The Chicago Transit Authority commenced service on an experimental express bus route on 55th St on June 24. The new bus, designated as the #X55 Garfield Express, runs every fifteen minutes from 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., then from 1 p.m. to 7 a.m., along the regular #55 Garfield route, traveling along 55th St. from the Museum of Science and Industry to Midway Airport. The experimental route is running for six months, and then it will be considered for permanent status.
The CTA's plans for a new Garfield express bus were announced in conjunction with a new #X80 Irving Park express bus. The CTA announced plans for the new, experimental routes after the #X49 Western express route was a success, resulting in a 10 percent increase in passengers on Western Avenue bus routes. CTA Chairman Valerie Jarrett said that "[CTA management] are continually looking for creative ways to better serve our customers and we have had success with the X49 Western Express. We hope the experimental routes we've introduced today will speed travel and ease congestion."
The current #55 local route makes 75 stops in between the Museum of Science and Industry and the Midway Airport CTA terminal, while the #X55 will only make 14 stops, most at intersections crossing other bus routes or elevated train lines. The CTA projects that the reduced number of stops could save five to seven minutes per trip over the standard #55 route. The CTA hopes to see a 2000-rider increase on the X55 during the trial period.
CTA President Frank Kruesi pointed to the new trial service as an indication of the CTA's continued committal to maintaining high service levels. Kruesi stated "the potential for growth is apparent. Ridership on Garfield Boulevard increased by 2.7 percent in 2001 over 2000. Faster service will build on these gains."
The experimental Garfield route is expected to cost approximately $410,000. The CTA is financing the increased service with Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality money from the Federal Transit Administration. After its experimental six-month run, the new Garfield experimental express will be evaluated through surveys and ridership statistics, and a final decision on granting the route permanent status will be made based on this information.
Many students use the #55 bus to get downtown and other points north and south of Hyde Park, riding the bus to the Red or Green line stations on Garfield and transferring to CTA trains. Student reaction to the new #X55 was largely positive. "The #55 is the best way to get to the Red line, which is the best way to get anyplace north of downtown. I'm all in favor of any increase in #55 service," said Jake Raden, a third-year in the College. He added "but it would be really great if the CTA improved the late night service. I hate waiting on the overpass at the Dan Ryan." Other students were less impressed. Fourth-year Jeff Miner said "I'm in favor of a Garfield express but I'm skeptical: It's a good idea, but I fear the enactment of that good idea will leave something to be desired. I mostly use the 55 in the evening to get to the Red line and go downtown, and this express only runs during rush hour. So it might not be that relevant to students."