Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), have argued that the pilot's hours — no morning rush hour, no nights, no weekends — have made the CTA ridership goal nearly impossible to meet.
"I always thought it was a really high bar," Pawar said of the 1,500 rider target.
Though he credited CTA for agreeing to the pilot in the first place, Pawar said he was frustrated that when the trial was extended, no adjustments were made to the hours or days of service to test those variables.
"If you go talk to businesses and people, they were excited, but they wanted the hours to change," the alderman said.
CTA has consistently countered that the route's pilot hours — 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays — were based on feedback from riders, many of them senior citizens, who said they needed the bus to get to doctor's appointments, grocery stores and run other errands in the neighborhood.
"We did give the community what they asked for," said Tolman.
Morning rush hours were not included in the pilot because there's already ample service on the Brown Line, he said.
"Even if we added a.m. rush hours, the target would be 2,000 [riders]," Tolman said.
On Thursday evening, the number of riders on a southbound No. 11 could be counted on one hand, a fairly typical sampling, according to Patrick Praxmarer.
"If there's four people on here, it's full," said Praxmarer, who rides the route home from work five days a week.
If the No. 11 ran earlier in the morning, Praxmarer said he would gladly ride it to work as well. Instead he has to cobble together multiple bus and rail routes to get from Lincoln Park to Lincoln Square.
"I think they really did everyone a disservice by not running full-day," Praxmarer said.
As much as he would like to see the route continued, Praxmarer said he could understand "the other side of the coin."
"How much are we spending for this to take me home?" he asked.
Pawar said he would work with community leaders on one last push to boost ridership.
"My sense is that if ridership stays the same and the hours stay the same, it's hard to justify," he said.
"I would urge CTA to adjust the hours — we should give it a real chance," Pawar said.
About The Route
The No. 11 route originates north at Howard/McCormick and during the pilot's set hours, travels south to Fullerton. Outside of the pilot's schedule, the route terminates at the Western Brown Line station.
The former No. 11 Lincoln/Sedgwick bus tallied a weekday ridership average of 5,526 in 2012, it's last full year of operation.
In 2015, the shortened No. 11 route averaged 1,671 weekday riders. The No. 37 Sedgwick bus, which runs from the Fullerton Red/Brown Line Station to the Clinton Blue Line station, averaged 1,681 weekday riders.