Pace service expansion improves job access

By Igor Studenkov For Chronicle Media

Route 607 express bus waits for passengers at he I-90/Randall Road Park-n-Ride facility

Late last year, the Pace suburban bus launched one of the largest service expansions in recent years.

On Dec. 19, it launched three brand-new express routes and three new local routes in the northwestern suburbs, and built a brand-new Park-and-Ride facility in Elgin.

This was designed to coincide with the lane widening of the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway section of I-90. The new lanes are expanding capacity, and Pace set out to take advantage of it by launching faster service between three major area transit hubs in the corridor and adding more local service. At the time, Pace stated that it hoped to make it easier for riders to get to jobs in northwest suburbs, and encourage more drivers to take public transit to work.

And the transit agency isn’t done. Pace plans to open two more new Park-and-Ride facilities — one near the intersection of I-90 and IL-25, one at the intersection of 1-90 and Barrington Road. It also plans to add the new Monday-Saturday service to link riders to Barrington Road businesses and residential areas, though the details still need to be worked out.

The Jane Addams Memorial Tollway widening project affects the section of I-90 between the Chicago city limits and the Elgin Toll Plaza. In addition to Chicago and Elgin, Rosemont, Des Plaines, Arlington Heights, Schaumburg and Hoffman Estates.

Riders get off the express bus at the Rosemont Transit Center

Even before the project started, Pace already had service in the area, and it used three major public transit hubs in the area. Rosemont Transit Center includes the Blue Line el station, a Pace bus terminal and Park-n-Ride facility, where drivers can either park or drop off passengers. The Northwest Transportation Center is a Pace bus hub with a commuter parking lot located in Schaumburg, near the Woodfield Mall, the Streets of Woodfield shopping center and several office tower clusters. Elgin Transportation Center includes the city’s main Metra station, a bus terminal and a small parking lot.

According to Maggie Daly-Skogsbakken, Pace’s Marketing and Promotions Supervisor, the transit agency has been looking to expand service along I-90 for a while.

“Planning for the I-90 corridor was formally initiated with the I-90 Corridor Planning Council in 2012.,” she said. “However, Pace has advocated for improvements along this corridor since the mid-1990s and basic route structures were developed based on work from this time that defined existing and growing markets.

Pace presented these routings in our 2011 CMAQ grant application. Additionally, in 2012 Pace worked closely with the [Regional Transportation Authority] to examine commuting patterns along the Jane Addams to determine the best interchanges for park-n-ride stations.”

Route 606 local Pace bus and Route 600 express bus wait to pick up passengers at the Rosemont Transit Center on a Saturday evening

The first new Park-n-Ride facility went up near the intersection of I-90 and Randall Road. Like the Rosemont transit center, it lets drivers either park or drop off passengers. Unlike the other transit hubs, it doesn’t have any heat lamps at bus shelters. The facility is located next to a Country Inn, and here are several office buildings walking distance.

The three new express routes tie the four transit hubs together. Route 603 travels directly between Elgin and Rosemont, mostly along I-90, which each trip taking about 40 minutes. Route 605 runs between Rosemont and the Park-and-Ride. Route 607 runs between the Park-and-Ride and the Northwest Transportation Center.

While the exact schedule varies, all three routes follow a similar pattern. The buses run every 30 minutes during weekday rush hours and once every hour during off-peak hours on weekdays and Saturdays.

Most of Pace express routes tend to be weekday-only. Daly-Skogsbakken said that having them run on Saturdays was a response to rider feedback.

“This change was based on Pace’s analysis of travel demand of these markets, as well as many years of customer requests,” she said. “It was determined that sufficient market demand existed in this corridor to provide this level of service six days a week.”

The new Pace express buses feature a single side door that slides to the side rather than folding in.

The new local routes branch off of the Northwest Transportation Center, serving areas that either have never been served before or where Pace cut service in the past. Route 604 runs between the Northwest Transportation Center, the northeast end of Palatine, Buffalo Grove and Wheeling, with the bus mostly traveling along I-290, Rand Road and Dundee Road. The route runs Monday-Saturday every 20 minutes during weekday rush hour and every 40 minutes the rest of the time. The Palatine section hasn’t seen any bus service since 2010, when Route 699 was eliminated.

