Data analysis found CTA only ran about half of its scheduled trips on the Blue Line – Streetsblog Chicago

While Mayor Lori Lightfoot often bragged that Chicago was the only major US city that didn’t cut transit service during COVID-19, that was only true on paper. The city eventually acknowledged that the number of CTA trains and buses had been significantly reduced due to pandemic-related staffing shortages. These days, the transit agency is even issuing customer alerts apologizing in advance for longer than usual wait times between rides due to less service.

Photo: Ruth Rosas
Photo: Ruth Rosas

The Active Transportation Alliance recently connected Streetsblog Chicago with Fabio Göttlicher, a mobile developer and Blue Line regular who was fed up with service shortcomings. Göttlicher analyzed data from Blue Line Train Tracker and concluded that since the beginning of December 2021, CTA has fairly consistently run around 52% of its scheduled Blue Line service, and train numbers have particularly decreased at night and on weekends. -end.

“Like any other passenger, I have noticed the decrease in service reliability on the ‘L’ as well as on the buses since the start of the pandemic,” Göttlicher said via email. “However, CTA has repeatedly failed to acknowledge the extent of the de facto service cuts. In August 2021, I submitted a letter to CTA’s monthly board meetings to draw attention to this; However, it was not met with a real answer.After that, I used my programming skills to develop an automated blue line tracker that continuously records in real time [Blue Line] service levels at my home station in California/Milwaukee and then compares them to expected levels. »

Göttlicher says it’s not just a problem of occasional service gaps, but rather that the CTA hasn’t even come close to keeping up with its official schedule for several months. Here is his chart summarizing service levels over the past four months.

Graph summarizing the CTA Blue Line service levels per day at the California/Milwaukee station.  Image Fabio Gottlicher
Graph summarizing the CTA Blue Line service levels per day at the California/Milwaukee station. Click to enlarge. Image: Fabio Gottlicher

Göttlicher told us he was interested in tracking service levels on other “L” lines, as well as bus lines, although this would require a significant amount of work, as train tracking systems and buses provided by CTA are quite different from each other. other.

“I’m really sympathetic to the staff situation,” Göttlicher said. “And I certainly don’t blame the bus and rail operators. All I’m asking for is better communication on service levels, the narrative of which seems to be controlled by CTA management.

Jackson Blue Line station.  Photo: John Greenfield
Jackson Blue Line station. Photo: John Greenfield

“CTA continues to receive state and federal grants, including federal COVID relief funds to offset lost fare collection, to provide a full level of service,” Göttlicher told us. “Of course, costs have increased over the past two years, but CTA cannot be expected to spend so much money to provide only half of the services it was accustomed to.”

“Ghost trains and buses are quite frustrating,” Göttlicher noted, referring to the now common situation where trains or buses appear as trackers, but then disappear before they even arrive. “In my experience, ghost trains and buses usually tend to occur when there aren’t enough real vehicles on the system, so the tracking software fills the arrival board with scheduled information, but it does not correspond to reality. In an ideal world, the schedule would closely match the actual service, so this replacement would not be a problem, but when there is such a disparity between the schedules and the service real, it becomes a real headache.

CTA passengers using Train Tracker should only rely on train journeys with the WiFi icon (waves) next to the time, which are tracked live.

“Even the official CTA support team now advises passengers to only trust tracked trains that display the WiFi icon (e.g. live tracked trains.),” said Gottlicher. “As part of this push, we need to ask CTA to update their tracking software to be able to better respond to current situations. As a software engineer, I would even be happy to give my time for this.

Early last week, Streetsblog asked the CTA for an explanation of the phenomenon of ghost trains and ghost buses. Today the agency has promised to come back to us in the near future.