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Photo of a Metra train by Sam Dickey

There are 5 stories from 8 sources in this edition of Grid Bits, all about transit.

CTA Red Line south track renewal project

The Chicago Transit Authority’s Red Line south project to shut down 9 Red Line stations (Cermak-Chinatown to 95th) for five months in 2013 to replace 100% of track is generating uninformed controversy. The CTA will be holding at least 5 meetings across the south side to meet one-on-one with neighbors and community groups. The first meeting was Monday; the second meeting is tonight.

Coverage and commentary of the Red Line south project:

The CTA has posted an extremely detailed webpage dedicated to informing people about the project’s goals, alternative service, and why it chose to avoid a 4-year-long weekend-only shutdown to complete the same work.

Universal fares

Metropolitan Planning Council asks on its Facebook page, “Do you think it is important for the region’s public transit agencies to have a universal fare card?” There are currently 21 “yes” answers, and none for “no” or “indifferent”. A commenter named Rob Cole asked: “What does that mean for cost of a 30-day unlimited pass?”

I responded to that question:

To answer Rob Cole’s question about the cost of a pass. The fare card wouldn’t necessarily give you one price for unlimited travel on all three service boards (Metra, Pace, CTA). Its main benefit is being able to pay for any of the three using a single fare medium. That medium could simply just be an RFID-enabled credit/debit card, or an NFC-enabled cellphone. The fares would remain the same, but the universal fare card would enable easier transfers. This could include discounts on transfers that you don’t have to buy in advance (transfer discounts are available now but must be purchased before you travel).

However, the agencies and the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) are still working out details on what a unified fare system would entail.

There’s another story on the topic. The RTA conducted a survey of 32,000 respondents, which included questions about the universal fare card. The Chicago Tribune’s Richard Wronski reports:

“There is no groundswell among our riders to have a single mechanism to transfer between service agencies. It was just the legislators’ (idea),” said Metra CEO Alex Clifford, who called the state law an “unfunded mandate.”

In recent years, transportation experts have cited consolidated fare-collection systems in other cities. Commuters in the San Francisco area can use the Clipper card to pay fares and transfer between seven transit systems.

We first reported on the state law in July 2011, which included other mandates like installing wi-fi on Metra trains, and using an open fare system.

Other stories

Good news for the tens of thousands of people who use the CTA’s 95th Red Line terminal daily (which includes passengers from Pace and Greyhound). The Chicago Tribune reports that the CTA has received a grant to start station construction but is still $120 million short:

The CTA plans to begin upgrading and expanding the Red Line’s 95th Street terminal, which is the sixth-busiest station on the rail system, by 2014, although all the funding needed for the $140 million project has not yet been secured, officials said Tuesday.

Chicago Tribune transportation reporter Jon Hilkevitch visited Bombardier’s train factory in Plattsburgh, NY, to see the CTA’s new 5000-series rail cars under construction. Watch the video.

A new CTA Yellow Line station opened in Skokie in April and has averaged 689 daily riders. It wasn’t reported how many of those riders are new to transit or switched to Oakton-Skokie from a different transit route. From Skokie Patch:

The CTA, the Village of Skokie and local businesses are all rating the Oakton Yellow Line station an unqualified success in its first month-plus of operation. [...] Skokie will have an official celebration of the new station on site from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 24.

The station opening was perfect timing for the May 5 start of business for Aw Yeah Comics. Store manager Marc Hammond and employee Charles Bowman said “dozens” of customers have specifically used the station to come to the store from Chicago’s North Side. “Some have said they’re using the train instead of driving because of parking issues in downtown,” said Bowman.

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