Pace sees big ridership growth on routes using I-55 shoulders - Chicago News and Weather | FOX 32 News

Pace sees big ridership growth on routes using I-55 shoulders

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JOLIET, Ill. (Sun-Times Media Wire) -

The two Pace bus routes on Interstate 55 have seen big ridership increases in the first year they have been using the highway shoulder to bypass traffic tie-ups.

The routes start in Plainfield and Bolingbrook, and Pace plans to add one or two trips in 2013 because of growing ridership.

It still takes about 1-1/2 hours to get to downtown Chicago during the morning rush hours even with access to the shoulder. But that's faster than before, and the arrival times have become more predictable, a Pace spokesman said.

Ridership on Route 755, which goes to the University of Illinois at Chicago medical district and Union Station, had an average daily ridership of 143 in October, which is three times higher than ridership in October 2012.

The more heavily used Route 855, which goes to downtown Chicago and the North Michigan Avenue shopping district, had average daily ridership of 496 in October, up nearly 30 percent from the same month a year ago.

Pace considers the pilot program a success, spokesman Patrick Wilmot said.

"If it were up to us, we would be very happy to expand this elsewhere," Wilmot said. "It's expanded ridership. It's improved on-time performance. Safety has been outstanding as well. It has accomplished everything we wanted it to do."

One of the concerns about shoulder riding is safety.

Wilmot said there was one accident on Interstate 55 in the first year of the program. That happened when a car swerved in front of a bus. There were no injuries, he said.

Pace buses are restricted to a speed of no more than 35 mph on the shoulder, and they are required to drive no faster than 10 mph more than traffic in the lanes.

Shoulder riding only is allowed during the morning and afternoon rush hours. Travel times have not been reduced greatly, because Pace buses still are not allowed on narrower shoulders along the expressway in Chicago, Wilmot said. But it has made arrival times more predictable, he said.

"The on-time performance has improved significantly," he said.

The average travel time on Route 855 from Plainfield to North Michigan Avenue during morning rush hours is 1 hour and 40 minutes. The afternoon ride back is 20 minutes longer. The average morning ride on Route 755 to Union Station is 1 hour and 20 minutes. The afternoon ride back is 10 minutes longer.

Pace has been talking with tollway officials about allowing buses to use the shoulder on the Jane Addams Tollway, which is the stretch of Interstate 90 that runs from O'Hare International Airport to Rockford. No agreement has been reached.

The I-55 shoulder riding was allowed in a five-year pilot program that began in November 2011.

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