RTA universal fare card to arrive by 2015

The year 2015 can’t come soon enough.

That’s when the CTA, Metra and Pace are required by state law to issue a single smart card that riders of all three transit agencies can use to pay fares.

Gov. Quinn signed the bill into law Thursday. Last year the agencies had jointly decided to develop just such a system. Now that agreement has the force of law.

The Tribune story nicely summarizes the challenges:

A major sticking point in moving to a universal fare card has been Metra’s incompatibility with fare systems used by the CTA and Pace.

Unlike those agencies, Metra’s fares are distance-based. Metra also has an “open” system, meaning customers don’t go through a turnstile. In addition, the rail line has long balked at updating its technology. Metra conductors still punch tickets, and only started accepting credit cards for purchases in 2010.

The CTA is out in front of this issue. It announced last year it was working to let riders use credit cards to enter buses and turnstiles. And of course, the Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus smart cards have been in use for years by passengers.


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  • There's a big problem with this. It's Claypool who's quoted in today's Trib as saying: "You could use your Visa card to tap in".
    No you can't, not unless you've gotten your Visa card in Europe or Asia.
    Visa & MasterCard are refusing to change technologies from mag stripe swipe cards to the more advanced chip & PIN cards [RFID] used in Europe & Asia. They claim it's too costly for all the merchants to have to change their terminals from swipe cards to RFID readers. That's total BS as the chip & PIN cards reduce theft.

    A universal card is going to have to be based on the Chicago Card system, which is an RFID, but without the need for a PIN.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    To expand on jack's post, while US card issuers have thus far largely avoided "Chip and PIN" (EMV) cards, they are issuing contactless cards that emulate magnetic stripe data.

    A large number of US credit cards now include a contactless payment chip, and soon so will many smartphones.

    New York City is already running a trial of the open fare collection system that CTA wants to implement.

  • Scooter, it seems to me like there's plenty of time for Visa and MasterCard to realize the error of their ways - and tap into the millions in transaction fees they would be missing.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    They have repeatedly said they won't change in this country.
    They claim it's too expensive!
    There have been numerous articles in the travel sections of papers about this problem. When Americans go overseas, they can't use their mag stripe cards!
    Visa & MasterCard aren't going to change just so the CTA doesn't have to issue Chicago Cards.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Scooter, that isn't true.

    My Chase ATM-Debit card has a proximity chip in it. McDonald's recognizes proximity cards, as do Mobil gas pumps. The Chase card is also VISA. Don't tell me what I don't have in my wallet. See also this article or similar sources.

    Also CTA has consistently said that the RFP requires that the vendor get rid of the obsolete Cubic equipment and provide its own. So, no, it is not tied to the Chicago Card.

    CTA is asking for RFPs and says they are getting them. As I indicated a couple of days ago, the question is how far that process has gone.

    As to the merits, legislation means nothing to the RTA and Metra. Something like this has been required for about 9 years, The only difference may be that prior laws said to study it; the RTA studied it and said it was unfeasible, sort of like Scooter now. Just like the RTA being mandated to study paratransit, studied it, but did nothing to make it more efficient.

    RTA also said that it was only sending out mag stripe cards to seniors because CTA was taking the lead through this program. Therefore, the legislature may have done its usual useless thing by mandating something for 2015 that might be in place in 2012, if we believe prior CTA press releases.

  • Kevin, did you interview Claypool yet - can you ask him any specifics (like will they be able to combine fares, besides just being a common fare instrument).

  • Sorry Scooter, every Visa card I have from Chase supports payments by tapping. Never knew until I saw a cashier do it. Look for http://images.pcworld.com/news/graphics/129377-2505p026-2b.jpg on the card (mine is on the back), and you can use it at terminals like http://www.contactless-payment.co.uk/images/Contactless-Terminal.jpg . I haven't seen those terminals without support for MasterCard's Paypass too.

    Granted, I have cards from other banks without the chips, and it's pretty hit or miss for a merchant to have the readers, but it is in the states.

  • I'm trying to flush a post out. Sorry.

