The Science of Cutting Bus Routes in Chicago

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Chicago's Transit Authority recently announced a restructuring of bus routes. It is partly meant to ease crowding on some lines, while removing others with few riders. But the exact decision-making process for ending the life of a bus line isn't purely by the numbers.

WBEZ's Curious City investigates why some routes get cut and others dont. Reporter Ken Davis gets answers from the top, and takes a few rides with the CTA's "data jockey" and a video camera in tow to give us a sense of the type of rider on endangered bus lines.

Obviously any decision to change or drop service is driven first by money. The CTA currently wants to add buses and trains to its highest-traffic lines, but without any additional money, they have to cut something else. And good decisions require clean data. So Jeff [Schroeder, Data Jockey] has turned about 1,700 CTA buses into hunter-gatherers. They quietly, unobtrusively collect data. On you.

As he eventually learns, the type of person and neighborhood served matters a lot too. CTA's chief Forrest Claypool tells WBEZ, “It’s certainly a high priority to make sure that our most impoverished areas have quality mass transportation ... So we are gonna protect that service at all costs.”

For more on exactly what that means, and the third and final factor in the science of cutting bus lines, read (also watch and listen) to the full version at WBEZ.