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The Great O'Hare Race (And its Discontents)

Four intrepid reporters from the Chicago Tribune raced to O'Hare International Airport by personal car, a ride-share, on CTA, and on Metra to decide which is fastest.
July 19, 2019, 1pm PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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The CTA Blue Line: Still the cheapest, and probably the fastest, way to get to O'Hare.

"For more than a decade, Chicago politicians have talked about a faster way to get between downtown and Chicago's O'Hare International Airport," according to an article in the Chicago Tribune featuring the gumshoe reporting of Abdel Jimenez, Ally Marotti, Mary Wisniekwski, and Lauren Zumbach.

To shed some light on the answer to the question of which is the fastest way to access the airport in a city that is the envy of city's with no direct rail transit connection to their airports, the team of reporters raced each other to the airport, while carrying check-in baggage, by personal car, transportation network company (Uber, in this case), on CTA, and on Metra.

"The winner was an Uber ride-share that took 69 minutes, followed by the CTA at 80 minutes, a private car (parked at an economy lot) at 90 minutes and Metra at 98 minutes," according to the article. As noted in the article, the fastest way is not the cheapest way. A CTA ride costs $2.50, while the Uber ride took $38.97.

Each trip is documented in detail in the article, and that's where some transit advocates starting finding holes to poke in the story of the great O'Hare race. Writing for Streetsblog Chicago, John Greenfield noted that Abdel Jimenez, who rode the CTA Blue Line to the airport, seemed to have taken a lot longer than should have been possible. Greenfield explains:

But I’m not the only Tribune reader who scratched their head at the supposed 80-minute travel time from Michigan/Randolph to security. How the heck did that happen? It’s hard to imagine the transit trip taking that long under normal circumstances, considering that the CTA estimates the Blue Line trip from the Loop to O’Hare at 40-45 minutes (which is only getting faster with Your New Blue track, signal, and power upgrades), and trains leave every few minutes during business hours.

After some digging into the print version of the story, it was revealed that Jimenez was briefly lost at the airport during the race. "That’s totally understandable, since he’s new to Chicago and can’t be expected to already be an O’Hare blackbelt," writes Greenfield. "But if Jimenez walked more than 5.5 minutes in the wrong direction, that means that if he hadn’t made that mistake his 80-minute trip would have been shorter than the 69-minute Uber journey. In that case, the Tribune would have declared cheap, efficient, and eco-friendly transit the winner of the competition, rather than the relatively expensive, road-clogging, gas-guzzling ride-hailing."

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Published on Wednesday, July 17, 2019 in Chicago Tribune
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