Pace Opens New Park-N-Ride Station in Elgin as Ridership Increases

By Igor Studenkov For Chronicle Media

Pace hopes that the express routes’ distinct wrapping will attract more riders. (Photo by Igor Studenkov/for Chronicle Media)

Elgin riders now have another way to catch Pace express buses to Rosemont and Woodfield Mall.

On Dec. 18, officials from the Pace suburban bus transit agency, Illinois State Toll Highway Authority and local elected officials marked the opening of the new I-90/IL 25 Park-n-Ride station at near the on-ramp that links Dundee Road to Jane Addams Memorial Tollway. All three express buses that used to pass by without stopping will stop there, and riders can now transfer to Route 543 buses, which run between downtown Elgin and Carpentersville’s Meadowdale Shopping Center.

The station was part of the service expansion that launched in Dec. 19, 2016. Another Park-n-Ride, which is currently being built near the intersection of Jane Addams Memorial Tollway and Barrington Road, is expected to open sometime in the spring of 2018.

The officials who spoke during the ribbon cutting touted the project as the great example of intergovernmental cooperation that helps drivers and bus riders alike. Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain said that the new Park-n-Ride will be a boon for residents and businesses alike, taking it one step closer to becoming a major transit hub in the northwestern suburbs.

In Dec. 19, 2016, Pace launched a major service expansion along the Jane Addams Tollway portion of I-90, creating three new express routes and three new local routes. It also opened a new Park-n-Ride facility in Elgin, near the spot where Randall Road passes over I-90. As the name implies, Park-n-Ride facilities are parking lots attached to a transit station, creating convenient connections. Parking was free on that particular Park-n-Ride.

Pace Chairman Richard Kwasneski addresses the crowd, during the grand opening of the new I-90/IL-25 Park-n-Ride station. (Photo by Igor Studenkov/for Chronicle Media)

As Maggie Daly-Skogsbakken, Pace’s Marketing and Promotions Supervisor, told the Chronicle at the time, the transit agency wanted to expand the service in the area since mid-1990s. But it wasn’t until Illinois Tollway started making plans to widen the section of I-90 between Chicago city limits and Elgin Toll Plaza that Pace had the opportunity to make it a reality.

As part of the expansion, the Illinois Tollway added a “flex lane” on each side of the highway. Most of the time, they are off limits to any vehicle. Pace buses can use them during rush hours, allowing them to bypass traffic jams. Tollway Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom told the Chronicle that emergency vehicles can use those lanes as well, and his agency has an option of opening them to regular traffic under certain conditions.

Pace already had one express bus on I-90. Route 600 linked together two transit hubs — the Rosemont Transit Center and Northwest Transportation Center — during rush hour. At Rosemont Transportation Center, riders can take the Blue ‘L’ line to O’Hare International Airport and Chicago. As part of the service expansion, it added non-rush-hour service and Saturday service.

The three new express routes were designed to link those transit hubs to the new Park-n-Ride and Elgin Transportation Center, a major transit hub in downtown Elgin that includes the Milwaukee District West Metra line station and a stop for all Pace buses that serve the city. Route 603 runs between Rosemont Transit Center and Elgin Transportation Center. Route 605 runs between Rosemont Transit Center and Randall Park-n-Ride. Route 607 links together the Park-n-Ride and Elgin Transportation Center.

Since the morning of Dec. 18, all of those routes have been stopping at the I-90/IL 25 Park-n-Ride. They still run once every half hour on weekdays and once an hour on Saturdays. But because both Route 603 and 605 travel between the new Park-n-Ride and Rosemont, riders who wish to make the trip have twice as many options. Together, the two buses run once every 15 minutes on weekdays and once every half hour on Saturdays.

The I-90/IL 25 Park-n-Ride has 199 parking spaces and a bike rack. There are three benches and a bus shelter, though Daly-Skogsbakken told the Chronicle that the shelter is temporary. In the future, Pace plans to add a newer structure that will have real-time bus arrival information displays.

When the I-90/Randall Park-n-Ride opened, Pace had Elgin-to-Crystal Lake Route 550, which primarily travels along Randall Road, make a brief detour to stop there. But when I-90/IL-25 Park-n-Ride opened, it didn’t do the same thing for Route 543. However, it touted the fact that the closest stop was less than a block to the west. A paved sidewalk leads riders to Dundee Road. The northbound riders who wish to transfer would only need to cross the ramp entrance — something made all the easier thanks to a marked crosswalk and a push button signal. But transferring to the southbound bus is trickier, since riders would have to cross Dundee without either a crosswalk or a push button signal. There are no bus stop signs on either side, but because Route 543 isn’t a posted stop only route, riders can flag down the bus at any corner of the intersection.

