By Jorge Sidron
Reed Travel Features
CHICAGO -- Getting around this city by train and bus is more
convenient these days, thanks to the Chicago Transit Authority's
introduction of electronic fare cards.
The $106 million CTA initiative replaces the city's dime-sized
tokens and monthly bus passes with a thin plastic card that
resembles a credit card. The cards are sold in vending machines at
all CTA train stations, Jewel and Dominick's food stores and
currency exchanges. The rider selects how much value to store in
the card -- from $3 to $100 -- and inserts the money into the
vending machine. The transit card is programmed automatically and
is ready to use.
Fares with the new card continue to cost the same as with tokens
-- $1.50 for rides and 30 cents for transfers. But card users
receive a "frequent rider bonus" -- $13.50 for 10 rides and $16.50
for 10 rides and 10 transfers. Monthly bus passes cost $88.
A digital display on bus fare boxes and on elevated-train
station turnstiles lets riders check the value remaining on their
cards. Riders traveling in groups can use the same card as long as
each person inserts the card separately into the bus fare box or
Since the system was introduced on June 23 (it was phased in
through July), the number of tokens used has fallen while card use
has risen dramatically, the CTA said. "Transit cards are an
integral part of a new, more customer-friendly era for CTA," CTA
president David Mosena said. "Riders will find using the transit
card faster and more convenient than paying with cash." Mosena said
token sales probably will end later this year.
In related news, the Transit Authority on July 1 began offering
a 24-hour Visitor Pass good for unlimited rides on all CTA buses
and trains within any 24-hour period, starting at the instant the
first trip is taken. The Visitor Pass is in a six-month trial
period, after which time officials will gauge its success and
decide on its future.
The pass, which costs $5, is available at select downtown
hotels, museums, visitor information centers and transportation
hubs. Like the CTA card for buses and trains, the pass features a
magnetic strip on the back, allowing it to be used in automated bus
fare boxes and at train station turnstiles.
CTA chairman Valerie Jarrett called the Visitor Pass "a big step
in making CTA more customer-friendly for visitors." Mosena said,
"One of the benefits of our new fare system is the flexibility it
gives us to create options like [the Visitor Pass]. Visitors will
take the CTA to museums, shops and other attractions if we make it
convenient for them to do so."