City Responds to Coronavirus with Discounted Divvy Memberships, CTA Credits

Half-priced Divvy memberships, credit for unused days on monthly and weekly CTA passes, and free rides for paratransit customers are all part of Chicago’s plan to keep its transportation network rolling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Chicago is committed to ensuring reliable and accessible transportation for every neighborhood and community, and we are taking every measure possible to provide the pricing support needed to keep our residents mobile and our city moving forward,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement Tuesday morning.

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Residents who no longer ride Chicago Transit Authority trains and buses during Illinois’ stay-at-home order are eligible for a prorated credited for unused days on their seven- and 30-Day CTA passes. The city says credits will be issued to riders’ Ventra accounts and can be used for pay-as-you-go rides or future passes.

According to the CTA, ridership this past Friday, Saturday and Sunday was down about 70%. Despite that steep drop-off, Lightfoot has been committed to keeping the CTA running on its regular schedule, a commitment she reiterated Tuesday.

“There’s obviously concerns about workers who are operating the system as well as people who are riding our buses and trains, but I think that’s overwhelmed by the need for essential workers to get to health care, to get to grocery stores, to do all the sorts of trips that still need to continue in these times, and lots of people rely on public transit to be able to do that,” said Kyle Whitehead of the Active Transportation Alliance.

Pace, the suburban transit system, is also immediately waiving the $3 fare for its Taxi Access Program, which provides rides to customers who use wheelchairs. Riders must still present their TAP cards to drivers and will be responsible for the cost of the ride over $30. The city says it’s also working to assist the taxi industry with a subsidy for drivers with wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

Through April 30, the cost of an annual Divvy membership will run just $49.50 instead of the usual $99, and single rides of 30 minutes that ordinarily cost $3 will be cut to $1. The city is also offering a month of free 45-minute rides to health care workers who sign up through their employers by April 30.

“With previous pricing, I think people would have looked at it in terms of, ‘Well, Divvy’s more expensive than me taking the train or the bus, even though the train or bus is more risky in terms of exposure, but I have to think about my budget,’ especially as people’s incomes are impacted by this, so I think it’s a great move,” said Courtney Cobbs, an avid cyclist and writer for Streetsblog Chicago.

Even without those incentives, the Divvy system has already seen a ridership spike. Between March 1 and March 19, the city’s transportation department counted 114,394 Divvy trips, compared to 90,995 trips during the same period in 2019.

The city also highlighted its previous announcement that it’s delaying collecting taxes and fees from taxis and ride-hailing services. It’s also putting off license renewals and vehicle inspections while the city’s Business Affairs and Consumer Protection offices are closed.

The unprecedented upheaval caused by the coronavirus means transit agencies are going to be in a budget crunch. The Active Transportation Alliance has been pushing for stimulus programs to include public transit.

“We’re in a situation where our state and our federal government have already been underfunding mass transit for so long, so the financial position of CTA, Metra and Pace is already so fragile, and it’s gotten so much worse,” Whitehead said.

Whitehead says in addition to propping up agencies, protecting transit workers and passengers is also key. Kate Lowe of UIC’s College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs agrees. She said Tuesday’s announcement was a great start, but she hopes to see the CTA eliminate front-door bus boarding and fare collection as long as passengers are physically able to board through the rear door.

“New York City has adopted this, Houston, Detroit, so it was missing what I see as a really important near-term intervention that is a blunt instrument by waiving fares for bus riders, but a somewhat progressive one,” Lowe said.

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