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How COVID will change your CTA ride
As businesses open up in early June, workers will need a way to get there. Here's what city officials say about public transit protections and ride sharing

Wednesday, May 27, 2020
Crain's Chicago Business
by A.D. Quig

As Chicago prepares for its next opening phase, city officials also are prepping for workers to return to public transit, cabs and ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.

Chicago’s pre-COVID workforce was about 1.4 million. The city estimates 300,000 have been working from home or otherwise unable to go into work, and an easing of the city’s shutdown in early June will bring an estimated 130,000 back into the economy, Deputy Mayor Samir Mayekar told reporters on a call today. It’s unclear how many will take public transit to get there, Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi said on the call.

The CTA will continue “aggressive cleaning protocols,” is contemplating expanded Bus Rapid Transit lanes, meaning shorter waits between buses, and might add train cars depending on passenger trends, Biagi said. The city is encouraging riders to use other means of transit when they can, including biking and walking.

“We’ll be doubling down on disinfecting multiple times a day—stations and buses,” and protecting employees with masks, Biagi said. “It's certainly a high priority to make sure the public feels confident in the system.”

Mayekar said the CTA is piloting additional disinfection techniques like electrostatic cleaning and is considering other antimicrobial measures.

More specifics on taxi and ride-hailing protocols are coming within the next two days, Mayekar said. Biagi encouraged ride-hailing and cab passengers to sit in the back seat and wear masks and limit shared rides so passengers that are strangers aren’t sitting in close quarters.

When the city reopens (still no date set), riders will have to wear a mask, Biagi said. The CTA has encouraged hand-washing before and after traveling; trying to limit the number of surfaces touched, such as seat backs, and maintaining 6 feet between other riders by avoiding sitting in vacant seats next to others or keeping a row of seats between riders. The agency also recommends moving to less crowded train cars or waiting for the next bus or train if one seems too crowded. Rear boarding on CTA buses will continue; that means most rides will continue to be free, since many buses don’t have tap card readers at their back doors.

Michael Cornicelli, executive vice president of the Building Owners & Managers Association of Chicago, helped put together city guidelines on office reopenings. He said businesses could consider staggering start times for employees to reduce congestion in transit and at the office, or have employees working shifts at home. He suggested "some people working Mondays and Tuesdays. The other half comes in the other two days. Everybody works at home Fridays."

“Certainly staggered shifts help a lot” during rush hour, she said. The city is in touch with Metra and Pace and all three will continue to “tweak” their strategy across the Chicago area. Together, those transit agencies predict a $1 billion revenue loss this year. It’s unclear when ridership might return to pre-COVID levels.

The CTA had previously asked riders to take buses or trains only for essential trips to work, the grocery store or a pharmacy. The agency saw ridership fall roughly 80 percent since the beginning of stay-home orders. That fall has been uneven; some routes, like the Brown Line, saw ridership fall as much as 90 percent, while popular bus and train routes on the South and West sides remain somewhat busy. Mayor Lori Lightfoot says some lakefront express buses have been shifted to South and West Side routes to offer more opportunities for riders to space themselves out.



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