Chicago’s transit surveys readers’ opinions of area transit

Transit authority is dumping half a million into a study to determine public sentiment on its trains, stations

Transportation Management News Chicago Tribune December 02, 2011
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Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) is conducting a $500,000 study on public sentiment about transit that it says is worth every penny, according to the Chicago Tribune.

In recent weeks, thousands of Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and Metra rail riders on selected buses and trains have received brochure-like surveys and emails asking how satisfied they are with their public transportation.

The effort marks the first time that Chicago area transit users have been surveyed in a comprehensive, cohesive manner, RTA officials say, and it is hoped that the information will allow the CTA to improve its operations.


In past years, the CTA, Metra and Pace have regularly conducted their own ridership assessments. But those surveys did not provide a big enough picture of the region as a whole, the RTA says. The other surveys were done with different scales or in different time periods and could not be accurately aggregated.

This time, RTA is contracting a single firm to do the work and compiling the results into a single analysis.

The six-page surveys pose a multitude of questions. Although many queries are the same, the CTA version asks respondents to answer 40 questions, while the Metra survey tops out at 82.

The questions begin with the basics, asking how often customers travel and which bus routes or train lines they take. They then venture into more specific areas, querying riders on why they use public transit, and how they get to their Metra stations, for example.

The meat of the survey is a multi-part section asking customers to rank, on a scale of one to 10, such factors as cleanliness, safety, and conductor courtesy.

In a section on demographics, respondents are also asked personal details about employment, education and income levels.

Although the surveys are individually coded, customers are not asked to identify themselves. The RTA says individual information will only be used to "categorize" answers, and will be kept confidential.

Although the survey has been planned for the past two years, it comes on the heels of the 25% fare increase that Metra's board approved Nov. 11 to offset a $64 million deficit in 2012.

The CTA, facing a $277 million deficit, plans no fare hikes now. But it presumes getting $80 million worth of labor concessions next year and $160 million worth in 2013.

Money for the survey is coming primarily from the RTA's budget. The agency in August awarded Vermont-based Resource Systems Group Inc. a $435,000 contract to conduct the survey. The bid was the "lowest and best" of seven the RTA had received for the project, Anderson said.

Earlier this year, the RTA used a federal grant to pay Resource Systems $83,000 to develop the survey methodology.

Pace, which carried out its portion of the survey in the spring, used a separate $290,000 federal grant to pay its costs. Those results will be combined with the Metra and CTA surveys.


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