The Chicago area’s regional transit systems are breaking pandemic-era ridership records by consistently surpassing 1 million weekday riders — a figure not reached since March 2020.
Leanne Redden, executive director of the Regional Transportation Authority, said COVID-19 has presented unique challenges to public transit systems, but the rising number of riders is an indication that “transit is an irreplaceable public service.”
“Our public transportation system has been here all along for essential workers who kept the world turning through the height of stay-at-home orders, and transit is here for students going back to school, workers going back to the office, visitors enjoying the many attractions and events our region has to offer,” Redden said.
The regional transit system is made up of the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace and cover much of the Chicago metropolitan area. While each system doesn’t have the number of riders it had pre-pandemic, each has shown a steady rise in ridership as people return to in-person work and school.
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The 1 million weekday ridership mark, Redden said, should be celebrated.
“It’s heartening to see ridership consistently increase and break records, and we’re committed to continuing to improve the system,” Redden said.
In September, on the 10 days system ridership was highest, it surpassed 1.1. million riders each day. That’s the most since the start of the pandemic.
CTA hit its highest rail rides on Sept. 16, with 431,965, and its highest bus rides on Sept. 7, with 534,473. Ten of its highest weekday ridership days on buses occurred within the last two months, while its 10 highest weekday rail trips happened since July.
In January, CTA combined rail and bus averaged about 540,000 rides on weekdays and nearly 14.3 million riders for the month. Since then, CTA’s systemwide weekday ridership is more than 900,000 weekday riders and 22.3 million riders so far in September.
While CTA ridership numbers are trending upward, it is still a long way from the roughly 36.6 million monthly riders in January 2020.
“Transit is vital to our region as we recover from a long pandemic that upended our daily normal. The recent ridership peaks are an important barometer of our crucial role in providing affordable and green transportation to all,” CTA president Dorval Carter Jr. said in a statement.
Metra hit its highest ridership in the past two months on July 28 with 141,016 riders. That day also happened to be the first day of Lollapalooza.
Pace has already hit its highest weekday ridership last December with 58,200 rides, but half of its top 10 highest weekday rides happened in the past two months.
“It’s a positive sign for Metra and our sister agencies that ridership continues to grow and is on a steady trend upward,” said Michael Gillis, spokesman for Metra. “All of us at Metra, the CTA and Pace are working hard every day to provide clean, safe, reliable and affordable transportation and it’s gratifying to see riders continue to respond in greater numbers by choosing to ride public transportation.”