Pace adds more 'shoulder buses' as gas prices climb

April 2, 2012 9:57:28 AM PDT
As Chicago-area drivers deal with soaring gas prices, some commuters are changing their habits and taking public transportation instead.

On the same day that AAA released a new report about gas prices in Chicago, the Pace bus company announced it will expand service for its Bus on Shoulder program to accommodate an increase in ridership.

According to a spokesperson for AAA, Chicago has the highest gas prices in the nation, except for Hawaii. In the Windy City, a gallon of gas averages $4.45.

So, many Chicago-area residents people are finding ways to keep some cash in their pockets .

A motor scooter, for example, helps Samir Selmic save on gas.

" Four dollars every couple of days, that definitely helps over driving. So yeah, it's an advantage," he said.

Another commuter, Courtney Williams, takes one of the Pace Express buses that rides on the shoulder of the Stevenson Expressway from Romeoville. When traffic on the Stevenson slows to a crawl, Pace Express buses hit the shoulders to pass the traffic.

A ride on a Pace Express bus costs $4, making it a clear alternative to driving, for some commuters.

"It's been very beneficial to me. It helps with cost-efficiency," Williams said. "The price of gas is so high. So, being able to pay $4 to come to downtown has been great."

Since the Bus on Shoulder project began in November, Pace says it has seen a dramatic improvement in on-time performance and an increase in ridership for its express bus routes 855 and 755 -- so much so, that Pace is ready to add more service. Before the Bus on Shoulder program, the buses operated on time about 68 percent of the time, and now, buses are on time about 92 percent of the time.

"The gas price is so high, it would be beneficial for everybody to ride a bus," Pace rider Oscar Ongdngco said.

Route 855, which links the southwest suburbs to the Loop and North Michigan Avenue, has seen ridership jump more than 67 percent. Route 755, which runs to the Medical District and UIC, has seen ridership increase 120 percent.

As part of the changes, Route 755 will be extended all the way to Union Station in downtown Chicago. Pace will also add more trips to both routes.

The changes go into effect next Monday, April 9.

The AAA report released Monday indicates in Illinois, regular unleaded gasoline increased $0.52 cents per gallon during the past month, and $0.86 per gallon since the start of the year.

March prices in the Chicago region reached a record average high of $4.68 per gallon for regular gas.

At one BP gas station on the city's North Side, the price Monday morning was $4.78 per gallon.

" I think it's too high because I pump like $70 a day. I work 14 hours a day. It's $70 out of my pocket. I think it's a lot," said cab driver Aizbk Mustakov.

AAA expert Beth Mosher blames a high gas tax in Chicago and a switch over to the summer blend of gasoline for the high prices. However, the biggest factor, she says, is a reformulated blend of gas that is sold in Chicago -- but not other parts of Illinois or the country -- because it is required by law. It has fewer emissions.

If drivers think they can get a big break at the gas pump in Indiana, they should think again. AAA says prices there have been setting records, too. In some cities, gas is as high as $4.37 per gallon.

For more information on Pace's Bus on Shoulder program, visit http://www.pacebus.com


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