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Roughly every three days, one person biking or walking is killed by someone driving a car in the Chicago region.

Prepaid bus boarding pilot program expands

In an effort to speed up local bus service and reverse bus ridership decline, CTA is unveiling faster boarding at two more bus stops.

Starting June 27, riders will be able to pay their fare while waiting for a bus and quickly board the following routes:

Southbound #135 and #146 buses at Inner Drive/Belmont

(6:30 a.m.–9:30 a.m., weekdays)

Southbound #29 and westbound #69 buses at the 69th Red Line station

(3 p.m.–6 p.m., weekdays)

Before boarding a bus from the designated boarding area or corral, customers will pay their fares to a CTA staffer who will have a mobile Ventra reader.

The CTA began testing prepaid bus boarding at the Belmont station on the Blue line and at the Madison/Dearborn Loop Link station downtown in the summer of 2016. The agency says the Blue Line pilot resulted in a time savings of 38 seconds per bus, while the Loop Link pilot saved 16 seconds per bus. The Loop Link pilot ended in December 2016 while the Belmont pilot is ongoing.

There is a clear need for faster and more reliable bus service citywide. Each of the affected routes has seen ridership decline in recent years, although they remain some of the most popular in the city.

For example, average weekday rides of the #29 route decreased by 10 percent last year from an average of 13,245 rides in 2015 to an average of 11,923 rides in 2016. Along the #135 route, annual ridership decreased by 7.2 percent, from 849,777 rides in 2015 to 788,491 in 2016.

The goal of the pilot program is to get the customers to destinations more efficiently and reduce the delays of boarding, especially during busy rush hour periods. Estimates show buses spend about 20 percent of their travel time picking up and dropping off customers. 

Last month we highlighted the success San Francisco’s MUNI transit system has had with prepaid boarding.

Prepaid bus boarding is only one of the ways that the quality and speed of bus service can improve. Later this summer Active Trans will release a report featuring other low-cost ways to make bus service faster and more reliable, such as dedicated bus lanes and traffic signal improvements.

Let us know how your experience of prepaid boarding at any of the pilot locations influences your commute, and if you have suggestions for future pilot locations, by contacting Julia Gerasimenko, advocacy manager, at


Photo credit: Phil Velasquez / Chicago Tribune