After pandemic cuts, CTA will start running more buses on some routes

After pandemic cuts, CTA will start running more buses on some routes

After cuts in transit service during the pandemic, more than two dozen Chicago bus routes will return to “near pre-COVID-19 scheduled service levels,” in the coming days, according to the CTA.

Service will be added on 29 of the agency’s 127 routes beginning Sunday, including some of the busiest, like the 66 Chicago, the 3 King Drive and the 82 Kimball-Homan. Most of the additional service will be added on weekdays, though a few routes will get extra weekend service.

The latest schedule change only affects bus service, but CTA officials said the agency will add back rail service later in the spring. The rail additions will focus on the morning and evening peak periods on the Red, Green, Brown and Purple lines, and the busy O’Hare branch of the Blue Line, the CTA said.

Unreliable bus and train service has been a frequent complaint of riders for years, leaving passengers with long wait times and crowded buses and trains and putting CTA President Dorval Carter in the hot seat. An October Tribune analysis found the agency slashed schedules on some train lines by as much as 25% to 30% compared with 2019 service levels.

The agency has pegged service cuts on challenges hiring and retaining enough employees to operate buses and trains, and has said adding back service will depend on its ability to add operators.

The added bus service comes after Carter told City Council members in February that bus service would begin to be added back “in just the next few weeks,” and promised rail service would be restored to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year.

How the new bus schedules will compare with pre-pandemic levels varies by route and time of day, but most of the new schedules will be within 5% of the number of hours buses were scheduled to be in service in 2019, spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski said.

In one example, the 66 Chicago route — one of the CTA’s busiest — will be scheduled to run every three to four minutes during morning rush hour, compared with every two to four minutes pre-pandemic and down from four to 7½ minutes now.

The 111 111th/King Drive bus will be scheduled to run with the same wait times as before the COVID-19 pandemic. The 8 Halsted bus, scheduled before the pandemic to run every four to eight minutes during evening rush, will now be scheduled to run every 6½ to eight minutes.

Extra Saturday service will also be scheduled on the 77 Belmont and 81 Lawrence routes.

The CTA will continue to add back bus service throughout the year, Hosinski said. Bus schedules are changed at designated points in the year as part of a union employee scheduling process.

The additions reflect changes to schedules, but for much of the pandemic the CTA struggled to run all of its scheduled service, leading to the phenomenon known as “ghosting.” The CTA has since begun updating its bus trackers and cut back on schedules in an attempt to make the actual buses and trains running match more closely to scheduled service, meaning riders were less likely to get ghosted but that listed wait times increased.

How closely actual service matches the new schedules now will depend in large part on whether the CTA has enough operators. The agency had 3,600 bus operators in February, compared with some 3,800 pre-pandemic, CTA data shows.

“This new service is a down payment on our commitment to bring service back to pre-pandemic scheduled service levels,” Carter said in a statement. “And while this additional service will definitely benefit our customers, our job is not done — we know we have much more work to do, and we’re committed to it.”