With all the problems the CTA and Cubic Transportation Systems have faced in the rollout of the new fare payment system, I've heard a number of riders ask, "Why do we have to switch anyway? The Chicago Card Plus system was working just fine."
Here are three reasons why:
- An Illinois state law requires the three area transit agencies to adopt a universal fare system by 2015.
- The existing fare-payment system was reaching the end of its useful lifespan, with outdated equipment and technology that requires much more ongoing maintenance and repair.
- This new system allows the CTA to get out of the fare collecting and money handling business and focus on its core competency of providing mass transit for Chicagoans.
Universal fare system: After the law went into effect, the CTA contracted with Cubic to pay them $454 million over 10 years to develop the contactless payment system using the Ventra card. Pace also decided to adopt the same system. And now Metra is looking to jump on board the Ventra bandwagon.
Outmoded current fare system: Continuing Chicago Card/Chicago Card Plus is not an option, according to the CTA. "The chip used in the Chicago Card is about 17 years old — well beyond the typical lifespan of this kind of chip," said a CTA spokesperson. "In fact, the main reason it was manufactured as long as it was is because it was fabricated using the same equipment producing the chips in the ‘90s video game Game Boy, which kept the technology alive long after its normal life span. Once Game Boy production ended (mid-2000s), CTA bought the remaining chips to use in Chicago Cards." No chip producer was going to produce the same chip (because of its outdated technology).
The CTA also said it decided to move instead to the open standards, contactless fare collection system.
No more handling money: By having Cubic handle the responsibilities of day-to-day fare collection and maintenance, "the CTA can focus on its core mission of providing bus and train rides," said the CTA. In fact, the CTA will save an estimated $5 million a year by eliminating collection activities and maintenance on an aging fare system. In addition to the cost savings and efficiency benefits, the new fare system also shifts the risk associated with collecting fares (credit and debit transactions) to the contractor.
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