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Improve Regional Mass Transit First!

Chicago, IL

I live in the suburbs, adjacent the UP-West Metra rail line. My kids love coming to the museums, but we almost *never* use mass transit because the timing of trains during the day is horrible! It takes over an hour to get downtown, and the mid-day train schedule is so sporadic, you're either stuck downtown far longer than you want, or you have no time to enjoy the facilities. There are already plenty of buses to get from the rail stations to the Museum Campus. The problem for many suburbanites is that the rail service itself is prohibitive to museum use.

Perhaps a solution would be to negotiate special trains on each line that would have "express" service downtown, and arrivals/departures would be timed to coincide with shuttle buses to museum campus. Make it as easy as possible. For example, each rail line could have a specific time in the morning, say 9:30, where certain stops would be accessible. So, take the UP-W for example. There could be a stop at Wheaton, Lombard, and Oak Park, for example. The train would be a short train, just 5 cars perhaps, and it would arrive around 10:15. The bus could be timed so it leaves Ogilvie (off of Clinton) and heads straight to the Museum Campus loop. It would be free if riders show their Metra daily MUSEUM CAMPUS pass. There would also be specific return times, perhaps once per hour, that would take you back to *the same place* at Ogilvie (to avoid confusion) and there could be better signage to help newbies find their return train. The return would also be an express to the same stations.

I recognize that this plan is costly for Metra, but it would surely be LESS expensive than building an expensive Light Rail system that people from the suburbs don't use anyway because they already drove their car downtown!

Michael Cornfield Chicago, IL

Agreed on regional mass transit but it doesn't necessarily need to be an either/or proposition. In recent years, Metra has studied the costs and feasibility of electrification which would allow for EMU train-sets and much better headways and a higher level of service on non-peak hours and weekends. As the dust settles at Metra, they need to come up with a comprehensive plan for what it would take to get non-peak headways down to half an hour at least during the day and on weekends. Toronto is nice model here ( or even the Metra Electric.

Eric Johnson Wheaton, IL

Great points! I think my comments were geared toward a "now" solution that could exist using existing infrastructure, giving time for the more expensive solutions to be phased in. This could be some "low hanging fruit" that would ease congestion, improve access to the Campus, and improve ridership numbers during the mid-day hours on Metra. Seems like a winning proposition to me. They could even time the "Museum Campus" days to correspond to days where the Museums are *not* free, as those days are already packed!

Michael Payne Lisle, IL

That is exactly what the CTA Gray Line Project is Michael and Eric -- utilizing the existing Metra Electric line running every day, as a new CTA "L" service, check it out on the right above

Eric Johnson Wheaton, IL

I like the Gray Line Project, and I like Superloop, but I think both are missing the point I'm trying to make. See, with the Superloop, millions of people still have to get to the Loop, which is *not* convenient during the middle of the day or on weekends, due to the headways described above. Unless we get people out of their cars, there is no need for better Museum Campus transit for suburbanites (a huge population of museum-goers). Focusing funds on existing infrastructure and giving folks a reason to ride the Metra and then get on a bus/street car is the *fundamental* concern here.

Harvey Kahler Chicago, IL

Adding train frequencies in the off-peak on the BNSF and UPW is very problematical with the heavy freight traffic and limited capacity; otherwise, this could reduce the wait time, effectively speeding up service and improving convenience. Infrequent Metra off-peak service is a general problem for the Region, not just getting to the museums.
Another problem is that if you filled a 5-car train with museum-goers, it would take 10-14 buses to meet the train. Enough buses would be needed at each Matra station to run express to the Museum Campus and distribute passengers to each venue. Service would be reversed for returning museum-goers returning to their respective Metra stations.

Eric Johnson Wheaton, IL

Good points, Harvey. On your second point, however, I think the idea that an *entire* 5-car train would be filled with museumgoers is nearly impossible. The strategy would simply be that there would be a specific train that would be a partial express (not a milk run), and would be coordinated with buses on arrival. If 50-100 people showed up, a single accordion bus would be more than fine. The main points of my idea are:

1. Quick access to the city (quicker than the expressways)
2. Non-confusing, coordinated access to the bus
3. Quick trip to the museum campus
4. Easy return voyage

The "barriers to entry" listed above are the main reason (I believe) many more folks don't take public transit downtown. For people that don't use Metra/CTA on a regular basis, think about it this way:

1. Figure out where/how to buy a Metra ticket (some stations aren't staffed all day)
2. Figure out the train schedule
3. Figure out where to buy a Ventra pass (!)
4. Figure out the Bus schedule
5. Figure out where the Bus will pick up and drop off
6. Figure out when the Bus makes return trips
7. Figure out what the return train schedule is, and what track it's on (hard if you're popping into a train station at the "wrong" end..."
8. Oh, and for many people, do all this with small kids, strollers, bags with lunch/snacks/etc.

These 8 hurdles (I'm sure there are many more) are the reason why many folks just jump in the car and drive downtown and read the signs when they get there.

I think if we were able to make the transit piece a "no-brainer" and then provide marketing to help with public opinion, it could work. For instance, if a first timer can buy/print a Museum Campus Express Pass online, print it out, and then show up at the Metra station for the scheduled train, that would be a HUGE improvement. Then, that printed ticket gets them and their whole family all the way downtown, on a bus, and over to the campus (and back again). They no longer have to think about logistics. It's handled. It's easy. Show up at the train station, go to the museum, go home...easy peasy.

Harvey Kahler Chicago, IL

Running a special train for museum-goers seemd a little excessive for the demand; but that needs to be interpreted from museum and zip code and arrival time data anyway. The last weekday UPW and BNSF expresses arrive just before 9; and BNSF expresses depart beginnig at 2:30 and the UPW at 4:11. These allow virtually an all-day visit; but the question arises whether marketing coordinated train-bus shedules and fares would exceed train capacity. Additional expresses arriving around 9:53 or 12:53 on the UPW and departing around 3:25 would facilitate a shorter day. Similarly, additional expresses arriving around 10:30 or 12:30 on the BNSF would facilitate a shorter day. Just having hourly service on the weekends on all lines (except Heritage) would be a major improvement in convenience. Metra Electric South Chicago and Mainline-Blue Island trains should run no less than every half-hour, every fifteen munutes between Millennium Station and 63rd.

Ventra may accommodate some kind of fare discount as is (or was?) available with the CTA-Metra monthly Link-Up pass for single-day excursions and an additional discount on off-peak trains arriving after 10 am and departing before 4 pm. Reportedly, 80% of Metra commuters have smart phones to facilitate this; but some provision is needed for those that pay cash and the 20% who do not have smart phones. For this reason, on-platform 1-day ticket vending, valid for the day issued, is needed for on-board inspection. Off-peak and weekend discounts on Metra zone fares would be possible; but the ticket cards would need a chip for a transfer discount on CTA and an agreement on revenue sharing.