Every single day, there's a CTA rider complaining about service somewhere.
Whether it's about the scarcity of buses on some routes or the rush-hour train cars packed like sardines, there's always someone offering his/her "backseat driver" ideas on how the agency could do things better.
But Aaron Renn tried something different. He did something with his ideas.
Renn put together an 18-page proposal and submitted it to a global competition run by InnoCentive and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. More than 125 progressive thinkers from around the world proposed their ideas on how to increase regional mass transit ridership and reduce the environmental impact of greenhouse gas emissions released by heavy traffic.
Renn, 39, who is a Chicago- and Indianapolis-based urban affairs writer and currently runs a blog called the Urbanophile, won the challenge with his innovative approach that offered several ideas for both bus and rail service. He will receive $5,000 for his prize.
As Renn explains in his proposal, increasing the ridership to the Chicagoland Chamber's goal of one billion rides a year (a feat that has not been met since 1948) will require some sacrifices. Rather than build new rail lines, like the suggested Circle Line or extensions of the Red and Yellow Lines, Renn suggests that the CTA focus on where the supply is not meeting the demand.
Some of Renn's ideas include:
- Variable pricing. The CTA should charge higher fares during peak travel periods. This would encourage many commuters to adjust their schedules and travel during less excessive and less costly times, easing the strain on rush-hour buses and trains.
- Overnight track work. ‘L' trains can move at a snail's pace because of workers on the rails. Such repair should be moved to the hours when it will affect the fewest riders.
- 10-car trains. A few platform expansions could result in a 25% increase in capacity on the Blue Line.
- Yellow Line stations. Rather than extend the Yellow Line, the CTA should consider building stations on the route that already exists. "Potential stations are at Ridge, Asbury, Dodge, and Oakton."
- Bus-only lanes. Renn admits that this is an idea that the CTA has already considered experimenting with, but it is another step in his overall plan.
- Free transfers. "Riders should not be forced to pay to switch between lines or modes... They are paying a penalty for not having a direct route available. This is backwards. If it were feasible to do so, it should actually cost less if you have to transfer to make up for the inconvenience."
If it seems Renn is only focusing on the city and forgetting about the suburbs, that's not the case. He's not forgetting; he's intentionally directing most investments toward the CTA's core service zones and with good reason: "To boost ridership, you need to go where the riders are. This means the CTA, not Metra or Pace."
While the Chamber is not officially implementing any of these ideas, Renn's proposal will be used as a jumping-off point for future discussions on public transit.
Renn's entire proposal, along with the three Chicago-based runners-up, can be viewed at InnovateNow.
Matt Bartosik, editor of Off the Rocks' next issue and "between blogs" blogger, has always wondered why one-day passes were never available for purchase directly from the bus driver.