Northwestern, Chicago Transit Authority partnership results in significant ridership increase on 201 bus route

Tori Latham, Managing Editor

New data suggests students and faculty seem to not miss the Ryan Field shuttle, which was replaced by the Chicago Transit Authority’s 201 bus in September.

The free rides for WildCARD-holders contributed to an increase in ridership on the 201 route by 19 percent during the weekdays and 14 percent on Saturdays for the months September through November, CTA spokesperson Jeffrey Tolman told The Daily.

“It’s been trending upward every month since we started, and that is absolutely correlated to the CTA’s partnership with Northwestern,” Tolman said. “We have heard extremely positive feedback.”

The CTA announced last July it would allow NU students and employees to ride the 201 route — which follows Central Street and Ridge Avenue — for free starting Sept. 1. That month alone, there were more than 10,000 one-way rides taken by NU students and employees, said Paul Merkey, NU’s transportation services manager. Typically, 3,000 to 3,500 people would ride the Ryan Field shuttle in a month, marking a significant increase in ridership.

“It was good for all of September, and especially very good for that first month when students weren’t even back to campus yet,” Merkey said.

When the plans for the service were first announced, University officials emphasized the reduction in traffic that would occur by taking the Ryan Field shuttle off the road and the increased service offered by the CTA route — including the availability of transportation on Saturdays. Marge Grzeszczuk, University Services’ manager of support services, said additional service is always being requested by the NU community.

The 201 route provides service to the Westfield Old Orchard shopping center and the CTA’s Howard Street station. Because the CTA bus provides more hours than the Ryan Field shuttle, it also gives faculty and staff an additional hour of time to commute, Grzeszczuk said.

New attributes, like the environmental impact of eliminating a shuttle and the community relationship the partnership promotes, also became apparent once the service began.

“By taking the Ryan Field shuttle off the streets, there is one less bus driving around and putting emissions into the air,” Merkey said. “It also had a very good, positive impact with city town-gown relations.”

Evanston officials did admit they were more on the periphery of the decision between the CTA and NU, but City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz praised the partnership in an email to The Daily.

“It was an outstanding decision by NU to leverage the existing resource of the CTA bus,” Bobkiewicz said. “It is great for traffic and the environment to get one bus off Evanston streets.”

NU’s contract with the CTA for the 201 bus route will expire in 2020, but Grzeszczuk said NU is always looking into opportunities to combine services, especially after seeing the benefits this partnership provided to the community.

The CTA has also been pleased with the collective results of the pact, Tolman said.

“This agreement exemplifies the value of private and public partnerships,” he said. “It brings together local neighborhoods with the school for a positive community impact.”

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