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RTA five-year study reflects economic impact on Chicago mass-transit ridership

Chicago's Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) posted a 1.9 percent increase in total ridership from 2008 to 2012, with the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) gaining ridership, and Metra and Pace experiencing "modest declines," according to a five-year study RTA released last week.

The analysis indicated the poor economy significantly affected each transit agency and resulted in fewer commuters, service cuts and fare increases in the aftermath of the nation’s financial crisis beginning in 2008, RTA officials said in a press release.

However, the economy's gradual improvement during the past two years has helped to boost ridership to a total of 666.1 million riders in 2012 — the most recorded since 1990, they said.

"The results show that public transit agencies were not immune to the negative impact of the economic recession and were forced to make adjustments," said Bea Reyna-Hickey, RTA's chief financial officer and senior deputy executive director of finance and performance management.  "However, as economic conditions have begun to steadily improve, transit ridership in the six-county region has risen among each of the transit agencies."

CTA ridership increased 3.7 percent during the five-year period, which occurred at the same time the agency reduced service frequency, shortened service hours and eliminated nine express bus routes to address funding shortfalls. Since 2009, CTA's rail ridership has increased at a greater rate than bus ridership, which fell 4.2 percent.

Overall, CTA's rail ridership rose by 33.1 million passenger trips, or 16.7 percent, during the study period, RTA officials said. The Red Line posted the highest number of riders at 75.8 million trips.

Meanwhile, Metra's ridership decreased 6.3 percent from record high levels of 86.8 million trips in 2008 to 81.3 million in 2012. The decline was the result of "significant" job losses in the Chicago area during the recession and weak economic recovery, RTA officials said.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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