As Chicago traffic increases, more commuters turn to Metra

CHICAGO (CBS) – One way to gauge how bad traffic is in Chicago is to see how quickly people have stopped hitting the road altogether. New Metra data shows that many people have done just that recently and opted for the rails.

CBS 2’s Chris Tye dug into the numbers to find some interesting trends that were taking shape and breaking records.

It’s a cascading effect as the Kennedy Expressway narrows, alternate routes then fill up. When alternates go under the knife for potholes or sewer work, drivers move further away from the network and the cascade effect is amplified.

But it’s getting so bad that the city is seeing another trend: people stop driving altogether.

The peak of the pandemic in Chicago was unsettling. Nobody. It wasn’t business, but for the drivers it was a blessing.

Well, that bliss is gone from the city, but if you’re using the roads of Chicago, it’s not going fast. Between construction and new labor policies, the roads are jammed.

Between March and May, the traffic app Waze reports a 6% increase in travel times on Chicago highways compared to last year.

“Things like the Kennedy Expressway really help us, it gives people a reason to try again,” said Michael Gillis, a Metra spokesman.

Eight of the 10 busiest days on the Metra system since the pandemic have occurred in May.

Something happened in the second week of May. The number of passengers increased by about 10,000 people and was maintained. Ridership soared on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in particular with more than 158,000 passengers each of those days, well above the post-pandemic average.

On May 23, more than 167,000 people rode Metra, which is still only 60% of what they saw before the pandemic.

“Clearly those three days in between are the peak days and people are choosing to work from home on Mondays and Fridays,” Gillis said.

Ridership jumps are most dramatic along lines that serve communities along the Kennedy Expressway. Chicago’s numbers lag New York’s but surpass those of San Francisco, where working from home remains more entrenched. Metra said the trend is strong, but there’s still room to grow and room inside those train cars.

“The trend is still up,” Gillis said. “We haven’t completely come to a standstill.”

Chicago is not alone in terms of increased traffic. Waze data shows commute times increased 13% in suburbs like Naperville, Aurora, Glenview and Joliet this spring compared to the same time last year.

Metra’s $100 monthly promotion, which covers the entire network, will remain in effect until at least the end of the year.