Pace's shoulder-hopping buses -- which carry commuters from the suburbs on the Stevenson Expressway (I-55) to Chicago's Loop -- have proved so popular the agency intends to expand service on two routes.
And that trend may carry over to the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) once construction work is complete in 2016.
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At a Tuesday news conference, Pace leaders released details of plans to increase service on Routes 755 and 855 effective Monday. Both of those routes are allowed to use the shoulder when traffic is heavy.
The changes include: doubling rush-hour trips and adding a midday and late evening bus on Route 755, which travels from Plainfield to the Illinois Medical District and west Loop; and five more rush-hour trips plus a midday and later evening bus on Route 855, which travels from Plainfield to the east Loop. Both buses stop in Bolingbrook.
The Bus on Shoulders program required a change in state law allowing vehicles to use the I-55 shoulder in heavy traffic between I-355 and Central Avenue. The state is also studying how to extend the shoulder riding to between Kedzie Avenue and the Loop, Illinois Department of Transportation Deputy Director of Highways John Fortmann said.
Several officials joked that no one believed the Bus on Shoulder program would succeed.
"When I first heard about it, I thought 'Are you serious?'" Bolingbrook Mayor Roger Claar said. "But I've seen it and it works."
Since the program started in 2011, ridership on Route 755 has grown by 240 percent, from 40 passengers a day to 137. On Route 855, ridership has increased by 61 percent, from 281 passengers a day in 2011 to 451.
The ridership spurt is due to the 90 to 93 percent on-time performance, which the shoulder-hopping enables, Pace planners said.
The agency already runs other express buses and is working with the Illinois tollway to offer an enhanced service on I-90, which is currently being widened.
"We've been working with them to identify areas where there could be park and rides along I-90 and they've been very cooperative," Pace Chairman Richard Kwasneski said.
This year, the goal is to expand service on two existing buses -- Route 600 between Schaumburg and Rosemont and Route 610 between Rosemont and Prairie Stone in Hoffman Estates. In 2016, Pace expects to roll out four new express bus routes plus Park & Ride lots at I-90 interchanges including Randall Road, Route 25 and Barrington Road.
Details of whether the buses will use the shoulder or a dedicated bus lane are still being worked out.
"The tollway is coordinating with Pace to accommodate transit, including building wider, reinforced inside lanes and shoulders that can be used by buses," tollway spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said in an email.
"Pace is working with the tollway to incorporate expansion of existing Pace express service on I-90 when roadway work is complete in 2016, as well as determining which of the potential options will best serve commuters in the future."
To find out more about service on Route 755 and 855, go to www.pacebus.com/sub/news_events/whats_new.asp#BoS.