We were in Chicago for the long weekend and had the opportunity to ride the “L” and many Chicago buses during the visit. Again, we caveat any “review” of a mass transit system by saying it’s really hard to get a clear read as a tourist, and after the past couple of weeks, the Detroit People Mover would probably seem better than Metro.
So yes, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) appeared superior to WMATA, and substantially so.
Our first impression was negative—only one machine to buy day/weekend passes at the airport? Not so great, but luckily, there wasn’t much of a line.
The L isn’t much to look at. Over it's 8 lines, 144 stops and 106 miles, it's pretty industrial. Except for little swaths of cloth on the back and bottom of the seats (Why bother?), the car interiors are so indestructible looking that they could probably be washed out with a power sprayer.
Over the course of 1.5 hours give or take on the trains (Blue, Red and Brown lines), there was not one unexplained stop between stations. However, when the trains do stop at a station, hold on. They stop rather abruptly.
Another thing we like about the L is that you don’t need to swipe a card to get out of the system. All rides are a flat fee--$2.25 with cash, $2 with a farecard.
Chicago is a much friendlier town than DC, so we suppose it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that CTA workers reflect their city in that regard. In Chicago, the train operators look out the cabin windows down the sides of the trains while operating the doors, like they do here. One time, we happen to be in the front car and, as we walked by the conductor, he actually greeted us with a smile and wished us a good day. That has never happened to us here. Many Metro employees seem to be saying "stay the f away" with their body language.
On the bus, it was also friendly. As we were trying to shove our farecard into the coin slot, the driver politely directed us to the farecard slot. We sat near the front of the bus and watched how the driver politely answered the many questions passengers were peppering him with. We won't go so far as to say he bent over backwards, but he didn't add an additional level of unpleasantness to the ride.
We’ve never taken a WMATA bus, but from what readers have relayed to us, it sounds like the drivers here could take a lesson from this one Chicago driver at least.
The L seemed better equipped to handle large crowds, too. We were there during Taste of Chicago, an event that is on a par with many of DC’s big events. Was the L packed like a sardine can? Were the platforms suffocating? Not at all. Trains were frequent, and we even found seats. Chicago's extensive bus system may provide an explanation as to why the trains were not so crowded.
Late at night, the buses and trains came with enough frequency that you were never left feeling like you wanted to pull your hair out. That could also be because there are no signs telling you when the next train will come. CTA does offer a NextBus like system for checking bus arrival times.
Unlike Metro, the CTA offers service round the clock.
CTA trains and buses have excellent pre-recorded station and transfer announcements unlike the muffled gibberish you so often hear on Metro.
Have you had much experience on the CTA? How would you compare it with Metro?
BART vs. Metro
More lawsuits filed against Metro (WTOP)
Metrorail operators scared to operate trains after crash (Examiner)
No late night trains after soccer tonight (WaPo)
Four mainstream media outlets happen to see the texting driver video yesterday. Wow!
Hat tip to NBC4's Jim Iovino!