The newly reinstated #11 Lincoln bus courts ridership numbers with beer.
Amid a series of route cutbacks in 2012, the #11 bus along Lincoln Avenue in Chicago’s North Side fell prey to the CTA’s axe. Nobody was too happy about it. Businesses complained about reduced foot traffic, and seniors, especially, felt the brunt of the route-slashing, saying their lifeline to the doctor, grocer, and religious services was being stripped away, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
The alderman for the district, Ameya Pawar, led a charge to resuscitate the portion of the #11 from Western to Fullerton almost as soon as it disappeared. Once the #11 advocacy group teamed up with a group pushing to restore service to the #31 route on the South Side, the resulting Crosstown Bus Coalition showed up to every CTA board meeting. At the end of last year, the CTA caved to the lobby, and reinstated both routes for six-month pilot runs this year.
For the Lincoln route pilot, which began in June, the victory is contingent on the bus pulling a consistent daily ridership of around 1,500 people—a number based on the system-wide average, according to the Sun-Times.
But three years is a long time for a bus route to lie dormant. People may have forgotten the Lincoln bus, or turned to cars or supbar Brown Line service to fill the void its absence created. So Alderman Pawar convened local advocates, among them the directors of the four chambers of commerce connected by the Lincoln bus, and devised a plan to tempt riders with something Chicago knows it does well: beer.
Throughout August, intrepid North Siders can booze cruise the length of the newly reinstated route, collecting stamps from at least five different Lincoln Avenue bars as part of the 11 for 11 Beer Explorer Passport program. Lee Crandell, the executive director of the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce, says he expects people to take the whole month to complete the passport, “and consume reasonable amounts of beer at one time.” It’s less a bar crawl, and more of a targeted exploration of different spots along the #11 line, with the added lure of prizes from local businesses for the winners of the passport program.
A ridership spike is the goal, but Kyle Whitehead, the government relations director for the Active Transportation Alliance, which is working with the chambers of commerce and politicians on the bus route advocacy schemes, says the passport program will also illuminate one of the more frustrating aspects of the #11 pilot run: its timetable.
For the length of the six-month pilot, the bus will only run between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays. The schedule will fill the transit gap for seniors, but miss the morning rush and will cut off before the bus could prove itself as viable transport for inebriated late-night partiers, Whitehead says. The #11 will ferry the happy-hour crowd to their first bar, Crandell adds, but not accomplish much more than that.
But Crandell sees this shortcoming as an opportunity. “It’s helpful for us to be building a constituency of businesses and bars that understand how much more beneficial it would be for them if the bus were running a couple hours longer in the evening,” he says. “They can take information from the passport program and advocate for their needs.”
Chicagoans, it turns out, are similarly undeterred by the inconvenient hours of the #11 pilot service. In response to Alderman Pawar’s Facebook post about the beer passport program, one local commented: “I’m totally playing hooky in the next week or two to save the #11!!! Who’s with me?!”
Hopefully, enough people to crack the daily goal of 1,500 riders before the pilot wraps up in December.