Route 608 runs between the Northwest Transportation Center and Milwaukee District West Metra line’s Roselle station, linking together Schaumburg, Hoffman Estates and Roselle. It only operates on weekdays, with buses running every half an hour during rush hours and every hour the rest of the time.

Route 611 primarily serves northern Schaumburg, traveling between the transportation center and the cluster of corporate offices along Meacham Road, between I-90 and Algonquin Road. Route 696 already serves the area, but Route 611 provides a more direct service, with buses making a loop around the office buildings and the Schaumburg Convention Center. And, unlike Route 696, Route 611 is rush hours only, with buses running once every 15 minutes.

The changes also affected the existing routes. Route 600 and Route 606 have traditionally served a similar purpose, with both traveling between Rosemont Transit Center and the Northwest Transportation Center. But while the former is an express route, mostly traveling along I-90, the latter is more of a local service. The new changes significantly beefed up Route 600, adding Saturday service and increasing service frequency, so that buses run once every 15 minutes during weekday rush hour and once every half an hour the rest of the time. Route 606 originally didn’t see any service changes, but on March 5, its weekend service was beefed up as well, with buses running once every half an hour stead of once every 45 minutes. According to the Pace website, this was done in response to increased ridership.

A few local routes serving the area got smaller tweaks. Route 550, which runs between Elgin Transportation Center and the Union Pacific Northwest Metra Line’s Crystal Lake station, now stops at the Randal Road Park-and-Ride, and its schedule was tweaked to make it easier for riders to transfer to the new express buses. Routes 610 and 611, which serve the Rosemont Transit Center, also got similar schedule adjustments.

The prototype for the new Pace express buses, which feature overhead luggage compartments, softer seats that lean back and on-board wi-fi

Both the new and existing express routes also got new buses. This reporter got a look at the Pace’s Nov. 11, 2015 board meeting. At the time, Pace’s then-Director of Communications Patrick Wilmot explained that the transit agency was looking for something between the regular buses and the more coach-style buses used on the premium express routes. While they have a more regular bus-style shell and dimensions, they have features regular buses lack — overhead luggage racks, airplane-style individual overhead lights, softer seats that can lean back, on-board Wi-Fi and USB based power outlets under the seats.

Daly-Skogsbakken told the Chronicle that the two more Park-and-Rides are expected to open by the end of 2017, adding that Pace will have a better idea of what the schedule will be once the bids come back. According to Pace press release, the I-90/IL-25 Park-and-Ride will be similar to Randall Road one, while the I-90/Barrington Road Park-and-Ride will actually have buses stop on the side of the highway, with a pedestrian bridge linking the boarding areas to the parking lot.

Pace is also currently working on developing the bus service to link the later park-and-ride to businesses and residences south the intersection. The area was previously served by Route 557 — a rush-hour service that continued north along Barrington Road, toward the Union Pacific Northwest Metra Line’s Barrington station. The route was discontinued in 2012.

For now, the impact of the improvements that were already made isn’t entirely clear. The detailed ridership statistics for the last three months aren’t publicly available at press time. Daly-Skogsbakken said that a total of 52,213 riders rode all I-90 expresses in January.

“When breaking this number down to the average number of riders per weekday in January, the number is 2,486,” she said. “The Saturday ridership total in January was 3,270 riders or 818 per Saturday. “

The riders who spoke to the Chronicle offered nothing but praise for the service improvements.

Estele Sancahes, of Roselle, said she appreciates having Route 608 around, especially since it allows her to connect with Route 554 and Route 696 at the Northwest Transportation Center.

“The service is great,” Sancahes said. “It helps, because it’s the first time I saw a bus [in the area].”

Dhaval Parikh, of Hoffman Estates, said he has been taking Route 600 for a number of years. He said that the route used to have many issues.

“The bus was not coming on time,” he said. “And it was a very old bus. Sometimes, it was breaking down on [I-90].”

Parikh said the new buses were an improvement.

“It’s really nice,” he said. “It has very good seats, Wi-Fi. It’s just a lot more comfortable. And it’s on time. “

Corey Herd, of Chicago, uses Route 600, to commute to work at one of the office towers near the Northwest Transportation Center, said he appreciates the speed and the increased service frequencies.

“I can get home faster than the people who drive,” Herd said.


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