Chicago vs. Austin – The Public Transportation Showdown

Sometimes you have to leave Chicago to find out the things that make you a Chicagoan. I am in Austin right now for SXSW and, even though I have never been to the state of Texas before, I just can’t pass up the chance to use public transportation. I have heard from a few locals that the public transportation system here really blows, but I really haven’t seen it. As a matter of fact, there seem to be a couple things that Chicago could learn from. Since austin is learning from Chicago. The first night here, I took the Dillo, which is a new, small trolley / bus system that runs through downtown Austin that is FREE! Free – as in no money. Amazing. I talked to the driver and found that they get all their training materials from Chicago. I was amazed by this concept of free transportation (which seems even more AWESOME in light of Chicago’s transportation woes), but the driver told me that even with the complete lack of cost, most locals just ignore the Dillo and opt for cabs. He will stop as he sees people walking and offer them rides, let them know it is free, and they will still pass up the deal.

On top of this, I say one of the main public transportation buses today with a sign on the side that said “Free Rides on Ozone Warning Days”. How cool and environmentally aware!

I realize that the reason Austin can use all these bargain basement techniques is because of the lowridership and lack of interest, but it makes me wonder if something like that would work in Chicago. Instead of cutting the 50 million lines (which are mostly on the South Side), why doesn’t the CTA offer some kind of incentive to increase ridership? Get people more aware. These strongarm scare tactics aren’t really doing a lot of good. Am I crazy and is this a horrible idea? Because it seems to me like alienating and leaving riders out in the cold really isn’t the world’s greatest business plan to solve a budget crisis.

5 Comments so far

  1. Fuzzy (unregistered) on March 14th, 2005 @ 12:00 pm

    You are not crazy and that is not a horrible idea, but the current CTA administration doesn’t seem interested in good ideas (cf. the Reader this week on the Brown line fiasco).


  2. tankboy (unregistered) on March 14th, 2005 @ 12:45 pm

    yeah, i second the fact that austin’s public trans is awesome.


  3. (unregistered) on March 14th, 2005 @ 3:00 pm

    uh, fyi, Chicago has a free trolley.


  4. Lauren (unregistered) on March 14th, 2005 @ 3:09 pm

    Yes, Chicago has a free trolley. but it is not nearly as well advertised or has as much coverage as Austin’s. The main idea behind Austin’s seems to be much more public safety oriented; getting people from bars to home safely. It would be nice if Chicago has something similar that wasn’t just in the Loop area. Maybe something in bar heavy areas like Wrigleyville or Wicker Park. Also, the idea that Austin offers free public transportation on days where the Ozone is all jacked up is awesome.

    It just seems like the Austin set up is more benevolent and looks out for people; and by people I mean the one’s that live there, not just the ones vacationing there. Chicago’s free trolley system is more a tourism based endeavor than a public service.


  5. steven (unregistered) on March 15th, 2005 @ 9:46 am

    The CTA Admins should head out on a cross-country trip to see what the other major cities are doing right/wrong (if they haven’t already). Maybe they could learn a few things.



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