The Solution to Congestion? Public Transit.

I applaud Crain’s story “What’s making traffic worse in Chicago? Signs point to Uber, Lyft” (3/19).  We all see the ride-hailing company logos in car rear windshields. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t sat in a vehicle as the doors fly open on the car in front and riders jump out.  Sometimes, it feels like our sidewalks have become one large “taxi” stand. I was on a bus recently that couldn’t approach its stop due to several ride share vehicles blocking the way.

The overall solution to our congestion problems is not new easier ways for people to ride in cars – it is investment in our mass transit system. In many ways, public transit is an “economic equalizer,” offering the most equitable, affordable means of moving large volumes of people to work, medical appointments or school.

Ride hailing vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and private cars on our roads simply can’t accommodate the sheer number of people that need to move around our region each day. In our region, that’s over two million rides each weekday or about 1/6th of our state’s population!  Imagine the congestion if these drivers got back into their cars.

These new mobility options—ones which I and many often use—cause congestion in the busiest parts of the region and slow travel for everyone, including those on the bus services we provide. Transit saves rush hour drives $400 a year by reducing the number of cars on the road.  In our area, you can save more than $11,000 a year by switching your daily commute from driving to taking public transportation and that greatly helps mitigate some of the cost of living in Illinois.

The RTA recently released a 5-year Regional Transit Strategic Plan, called “Invest in Transit” which is the region’s case for pursuing stable and dedicated funding streams that will enable the Transit Agencies to provide vital public transit into the future.  In the plan, we explain that we must invest in our transit system in order to offer services that are competitive with these private services, for the benefit of our cities and region. Years of neglect and disinvestment in transit have left us with slow zones, aging fleets and clogged track interchanges.  We estimate that we need to invest $30 billion over the next decade to catch up and meet our future needs.

Transit is no stranger to change. Suburbanization, economic cycles, population shifts, changing work patterns, technology, fluctuating gas prices and the weather have always shifted and swayed transit riders. Yet, amidst all these transformations, mass transit remains the backbone of the transportation network.

We understand that we need to adapt to the future.  In the Plan, we lay out the strategy to balance the risks and potential negative impacts of change with the opportunity to improve mobility and transit service in the future.  With the proper investment and regulation, transit and ride-hailing services can have a symbiotic relationship.   As the Crain’s piece quotes a California researcher saying, “If we don’t have good mass transit systems, then it’s going to be a congestion nightmare.” It’s time to wake up and invest in transit before we all get that sinking feeling that this isn’t just a bad dream, but our new reality.

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