In 2011, CTA provided 531,960,253 rides, topping last year's total of 516,891,783. The 2011 total is the highest number since 1991, when more than 540 million rides were recorded.
"The growth in 2011 ridership shows that the CTA is an increasingly integral part people's daily lives and emphasizes that there is a real and growing demand for public transit in the city and the suburbs," said CTA President Forrest Claypool.
The CTA's three percent ridership gain outpaced the average among transit systems across the United States by about 30 percent, according to the American Public Transportation Association's study of national ridership numbers for 2011. The CTA's rail traffic gains exceeded the national average by more than 50 percent.
Many factors have contributed to the ridership increase, including higher gas prices, Claypool said. But he added that the gains are also due in part to numerous investments CTA has made, particularly on the rail system, to improve the customer experience and make transit an even more convenient and attractive option.
"Based on the extensive feedback we've received from our customers, the jump in ridership shows that our efforts to improve our operations, upgrade our fleet and infrastructure and focus more on the things that matter most to our customers are having a positive result," Claypool said.
The CTA's bus and rail systems both experienced ridership gains: rail was up 5.2 percent. More than 93 percent of CTA's 2011 ridership gains occurred since May 2011, with increases each month over the same months in 2010.
On an average 2011 weekday, 1.688 million riders boarded CTA buses and trains, up from 1.644 million in 2010, up 2.7 percent.
The largest jumps in ridership were on weekends, which saw increases of four percent on Saturdays (to 1,087,653) and 5.4 percent on Sundays (to 774,137).
All eight rail lines saw increased ridership. The biggest increase was on the Blue Line, which saw nearly 3.7 million more riders, up eight percent. The second-biggest increase was on the Brown Line, up more than 2 million riders or seven percent.
To keep up with ridership and continue to ensure on-time trips for passengers, the CTA plans a number of system-improvement projects.
Improvements to seven deteriorated stations along the Howard branch of the Red Line will begin this year, followed in 2013 by a reconstruction of the tracks along the Dan Ryan Branch and the construction of a new transfer station at Wilson Ave. Blue Line slow zones will also be repaired in 2013.