DC Metro and Chicago CTA: A Comparison

One thing that a city dweller has in common with any other city-dweller in the world is that we all have the tendency to complain about our city’s public transportation system.  But after experiencing one of the nation’s ‘top’ systems in Washington, DC, I’d like to reflect on how it compares to Chicago’s.

Pros

A far stretching system. The system goes all the way out to the suburbs in many areas! This makes the city accessible to more people and serves the widespread suburban population. While many people might not LIVE downtown, they can access it easily without having to take a bus, a train, then another system train. This was the biggest advantage that I saw over Chicagos multi-train system (CTA for the city and close suburbs, and Metra for the far flung burbs.) For Chicagoans, this can be expensive if you live in the city and work in the suburbs, as you then have to buy monthly passes to both systems.  Looks like in DC, riders just have to buy one.

Very nice busses. The busses in DC (at least that I saw) looked like charter busses. They were clean, freshly painted, and shiny. And even though they service far out areas in the suburbs- they still had people on them. How do they manage to keep ridership that high?

Peak and non-peak times. This incentivizes customers to use the Metro throughout the day—which I know is an issue in Chicago. They are constantly changing the train times to try and figure out when people are using the CTA. Having a system like this would incentivize people to use it other times besides just their morning and evening commute.  This also makes transportation cheaper for people who are students and typically don’t travel during peak hours to get to class.

Zone based fees— This seems more fair. You ride farther, you pay more. Rather than a flat $2.25 (Chicago price), in DC you can pay a pretty penny. I think I saw like a $7.00 fee for one place. But again, you still only have to take ONE system to get far out. So I guess you’d pay that much in Chicago anyway.

Signal underground How did I manage to have an AT&T signal on my phone even in the tunnel?

The self-serve machines take Credit Card. This was great that I didn’t have to have cash to buy a train pass. Big Big help for the out-of-town-traveler.

Friendly staff—I had a man come up to me and help me figure out how to use the machine to buy a card. I feel like this would not happen in Chicago. Apparently, CTA drivers are amongst some of the unhappiest people on the planet and this shows in their behavior towards riders. Thus visitors usually have to fend for themselves.

Cons

Ill placed maps— The maps are on the sides of the train rather than above the doors. See the photo below  to understand why this is a problem of visibility.

Carpets– gives a nice ambiance during the summer, but I can’t imagine how filthy those things get in the winter. Also, if you spill something you’d feel really guilty. In Chicago, at least if you spill a Dunkin Donuts coffee, the liquid slides back and forth to the feet of all the other passengers on the train and spreads out until it becomes a sticky dried layer of brown goo thin enough to air dry.

No vertical poles— This feature does not maximize space. You can’t stand really close to other people, without accidentally touching their shoulder or awkwardly bumping into them when the train sways. There is nothing to hold onto if you’re standing. In Chicago, we like to pack them in, so these intermittently placed poles are necessary.

 

Minimum payment for one time user– In DC, they make you put additional money on the card even if you only need to go $3.50 worth of a ride.  So it actually costs $4.50. I don’t get this.

Incomprehensible announcements—Passengers can’t understand the announcements that the driver is saying. The speakers are very quiet and all you hear is a slight mumble. I seemed to be the only person bothered by this, however.

Those of you who take the DC Metro regularly, please comment. I’d like to hear your thoughts, complaints, or praises on the Metro. Also, feel free to give perspective to any of my one-time observations.

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4 thoughts on “DC Metro and Chicago CTA: A Comparison

  1. Hunh! I have never been to Chicago so I can’t compare. But I do ride Metro every day. Every day twice a day for, oh, 10 plus years. I hate it. Yes, it is fairly clean, yes it is pretty vast, as you mention. But oh, it has serious issues. Just travel on over to unsuckdcmetro.blogspot.com

    That being said, I think you got it mostly right. because the metro map is so big and not linear, I am not sure how it could go above the door. You mean, on the ceiling? The carpets are gross. Technically speaking, there is no eating or drinking allowed on metro so nothing should spill. There are hefty fines if you’re caught. Do people follow that? No. Are many of the offenders tourists during the summer, well… kinda. But locals are asshats and I will get to that later. The minimum payment/$1 surcharge thing is because the metro system mismanages money and is perpetually broke. Locals got sick of rate hikes and so WMATA stuck it to the tourists. Sorry guys.The incomprehensible announcements…spot on. And we all joke about it incessantly. Oh, and no vertical poles…. don’t get me started. I am five foot one and when that car is packed and I am smooshed in the middle with nothing to hold on to, I wonder the same thing. The thing is that most people don’t want to touch the poles anyway, so I don’t know….

