Chicago Transit Authority Launches Electronic Fare Cards

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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 train turnstile.

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."

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