CHICAGO (WLS) — Seeing a CTA bus on the tracker that then never arrives is a major inconvenience to riders who rely on them for work and errands.
The ABC7 I-Team looked through data and uncovered a problem with big impacts on the community.
If you have ever waited for a bus that was supposed to arrive but then never showed, you’ve likely experienced a “ghost bus.”
The I-Team found that in the last year and eight months, the CTA had almost 360,000 canceled runs.
There are more than 420,000 CTA bus riders per day.
“It says it’s coming, then it says delays, then it pops up again like there minutes, then you’ll be waiting then it’ll say 10 minutes, 15 minutes, you’ll be waiting like an hour,” said rider Tavia Turner.
Turner, a tax preparer, said she’s often delayed because of problems with the 49 bus in the Beverly View neighborhood.
“I’m waiting for the bus to go to work and if it doesn’t show then I lose money,” she said. The problem, she noted, is worse late at night.
After speaking with Turner, the I-Team waited for the 49 bus to come. It took 20 minutes, and there were delays and cancelations on the tracker.
Turner is not the only person affected by “ghost buses.” Under the Freedom of Information Act, the ABC7 data team obtained CTA numbers showing that from January 2022 through September 2023, a 20-month period, almost 360,000 bus runs were canceled.
Ninety-seven percent of canceled runs cited a lack of staffing. The data team also found that Turner’s bus, the 49 and 49X, are two of the most delayed bus lines in the city in recent months, along with the 22 bus in the Rogers Park neighborhood.
“I have waited at least 40 minutes for a bus,” said 22 rider Michael Fuller. “So usually it makes me leave earlier than I really have to, just so I don’t miss the appointment.”
Another much-delayed line is the 63 bus in Woodlawn, where Tamika Harris said she often waits for an hour or longer. The 9 and 9X routes from the West Loop up to Andersonville also makes the list of most delayed runs.
The I-Team asked CTA Donald Bonds Chief Transit Officer about what happens to cause these so-called ghost buses.
“Usually it’s probably an employee that has called off and we’re just not capable of filling that run, so it will remain on the board and then it will disappear off the board,” Bonds said. “But usually it’s from a last minute call-off that it’s not coming.”
The CTA said those routes with the most issues are also the busiest routes. They said if a trip is missed, another bus is often not far behind. The agency added that overall cancelation problem has been improving.
For example, In August 2022 there were 27,477 canceled runs. In August 2023 there were 4,937. But what about the overall number of cancelations?
“The number sounds high, but when you look at the total number trips that we put out on a daily basis, a weekday basis, it’s a small fraction,” Bonds said.
The CTA said it averages more than 15,000 “scheduled bus trips” each day. But the delays and missing buses have not gone unnoticed. Bonds said he’s aware of the impact on commuters.
“Yes, it’s a big deal and we hear that. We hear the customers,” he said. “We’re still working through a lot of our challenges, we continue to bring on man power to help increase that service level that we’re providing.”
The CTA said it’s working hard to tackle its staffing issue by hiring more bus drivers. The agency said it exceeded its goal in 2023 of hiring 700 drivers by offering bonuses and offering more full-time positions. Riders said they hope the efforts make the ghost bus problem disappear.
The CTA also said it’s helping new hires get a commercial license so they don’t have to pay for one on their own. They expect to hire another 200 bus drivers by the end of 2023.