Re­bate of­fer helped Red Line com­muters avoid Wrigley crowds

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Re­porter Email: fspiel­man@suntimes.com Twit­ter: @fspiel­man

How much would it take to con­vince you to take a later or ear­lier train home to avoid rush- hour trains on the CTA Red Line jammed with Cubs fans headed to a night game at Wrigley Field?

Would a $ 2.25 re­bate be enough? How about $ 5?

A fall pi­lot pro­gram tested the in­cen­tive idea and found that it man­aged to di­vert nearly 18 per­cent of Red Line traf­fic be­fore night games at Wrigley.

A sec­ond re­bate ex­per­i­ment is planned within the next three months, pos­si­bly for a Bulls game at the United Cen­ter or a Bears game at Soldier Field.

The Wrigley test was mod­estly pub­li­cized in Au­gust, us­ing posters on Red Line trains. Daily com­muters who vol­un­teered for the pi­lot got text mes­sages.

Texts sent Aug. 28, 29, 31 and Sept. 14 alerted rid­ers of the Cubs night game and at­tempted to steer them to ear­lier or later trains likely to be less crowded.

Mes­sages de­liv­ered on Aug. 30 and Sept. 12 of­fered a $ 2.25 re­bate to rid­ers’ Ven­tra cards if they steered clear of Red Line trains be­tween 5 and 6 p. m. and chose to travel home an hour ear­lier or an hour later.

Sept. 13 texts of­fered a $ 5 char­i­ta­ble do­na­tion in the com­muter’s name to “Stand up to Can­cer.” Mes­sages sent Oct. 19 upped the ante to a $ 5 re­bate.

Not sur­pris­ingly, fare re­bates had the big­gest im­pact on be­hav­ior among the 1,172 re­bate- el­i­gi­ble com­muters who reg­is­tered.

Those give­backs trig­gered a 17.5 per­cent drop in rid­er­ship dur­ing the peak de­mand hour from 5 to 6 p. m. — from 193 rid­ers us­ing the six down­town Red Line sta­tions to 159 com­muters.

In­for­ma­tional alerts alone and char­i­ta­ble do­na­tions in the com­muter’s name trig­gered a 9.7 per­cent di­ver­sion of traf­fic. But that was viewed as “not sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant.”

The in­cen­tive pro­gram was a part­ner­ship be­tween City Dig­i­tal, Mastercard, the CTA and ideas42, a be­hav­ioral sci­ence re­search firm.

Brenna Ber­man is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of City Dig­i­tal, an in­no­va­tion lab on Goose Is­land that helps big ci­ties ex­per­i­ment with so­lu­tions to ur­ban chal­lenges.

On Tues­day, Ber­man was in Spain to present the re­sults— and the prom­ise they hold for Chicago and other ma­jor ci­ties — to the Smart City Ex­poWorld Congress.

“We’re look­ing for ways to help not just the CTA but tran­sit or­ga­ni­za­tions all over the coun­try find af­ford­able and rel­a­tively easy ways to smooth the de­mand for tran­sit across all of the hours of op­er­a­tion,” Ber­man said by tele­phone from Barcelona.

“Sup­ply- side so­lu­tions — build­ing more tran­sit lines, sup­ply­ing more trains — are quite ex­pen­sive, and they can take a long time to de­ploy. What we’re do­ing is look­ing at ways that data can man­age the de­mand- side for tran­sit to ad­dress the is­sue of con­ges­tion by help­ing res­i­dents un­der­stand the bet­ter time to travel to re­ally smooth the peaks and val­leys of tran­sit pat­terns.”

Ber­man was not at all sur­prised that “such a small in­cen­tive” man­aged to move the nee­dle.

“We were only look­ing for a small change in be­hav­ior. … We were ask­ing them to change how they com­mute home on this given day be­cause of a Cubs game. It wasn’t a change to their com­mut­ing be­hav­ior ev­ery day. That, I think, would take a larger in­cen­tive. But that’s the kind of model that we’ll test in the fu­ture,” she said.

Ald. Tom Tun­ney ( 44th), whose ward in­cludes Wrigley, was un­aware of the re­bate ex­per­i­ment and some­what sus­pi­cious of the re­sults.

“I use the trains dur­ing that hour. It’s as crowded as ever. I don’t know where they’re get­ting their num­bers be­cause it’s stand­ing room only,” Tun­ney said.

“Peo­ple are work­ing harder than ever. They’re work­ing longer than ever. They want to get home. They’re us­ing the trains. They’re not us­ing the buses. But I don’t see a 17 per­cent re­duc­tion. Iwould no­tice that.”

Ber­man said other special events when re­bates might be worth­while in­clude Lol­la­palooza and the an­nual light­ing cer­e­mony for Chicago’s of­fi­cial Christ­mas tree.

“If the CTA sees value in this sort of ef­fort to smooth things out for their op­er­a­tions, hope­fully they’ll be able to look at im­ple­ment­ing this across the sys­tem to bring these kind of re­sults to more events across the city and make things bet­ter for their rid­ers,” Ber­man said.

Mastercard of­fers CTA Ven­tra card­hold­ers the op­tion of a open­ing a Mastercard debit ac­count con­nected to the card. The com­pany set aside $ 50,000 for the in­cen­tive pro­gram, but needed only $ 3,500 for the re­bates and char­i­ta­ble do­na­tions.


Ald. TomTun­ney

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