Ridership is low, but violent crime is through the roof on Red Line, data shows

CTA ridership remains sharply lower in 2021 due to COVID, but violent crime reports along the transit agency’s backbone, the Red Line, are significantly higher this year than during normal times.

Analysis of city crime data shows robberies along the Red Line system between Roosevelt and Howard are up 80% this year compared to the pre-COVID period of January 1 to March 15 of 2020. In fact, more robberies have been reported along that stretch of the CTA system this year than in any year since at least 2015, despite suppressed ridership.

Because crimes are reported by CTA station addresses and not by train line, the dataset also includes incidents on other lines at stations they share with the Red Line.

Most recently, police and fire crews responded to the Lake Street subway station around 7:50 p.m. Thursday after a man attacked another passenger while riding the Red Line.

The 48-year-old victim told police the offender walked up on a southbound train and started arguing with him before the attack began. An ambulance transported the victim to Northwestern Memorial Hospital with cuts to his hands and wrists. Police did not release any description of the offender.

One category, crimes involving knives are at a high point this year. Five of this year’s knife-related crimes were robberies — that’s more than all years 2015 through 2020 combined

Overall, 34 robberies of all kinds were logged this year on the Red Line between Roosevelt and Howard as of March 15. Five of this year’s hold-ups were reported at the Howard terminal. By comparison, that station only logged two robberies during the previous six years combined.

Earlier this week, police released surveillance images of a group that allegedly beat and robbed a man at the Belmont station on March 14.

It’s impossible to know exactly what is driving crime so high while ridership is so low. One possibility is that fewer people on trains means fewer witnesses and better opportunities for robbers to ply their trade.

Another option may be more difficult to swallow. With commuters staying home, the Red Line has become a shelter for large numbers of people who clearly need social services to address housing and mental health needs.

Earlier this month, Crain’s columnist Greg Hinz wrote about his experience as a near-daily rider of the Red Line over the past year.

“I’ve got to tell the truth. And the truth is that our own Chicago Transit Authority, especially its rapid transit operations, are a big, crashing mess at the moment, with the tubes filthy and stained with graffiti, elevators and escalators out of operation, cars converted into rolling homeless shelters, rules about eating and smoking seemingly forgotten, and police presence all but invisible,” Hinz wrote.

“In the past couple of months of taking the train home at night, I’ve seen…dozens of people sprawled out over several seats, with their worldly possessions plunked beside them. (They have my sympathy, but you just can’t live on the CTA.) I’ve seen public urination inside a train. Even today, it’s impossible to board a car in which every person is wearing a mask. I’ve seen one police officer. O-N-E.”

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com