    My observation is this…people in DC are jerks. We have a lot of wildly self-centered jackalopes that are completely convinced that because of their fancy job title that they are SO! IMPORTANT! And as such, they can 1) take up two seats 2) say rude things 3) refuse to give a seat to a pregnant or handicapped or elderly person 4) take up more than their share of a seat. So I personally think riding on metro is like a trip into hell each and every day. I have been masturbated on, accused of stealing someone’s cheesesteak (?), told to shut up and go back to Pakistan (I was wearing a salwar suit and asked someone to stop shoving me), sat on, trapped in a seat and had the person in the aisle refuse to get up, screamed at by a gang of rowdy teens (more times than I can count), peed on, and been manually molested more times than I care to recall. So yeah, I hate metro.

  2. As Chicago hikes our fares, local publications have been buzzing about the comparison of the CTA to other nationwide systems.

    “The $100 price tag for a 30-day CTA pass ranks in the middle among the nation’s top five transit agencies; Washington, DC’s Metro is the highest at $230 and New York City’s MTA comes in second at $104. Los Angeles County riders pay $75 per month, while Boston charges $70. Prior to last week’s increase, CTA 30-day pass holders actually paid less than they did in 1998, when the cost was $88.”

    http://metroplanning.org/news-events/article/6626

  3. I have been on the Chicago metro, I lived for three years as a kid in Oak Park and visited the city once a few years ago. I used the DC Metro regularly whenever my work project is at our downtown office instead of our suburban office. I think the DC Metro really does not go out very far into the suburbs. Though they are adding two new train lines in the next few year. It doesn’t come to where I live, yet, and I have to take a bus to get to the train. I think that’s why the bus ridership is so high, they really only services ‘in between’ the train lines. That being said, my commuter bus line is fantastic. It runs every six minutes during peak hours and is a straight shot down a special street/shoulder so that it only takes 15 minutes to get to the train. When they extend a new train line out to me I’m sure it will take at least double that what with waiting for a train, stopping at all the stops, making the transfer. I’m not looking forward to it. The carpet is gross and smells musty, but there aren’t too many spills because it’s illegal to eat or drink anything on the Metro, even just in the stations, and people have even been arrested for that. I’m always amazed at how expensive the metro is, I would like to take it into the city for family outings but really, once you have more than one person it’s almost cheaper to just pay for parking once you get downtown. Plus their weekend waits for trains are horrible, like 30 minutes until the next train, then it’s a few minutes late and you miss your bus and have to wait 30 more minutes for the next one!

  4. I have been on the Chicago metro, I lived for three years as a kid in Oak Park and visited the city once a few years ago. I used the DC Metro regularly whenever my work project is at our downtown office instead of our suburban office. I think the DC Metro really does not go out very far into the suburbs. Though they are adding two new train lines in the next few year. It doesn’t come to where I live, yet, and I have to take a bus to get to the train. I think that’s why the bus ridership is so high, they really only services ‘in between’ the train lines. That being said, my commuter bus line is fantastic. It runs every six minutes during peak hours and is a straight shot down a special street/shoulder so that it only takes 15 minutes to get to the train. When they extend a new train line out to me I’m sure it will take at least double that what with waiting for a train, stopping at all the stops, making the transfer. I’m not looking forward to it. The carpet is gross and smells musty, but there aren’t too many spills because it’s illegal to eat or drink anything on the Metro, even just in the stations, and people have even been arrested for that. I’m always amazed at how expensive the metro is, I would like to take it into the city for family outings but really, once you have more than one person it’s almost cheaper to just pay for parking once you get downtown. Plus their weekend waits for trains are horrible, like 30 minutes until the next train, then it’s a few minutes late and you miss your bus and have to wait 30 more minutes for the next one!

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