The transit agencies that serve Evanston, expect it will take until 2023 to get most of their passengers back. And even then, they don’t project a 100% return.

The CTA, Metra, and Pace provided forecasts to the Regional Transportation Authority, which is holding a virtual public hearing on the agency budgets Thursday morning.

Unlike Pace and Metra, the CTA is projecting full bus and “L” operations in 2021, with ridership expected to increase to 46% of pre-COVID “normal” next year, and moving up gradually to 90% in 2023. Currently, CTA is carrying 32% of its pre-pandemic ridership.

Metra, the commuter rail network, says that with many commuters into downtown Chicago now working from home, it is only carrying 10% of its pre-pandemic ridership. Metra projects 33% of normal passenger business in 2021, and expects to be back to 80% of normal by the end of 2022. The rail system reduced service due to the pandemic, and the hope is for no further reductions next year.

The Pace Suburban Bus system plans to make permanent the 100 bus routes which have been cut until revenue returns to an appropriate level. Pace is currently carrying 45% of pre-COVID riders, with expectations of 60% in 2021 and 73% in 2023.

All three transit agencies say they need additional revenue next year, and without that money, service cuts or fare increases are possible.

The RTA board will discuss the proposed budgets Thursday, and decide whether to approve them next month.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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