Chicago traffic patterns, public transit ridership changes as people go back to work

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Tuesday, June 8, 2021
Traffic up, public transit still down as Chicago area emerges from pandemic
As the heavist COVID restrictions are eased and more people return to work, traffic is up, public transit usage remains down, and new patterns have emerged.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Roads are more congested, public transit ridership remains down, and new patterns have emerged as the Chicago area emerges from the pandemic and go back to work.

"We are seeing this work from home lifestyle manifest itself in work day trips, errands in the middle of the day, weekend trips," said Prof. Joe Schwieterman, DePaul University transportation expert. "When we feel the need to get out and experience leisure, that's added to the congestion and it appears to be getting worse for the summer and construction season."

Josh and Tyler Opferman were virtually the only passengers on the mid-afternoon Metra to Orland Park who were returning from work downtown, at a cannabis business.

"Now that it's opening back up, you get to see the people who normally you see back on the train, which is nice," Josh Opferman said. "There were some people there this morning, but on the way back it was pretty much empty."

Metra said it has 16-17% of its ridership compared to this time in 2019, meaning about 48,000 rides a day instead of 287,000 despite running 61% of its pre-pandemic train schedule. They are hoping to get to 30% by year's end.

"I think that's crazy and it's a huge reflection on how people are working how people are getting to work or lack thereof," Tyler Opferman said.

Schwieterman said the CTA is doing much better than Metra because its neighborhood bus service meets the needs of service workers who have fewer options to get to work. As a result, business models will have to be rethought, especially regarding downtown services, and officials may find people may want more frequent service and express service outside of rush-hour. That will, in turn, require new technology and new equipment; a tall order.

So prepare for more cars on the road at all hours of the day as the city and state embrace reopening, and believe that at least for now rush hour is actually less intense.