July 4th

Saturday Night Fever

Long story short: the performance of the Red Line Saturday night during Pride Weekend was yet another example of the CTA's inability to function correctly during major events.

Jackson to Roosevelt

Jackson to Roosevelt

After riding the 151 Sheridan bus from Belmont to Adams in a relatively brisk 25 minutes, I arrived at the Jackson Red Line station around midnight to see a train seemingly stuck at Harrison a short distance down the tunnel.  After at least thirteen minutes (according to my watch, which I looked at after reaching the bottom of the stairs only to see no trains arriving or departing southbound), the train at Harrison began moving again.  Shortly thereafter Red Line run 940 I believe arrived at Jackson.  When we departed Harrison we found ourselves stuck again behind the cursed Red Line train.  After finally making it to the Roosevelt platform, the train I was on came to a halt for over five minutes.  Shortly after my departure to secure alternate transportation, the 940 continued on its way.  This was at approximately 12:30 AM, roughly a half hour after I arrived at Jackson; at least fifteen minutes passed between departure from Jackson and departure from Roosevelt.

This whole incident should seem oddly familiar to anyone that rode the Red Line southbound during New Year's 2011.  The combination of crowds, many of whom were likely intoxicated considering the occasion, and the late hour caused the Red Line to bog down.  The Brown Line train I had taken to Lincoln Square when I was heading to my New Year's festivities came to a halt at Sedgwick because someone in the last car had apparently passed out on the train.  Fortunately an army of taxicabs was waiting on North Avenue, and I was soon on my way with time to spare.  

When I rode the CTA after the July 4th Fireworks downtown in 2009 I managed to catch the first Brown Line train that arrived at Randolph and I made it to Belmont with practically no major delays except for crowds moving on and off the train.  Once the cutbacks in service took effect I noticed the L's performance during major events start to decline.  New Year's was the first sign of trouble but easy to shake off considering all the alcohol and party crowds.  Now with this second incredibly negative Red Line experience of the year, I think I'm probably going to avoid riding the CTA during July 4th.

All of these problems can be explained by a simple rule: when you cut service, quality declines.  The CTA is not going to save itself by continually cutting service and raising fares.  While ridership declines may be offset by higher fares, the hazard is that there are going to be fewer and fewer people invested in rapid transit.  This could lead to a negative feedback loop where people leave the system, fares go up and service goes down to compensate for reduced ridership, and then even more people leave the system.  As far as July 4th goes, I'd recommend keeping a 20 in your pocket for an emergency taxicab in case you get stuck downtown.  If you're lucky to get a taxi cab...

35th-Bronzeville-IIT

35th-Bronzeville-IIT to Roosevelt

Roosevelt to 35-Bronzeville-IIT

Roosevelt to 35-Bronzeville-IIT

What an adventure I had today riding the Green Line.  Arrived at the station sometime after a northbound train had left the station and ended up waiting over 10 minutes for another train to arrive in typical caterpillar fashion, creeping towards the platform at an agonizing pace.  The CTA Train Tracker is now displayed on the flat screen televisions, making them far more useful than when they simply acted as expensive billboards for a transit agency that cut bus and train service not long ago.  The Train Tracker informed me that my train was one of three arriving in the next seven minutes, a frequency useless at 11 AM.  

After 6 minutes and 30 seconds we arrived at Roosevelt, compared to the roughly 4 minutes Google Maps says the trip should take.  Considering that the train was heading north, "The sun was in my eyes" doesn't seem like a likely excuse for this slow train operation.  And the Green Line was completely rehabilitated less than 20 years ago, so while "death awaits" speed may be possible, I'll settle for brisk.  

I can understand why the Red Line has to run slow between Sox-35th and Roosevelt due to track work, but I have yet to come across a valid explanation for why the Green Line seems to get slower every time I ride it, which is less and less these days.  

There are other things that can slow a transit system down, like transporting panhandlers, but that's a story for tomorrow...

The Red Line versus the Rock Island line

Anyone who's ridden both the Red Line Dan Ryan Branch of the CTA and the Rock Island District Branch of Metra may have noticed that METRA IS FASTER. Every time I have timed the Rock Island from 35th Street to LaSalle it has taken at most 8 minutes, including time spent pulling into the station.  Sox-35th to Jackson on the Red Line takes over 10 minutes regularly because of the maintenance on the Red Line.  

What makes this so irritating is the fact that the CTA supposedly modernized the Dan Ryan branch over 5 years ago, yet failed to fix a long stretch of their trackage.  If they had used good judgement, they would have realized that stations are only as useful as the tracks that serve them.  If the train slows down to a dead crawl, people are going to start to get annoyed and look for faster methods of travel.  The same goes for the north branch of the Red Line, where the trackage is showing its age yet the CTA undertook a massive renovation of Howard.  Any significant disruption to the north side of the Red Line will undoubtably cause patronage at Howard to drop.  

Besides the time advantage the Rock Island has, it also has a price advantage as well.  Unlike the weekly and monthly passes on the CTA that are only valid for a continuous period of time, Metra 10-ride passes are valid for one year from their purchase date; so infrequent Metra riders who want a discount can get 10 rides for only $18.30 between 35th and LaSalle.  That's only $1.83 a ride, 42¢ less than the CTA rail fare.

25¢ less, faster, and cleaner: I'm sticking with the Rock Island for the foreseeable future.