For many Chicagoans, it's been months since they last tapped their Ventra card to board a CTA train or bus, as a significant portion of city residents opted to stay home and forgo their daily commute—according to data from Transit, demand for public transit in Chicago is down 74% compared to its usual levels as of Wednesday, June 3. Now that Chicago is officially entering Phase 3 of its reopening plan, there's likely to be more people on buses and trains as many businesses reopen in some capacity and residents begin venturing to places like restaurants and retail stores.
The move to Phase 3 doesn't mean that the risk of going out has decreased significantly, but the CTA has implemented a variety of new measures over the past few weeks that aim to make buses and trains safer for passengers. Here's what you can expect the next time your pay your fare and go for a ride:
- Face coverings are required. All passengers and employees on a train or bus need to be wearing face coverings for the protection of themselves and others, though children under the age of 2 and those unable to medically tolerate a face covering are exempt from this rule. If you don't have one yet, these local businesses are selling a variety of face coverings.
- Capacity restrictions are in place. "Approximately 15 customers on standard 40-foot buses and approximately 22 customers on 60-foot articulated buses and each train car," according to the CTA. We're not sure how these limits will be enforced, but we know that the CTA is adding longer trains and buses to some routes to try and ensure that there's more space for riders.
- Riders should consider social distancing when boarding. In most cases, it's impossible to stay 6 feet away from others on a train or bus (that's why you need to wear a face covering), but maintaining as much distance as possible it is still encouraged. To that end, the CTA is encouraging riders to avoid boarding crowded buses or train cars, stagger seating when riding and adhere to distance markers placed in stations and vehicles.
- You should still board buses through the rear door. The CTA introduced rear boarding on buses back in April and it's still in place to decrease contact with operators and other passengers. Some buses have Ventra card readers installed by the rear door, but you'll ride for free on buses that haven't yet been upgraded.
- Trains and buses may be cleaner than usual. According to the CTA, trains and buses are getting scrubbed down and sanitized daily, both before and after service. Stations are also getting some extra attention, with frequently touched surfaces wiped down four times a day and more regular deep cleaning of everything else. The CTA also claims it is testing "electrostatic sprayers" and "antimicrobial coatings on vehicles" to keep surfaces disinfected.
- Contactless payment is being encouraged. A Ventra card remains the only way to pay to board a train and it doesn't seem like paying with cash is being encouraged on CTA trains at the moment (those kiosks are at the front of the bus, not the rear door). But the CTA is going one step further and encouraging riders not to use the Ventra vending machines to pay for fares and load money on Ventra cards. Instead, customers are asked to load funds using the Ventra app or pay for fares with contactless debit/credit cards, Apple Pay or Google Pay.
- Consider if you really need to take the CTA. In order to encourage social distancing, the CTA is asking that buses and trains be used for "essential and long-distance trips only." What's more, the CTA is encouraging riders to consider alternative transportation options to preserve space for essential workers and individuals with mobility challenges on buses and trains. If you're just going a few blocks in your neighborhood, you can walk, ride a bike (if you don't own one, try Divvy) and possibly rent a scooter later this summer. Yes, it's strange to see CTA asking customers to consider not riding the bus or train, but it's a sign of how seriously the system is taking the safety of its passengers.
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