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What to know if you still have to get around Chicago right now

Buses will now institute rear boarding and run as drop-off only if there are more than 15 passengers

A bus travels down Western Avenue. There are apartment buildings on either side of the four lane road. Shutterstock

Most Chicagoans are staying at home and practicing social distancing. But, essential trips outside to the grocery store or even certain jobs are still part of life in Chicago even under the stay-at-home order.

So, how do you get around and still make sure you’re being safe? It’s hard, especially if you need to take public transit. Buses and trains are still running in Chicago—albeit some on a reduced schedule. Here’s what you need to know about how transit agencies are adapting if you must take the CTA or Metra.

Buses are now boarding passengers through the rear door. This most recent change to the CTA’s operations was announced on Thursday, following guidance from the CDC. When a bus pulls up to a stop, passengers will be directed to the back door for boarding. Those that need the ramp will still use the front entrance. There are a number of buses that already have fare card readers in the back, and the city is working at installing more. Buses that aren’t equipped yet won’t require passengers to pay.

Bus drivers will have the authority to run as drop-off only. Until further notice, Bus drivers will be able to manage an overcrowded bus by choosing to bypass certain stops if there are more than 15 passengers on a standard 40-foot bus and 22 passengers on a 60-foot bus. Similar to how grocery stores are regulating the number of people inside, bus drivers will get to do the same.

CTA stations and trains are getting regularly deep cleaned. All trains and stations are getting regularly cleaned throughout the day. Employees are sanitizing handrails, Ventra machines, and turnstiles. All CTA vehicles undergo an intensive interior and exterior cleaning at the end of use. Similar procedures are in place for Metra and Pace. Even with all of the careful disinfecting, the CTA recommends that passengers spread out on train cars, wash hands before and after, and limit contact with high-touch surfaces. And of course, only take public transit for essential tasks like work, groceries, and the pharmacy.

Ventra is offering a credit for unused weekly and monthly passes. If you had an active 7- or 30-day pass, you’ll be able to receive a credit based on the last time the pass was used. So, if you bought a monthly pass for March and only used 10 days, you’d get a credit for the other 21 days. In order to get a refund on your account, you’ll have to send an email to customer service (customerservice@ventrachicago.com) by April 13 with the account holder’s name, the 12 digit code associated with your Ventra account (this is different than your Ventra Card number), and the type of pass you need to be refunded.

Divvy is offering a 50 percent off membership and $1 single rides. The city’s bike-share program cut it’s annual membership down from $99 to $49.50. Riders can also get a single ride for $1 instead of the normal $3 fee. Day passes still cost $15. These promotions will be offered through April 30. Healthcare workers will also be able to get free 45-minute rides through the end of the month. Employees can sign up for the program through their work (clinics and hospitals interested can email herobikes@lyft.com)

Pace is reducing service and offering discounted rides. The paratransit agency has seen a drop as high as 70 percent in ridership. Similar to the CTA, the transit agency is trying to limit the exposure of its drivers. The agency will now waive fare collection on fixed-route and ADA paratransit services for the duration of the stay-at-home order. Riders who use the Taxi Access Program (TAP) will also have fees waived.

Metra is giving free rides to healthcare workers. The commuter rail line started seeing a large decline in ridership when major downtown offices started requiring employees to work from home. Average ridership has dipped as low as 10 percent of what it normally is, Metra said. In response, Metra lines are running on a reduced weekday schedule, which is about half of its normal capacity. Also, for the duration of the stay-at-home order all medical employees will be able to ride free. All they have to do is show their work ID.