Construction of Pace Pulse stations temporarily stopped due to permit problems cited by CDOT
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI and KEVIN GROSS
Construction of stations for the Pace Pulse Milwaukee Avenue express bus line is being delayed in Chicago after the city Department of Transportation cited concerns regarding permits and Pace is also reporting a decline in Pulse ridership since the service launched in August.
Pace spokeswoman Maggie Daly Skogsbakken said that construction work on the stations had temporarily stopped because CDOT identified concerns regarding the raised platforms and other concerns at the stations, but she said the agency hopes to finish construction on all city stations, weather permitting, by the end of the year.
“This was unexpected as we received all the necessary permits, but we’re working closely with CDOT to get their questions answered and hope to be back to work soon,” Skogsbakken said.
In addition to Golf Mill and Jefferson Park, the Milwaukee Pulse route has or will have stops at Dempster, Main Street, Oakton Street, Harlem Avenue, Touhy Avenue, Devon Avenue, Austin Avenue and Central Avenue.
These boarding stations will include raised platforms, snow-melt pavement, heated shelters with seats, real-time bus arrival information, bike racks and a vertical marker designating the station as a Pulse stop.
“This is not something that we didn’t foresee or anticipated (with a major rollout),” she said. Skogsbakken said that construction has been delayed because there were delays with electrical work and that the tall silver vertical markers “go quite deep.”
“I think the biggest thing (with the general delay) was the electrical work,” Skogsbakken said.
The Pulse service launched on Aug. 11 and the agency said that it shaves several minutes off the normal commute between the Golf Mill shopping center and Jefferson Park Transit Center, a route that is still covered by Pace Route 270.
The agency reported that the average combined weekly ridership along the Milwaukee Avenue corridor on both Pace lines is 16,200 riders and that ridership in the 2 weeks before the new system launch at the end of July and beginning of August had decreased 7.2 percent from last year. Ridership in the 8 weeks after the new system was implemented had decreased 7.9 percent from last year, according to preliminary figures.
On average, the Pace Route 270 bus saw about 2,500 riders on weekdays, 1,800 on Saturdays and about 1,100 riders on Sundays before the launch of the Pulse Line. Ridership dropped on Route 270 significantly after the launch to about 600 riders on weekdays, 400 on Saturdays and close to 200 riders on Sundays, according to preliminary figures.
For the Pulse Line, numbers show about 2,400 riders on weekdays, roughly 1,400 on Saturdays and about 1,000 riders on Sundays. Many riders have switched over from the Route 270 bus to the Pulse Line since August, she said.
“We’re hopeful that Pulse will reverse the pattern of ridership decline we’ve seen throughout our system,” Skogsbakken said. “We believe public transportation is losing ridership because of a variety of reasons – including non-traditional work schedules (work from home), the availability of TNCs (Uber, Lyft, etc.), and the affordability of cars. Additionally, many companies are moving back to Chicago (like McDonalds and Motorola) and that impacts Pace as well. Making transit faster and more reliable with improved passenger amenities, like those offered by Pulse, is one way we are trying to reverse that trend,” she said.
Pace implemented reductions in the Route 270 bus schedule when the Pulse service began, which led to concerns from residents regarding the frequency of the old bus service.
The biggest concern from residents is the less frequent spacing of the new stations versus the old bus stops and longer walk and wait times for the old local bus.
The current Route 270 bus runs every hour versus the 10 minutes that the Pulse bus runs on weekdays in rush hour, every 15 minutes in non-peak hours until 10 p.m. and every 20 minutes until midnight.
The old Route 270 bus would run depending on time of day every 10 to 20 minutes.
“They basically eliminated the local 270 and now we have students and seniors getting off at stops that are so inconvenient. Going to get ugly when the weather changes,” one resident posted on Facebook. Several others echoed similar sentiments.
Skogsbakken said that the agency takes input from the public about their concerns. She said that the reason the buses are spaced out time wise is “we don’t want any overlap.”
“We are concerned. There are options for people with mobility issues,” she said. She mentioned a taxi access program offered by the agency that “basically offers a $30 taxicab ride for like $3.”
For more information on the program, visit www.pacebus.com/sub/ paratransit/TAP.asp.
Riders must qualify for ADA Paratransit Service to use TAP. Cabs in Chicago are mandated to accept TAP fares by a city ordinance, Skogsbakken said.
A recent trip on the Pulse bus shows that some of the stations in the city are nowhere near to being completed while the suburban ones are.
The northbound station on Milwaukee at Devon looks completed while the southbound station is “a gravel pit” at Milwaukee and Haft Street. The north and southbound stations at Austin look completed, but need work to finish sidewalks and glass installations. The Central station for northbound and southbound buses are not completed, but the southbound station by the island has a vertical marker installed that’s not operational.
“Despite the many concerns and the delays, the picture looks still quite promising for Pulse,” Skogsbakken said. She said that every time there is a roll out of a new service, residents have concerns. “But in time, as they use the service, they get used to it and learn that it is not as bad as they once thought,” she said.
The cost to ride a Pulse bus is $2 by using a Ventra card and $2.25 when paying in cash.