The new Park-n-Ride also made it easier and faster for riders to travel between Elgin Transportation Center and Northwest Transportation Center. In the past, riders had to take Route 550 bus to Randall Road Park-n-Ride and transfer to Route 607. The trip would take an average of 50 minutes, not counting the transfer time between buses, which could take anywhere from five to 22 minutes. With the new Park-n-Ride, riders can take Route 603 bus and transfer to Route 607. The trip would take 28-30 minutes, plus the three- to five-minute wait between buses.

The Route 607 express bus pulls into the newly opened I-90/IL-25 Park-n-Ride. (Photo by Igor Studenkov/for Chronicle Media)

At Northwest Transportation Center, riders can transfer to a number of local buses, including the three routes launched as part of I-90 service expansion. Route 604 serves Palatine, Buffalo Grove and Wheeling. Route 608 serves southern Schaumburg, Hoffman Estates and Roselle. Route 611 is a rush-hour commuter shuttle that serves office buildings in northern Schaumburg.

The Dec 18 opening started at around 10:30 a.m. Pace chairman Richard Kwasneski touted the benefits of the service expansion not just for the riders, but for the communities it serves as a whole.

“Public transit contributes to a strong economy,” he said. “Every $10 million of capital investment in public transportation yields approximately $32 million in increased business sales.”

Illinois State Sen. Christina Castro (D-Elgin), whom Kwasneski introduced as a former Pace employee, said that the I-90 service expansion already earned a strong endorsement from one person in her life.

“One of the only people more excited about this project than me is my husband,” she said. “He takes the bus to the Blue Line to go downtown and doesn’t have to deal with traffic or parking downtown.”

Castro added that he already tried out the service.

“He said it was a very seamless process, very nice,” she said.

Schillerstrom said that the I-90/IL-25 Park-n-Ride was a great example of interagency collaboration.

“People who use Pace and who use the tollway want to get from place to place efficiently and timely,” he said. “It’s a great example of service our customers and [bus riders] need.”

Kaptain said that he was happy to see the new Park-n-Ride open after years of planning and construction.

“The excitement from our residents, from our businesses, is palatable,” he said. “I couldn’t be more pleased that Elgin residents now have more access than ever to quality public transportation.”

Kaptain told the Chronicle that the new Park-n-Ride builds upon Elgin’s existing transit assets, making it easier for residents from the suburbs further north to reach the city. It would also make it easier for residents to get to O’Hare International Airport. All of that, he said, will help local businesses and make the city more attractive to potential new businesses and residents.

Pace and Tollway officials said that they were happy with the growing ridership on all I-90 expansion routes. According to the information compiled by the Regional Transportation Authority, ridership of the new express routes has been relatively low, but it has been increasing every month. Between December 2016 and August 2017, average weekday ridership on Route 603 increased from 25 to 151, while its average Saturday ridership increased from 19 to 72. Average weekday ridership on Route 605 increased from 22 to 202, while its Saturday ridership increased from nine to 34. Weekday ridership on Route 607 increased from 16 to 53, while its Saturday ridership increased from six to 30.

The new local route followed a similar pattern. Route 604’s average weekday ridership increased from 15 to 142, while its average Saturday ridership increased from six to 119. Route 608 saw less dramatic increase, with its average weekday ridership increasing from 11 to 82. Route 611 saw its weekday ridership increase from 11 to 39 between December 2016 and June 2017 increased from 11 to 35, but it decreased to 38 in July and 35 in August.

Route 600 saw an increase as well. In 1997 through 2016, its average ridership tended to fall within 200-350 range, reaching the high of 473 in September 2015. In 2017, the weekday numbers increased dramatically, climbing from 299 in December 2017 to 739 in June 2017. The numbers decreased to 684 in July and went up to 723 in August, which is still twice what used to be the route’s average. The Saturday ridership followed a similar pattern, rising from 75 in December 2016 to 203 in June 2017, dropping to 199 in July and rising to 208 in August.

The ridership numbers after August are not publicly available at press time. But Daly-Skogsbakken said that, overall, the ridership has increased by 37 percent. A day earlier, she added, Pace staff observed that I-90/Randall Road Park-n-Ride had 90 cars, so it was two-thirds full. And while she said that the new Park-n-Ride might “cannibalize” some of that, she expects the overall ridership to continue to grow.

“Our best advertising is the bus branding,” Daly-Skogsbakken said. “When people start to see it, we expect to see more ridership.”

The express buses have a district wrapping that identifies them as express buses running along I-90, which makes them stand out compared to blue-with-white-logo local routes.

In the meantime, Pace and the Tollway continue to work on opening the last Park-n-Ride. The I-90/Barrington Road Park-n-Ride will have special platforms that will allow buses to stop on the flex lanes, picking up and dropping off passengers without leaving the highway. An overhead walkway will connect the boarding areas to a 170-space parking lot. It will be served by the same express buses as I-90/IL-25 Park-n-Ride, as well as a new local route that would connect riders to nearby shopping areas and businesses.

Daly-Skogsbakken told the Chronicle that, while there have been delays, Pace expects it to open sometime in the Spring 2018.



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