The next stop

Quarantine drastically shifts transit experience


AN EMPTY “L” | A CTA train comes out of Adams / Wabash station on April 24th. Rail ridership has dropped 87 percent since Illinois began its shelter-in-place measures.

The CTA has been a staple of the Jones experience since the school was founded. With an average daily ridership in the millions, most of Jones’ student population uses it in some way or another to get to school. Since the advent of shelter-in-place in Illinois, though, the system has changed completely, becoming one of the most drastic examples of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact in the city. Rail ridership alone has dropped 87 percent.

“I’ve never seen the CTA this empty,” said Sophia Botello ‘20, who took the Orange Line a few weeks ago. “It was weird. The train is usually packed, and there’s not even any seats available, but that day it was basically empty, and I was on one of the smaller train cars during rush hour. It was really dead.”

Botello also described how the few other people who were also on the train had changed their behavior.

“Lately, everyone has been super cautious, and taking care not to sit by other people, and stuff like that,” said Botello. “It’s crazy. Smart, but… it’s crazy. That was weeks ago, too; I can’t imagine what it’s like by now.”

  Elisa Almanza ‘20, who also took the Orange Line in late March, had a similar experience. They described how COVID-19 led everyone to keep their distance.

“It was ‘rush hour,’ and it was completely empty,” they said. “People that were on the train sat far apart from each other, and most of them had masks on. It felt like [everyone] was more cognizant of who was around them and their overall surroundings.”

Almanza also described the change in attitude they witnessed among others using the Orange Line.

“I kept my distance from people and tried not to think too much about the situation,” Almanza said. “But people were constantly looking over at everyone, and acting really paranoid. It was weird.”

As Botello emphasized, this is a drastic shift from the usual atmosphere of the Orange Line. “Usually, it’s super cramped, and you’re always touching somebody else.”

Even the Blue Line – on average, the CTA’s second-busiest – has been completely cleared out, as Traolach O’Sullivan ‘20 recalled.

“I rode it a few weeks ago, and I didn’t notice anything at first, because the CTA isn’t terribly social in the first place, but I guess you could call it eerie,” O’Sullivan said. “There were very few people. I just tried not to touch anything.”

The experience put into perspective the scope of the pandemic, O’Sullivan said.

“Seeing no one there kind of emphasized the problematicness of the virus. To get on a CTA car and see dramatically fewer people than usual was striking to me.”