  • Sorry Scotter, every Visa card I have from Chase supports contact-less payments. Look for http://images.pcworld.com/news/graphics/129377-2505p026-2b.jpg on your Visa card, or the Paypass mark on your MasterCard, and you can use it with a reader like http://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/images/article-cell-phone-contactless-credit-card.jpg .

    Granted, I don't know if most banks are including rfid tags in their cards, but the credit card companies are offering it and some merchants do take them. I think more needs to be done to let cardholders know they have the chips, and make the readers more visible.

  • Zolk showing up here reminded me that the Minneapolis people on chicagobus.org discussed how a Cubic type system was being used on the Northstar Line, which is a distance based and open fare system. That discussion starts about here.

    However, as I noted, the problem with that kind of system on Metra is how many scanning machines would be needed at Chicago Union Station to account for all the destinations (I assume that the passengers are not smart enough to figure that Lisle and Deefield are in Zone E).

  • Chase is the only bank issuing RFID cards in this country, according to the various travel section articles.
    You're all forgetting that there are probably a million or more swipe terminals out there.
    A switchover will cost billions, not just for the banks, but the stores & even governments, which issue food stamps via cards now, such as the Illinois LINK card.
    Unless Congress mandates it & I guarantee you, the banks own Congress, so that's not happening, there won't be general distribution of RFID cards here for a long time.
    And you can't force people to buy smartphones over plain cellphones until you divorce the carriers from the locked phone business & that's not happening either here.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    I failed to click the "Reply to Scooter" button, but to alleviate any confusion, the preceding post does so.

  • I think the "BLINK" system available on Chase cards is different and incompatible with the Chip and Pin system used overseas. I'm not positive though.

    Also, I always though the Metra could just put scanners on the entrance/exit of the cars and have the conductors make sure people scan when they get on and scan when they get off. Doesn't seem too hard.

  • In reply to chris:

    Yeah, but could it handle 1,300 passengers getting off a 10 car Metra train at Chicago Union Station?

    The Metra Electric used to have that one had to go through the fare barrier while exiting, but the passengers rebelled against that and the barriers were removed. Cf. the discussion on distance-based fares a couple of days ago.

  • That doesn't answer the point that whoever is going to provide the system in response to the CTA RFP is going to have to provide a system and the cards to operate it. So, despite whatever one believes about the widespread adoption of whatever technology (I now get the distinction Zolk was trying to make), that vendor will have to "provide the goods."

    Now, if that vendor is Chase, apparently Sargas and I are ready.

    If that vendor isn't, they'll have to sell "gift cards" or something similar (like Walmart or Westfield Shoppingtown prepaid cards) to the public, and those will have to have chips. As I understand it, those cards will have to be accepted wherever Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover cards are accepted, so, unlike the Chicago Card, I could buy a $30 one, spend $5.25 on the CTA, and have another $24.75 to spend wherever, including at the gas pump. That's where I spent a $25 AT&T one.

  • According to https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/MasterCard#PayPass , Fifth Third Bank, Chase MasterCard, Citibank, HSBC debit, WaMu (Chase?), Key Bank debit, Citizens Bank and Charter One Bank cards are EMV compatible.

    Scooter: Look at the seventh item in http://www.chaseblink.com/faq.asp . Merchants are using machines which read these chips, and people do have cards with them. Your typical consumer or cashier may not know it, however. No one is trying for an abrupt switchover, that's for sure.

  • There are commuters who don't have credit cards, or even a checking account with a debit card attached to it. What do those people do?

    Also, what happens to my transit benefit? My workplace sends the CTA my money every month which the CTA uses to pay for my Chicago Card Plus. How does this change that?

  • The job would get easier if they took this opportunity to fold Pace into the CTA.

  • I like my Chicago Card. I'd wouldn't mind getting a new dedicated smart card that would work with all the transit systems. But I don't want to be forced to use one of my credit cards for this purpose (why should I have to keep it out where it might get lost or stolen?) or sign up for a general debit card that I don't need.

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