The coronavirus pandemic brings a busload of bad news to public transit. Many trains and buses are running nearly empty. Shifting employment patterns—including more work-from-AG亚洲国际游戏home jobs—and a desire to avoid crowded places will likely dampen the recovery once the pandemic ends. Government agencies face looming budgetary shortfalls, which could put some transit services at risk.
Transit must adapt—and step on the accelerator when it comes to testing new ideas. Our three primary transit providers—the Chicago Transit ity, Metra and Pace Suburban Bus—now benefit from strong leadership. But when the crisis subsides and normalcy returns, it is imperative that our region adopt strategies that make our transit system more effective, including testing new ways to get people to their destinations quicker and with less hassle. With the COVID crisis giving people another reason to drive, there is—bluntly stated—a "need for speed."
How can that be done without enormous outlays? Let me offer three ways.
1. Experiment with more express bus service. We've fallen behind Los Angeles, New York and other cities in rolling out express buses. Pace's "bus-on-shoulder service" using the Edens and Stevenson expressways and its other timesaving offerings are doing well, but more such enhancements are needed. Express buses could also shave well over an hour from many off-peak trips from, say, the Magnificent Mile to outer suburbs like Naperville, where time-consuming transfers and all-stop train schedules compel most to drive. Funding for such express services could be structured to mutually benefit all three agencies.
Regional express bus service to O'Hare and Midway airports (which will gradually bounce back) is another priority. The vast majority of flyers not traveling to or from places near the CTA's Blue or Orange lines end up making airport trips by car. Transit can take upward of 90 minutes longer than Uber when traveling to Midway or O'Hare from Downers Grove, Glenview, Tinley Park, or even some city neighborhoods, depending on when and from where you leave. We should take a lesson from Massachusetts, which has an entire system of remote park-and-ride facilities encouraging passengers to travel by bus to Boston Logan International Airport. More pilot programs to determine the situations in which express buses are most viable are clearly a priority.
2. Test timesaving trains. Metra is delivering faster trips without large capital outlays with its reverse commute service to Lake County (an experiment financially supported by Lake County Partners enjoying much success) and the agency's enhanced express schedules on the Union Pacific Northwest line through Arlington Heights. If commuting patterns evolve due to more flexible work arrangements, more such outside-the-box thinking will be needed to offer customers faster trips, particularly outside of rush hour. Of course, with additional capital funding from Capitol Hill or Springfield, true high-speed rail opportunities beckon.
3. Form strategic partnerships with ride-sharing operators like Lyft, Uber and Via. This idea isn't as controversial as it may seem: These private operators are proving to be reliable partners across the country. Our new study shows they are supporting programs that run the gamut, from discounts for ride-shares to certain bus or train stops, to eliminating "transit deserts," to catering to disadvantaged populations.
In greater Dayton, Ohio, the regional transit provider offers free Lyft service to transit stops in areas affected by reduced bus service. The city of Detroit offers discounted Lyft trips to and from certain transit stops during the wee hours of the night. Jersey City contracts with Via to run 14 six-seat vans, priced at just $2 a ride, to allow for faster trips when bus and rail service is poor.
Such partnerships require trial and error, political buy-in and staff commitment, but they help agencies gradually reinvent themselves—and move beyond a two-sizes-fits-all approach to transit that centers on conventional buses and trains.
All of these ideas require adequate funding for our established bus and rail system—which is the top priority. But agencies must also recommit to working together and testing new ideas. In a world forever changed by COVID, we need more innovation—and need it fast.
Joseph P. Schwieterman is a professor and director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University.