CTA moves ahead with system to collect fares with credit or debit cards

News of how the CTA will spend its money took second fiddle to news about how it will collect its money at Tuesday’s board meeting.

The CTA board approved an agreement to implement a new fare-collection systems featuring the use of contactless cards riders can tap against rail turnstiles and bus fareboxes. “CTA patrons will simply “tap” their contactless credit, debit and bank cards or CTA-branded prepaid cards on a card reader to board trains and buses,” according to a press release. The new technology is expected to be launched in early 2014.

The CTA awarded a $454 million contract to Cubic Transportation Systems, the company that provides the current fare cards and smart cards. Cubic will provide all of the fare-collection equipment, maintenance and support, and CTA will pay the cost of the contract via a base fee and a per-tap transaction fee from revenue on a monthly basis.

The CTA said the new fare-collection system is expected to yield savings of more than $50 million over the life of the contract, and will resolve the need to upgrade and maintain existing fare-collection equipment that is nearing the end of its useful life.

Rail riders will be required to use the new technology via their credit or cards. Those without credit cards or debit cards will be able to purchase prepaid contactless cards at more than 1,000 new locations.  Cash fares still will be accepted on buses.

See the CTA’s explanation.

2012 budget OK’ed with no fare hikes, service cuts

The CTA board Tuesday also approved a $1.24 billion that features not service cuts or fare hikes — but relies on concessions from CTA unions to fill a $160 million hole. The union contracts expire Dec. 31.

Time will tell whether the CTA can wrest work rules changes to fill that gap. The union has already made it clear they are not budging, and in fact say the examples that CTA President Forrest Claypool gives of “antiquated” work rules are simply not true.

Should be interesting!


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  • I wish they would say how this new fare system will impact the use of employer transit benefits (that are currently loaded automatically onto a CCP card).

  • In reply to Espio:

    Good question, but they did say a Chicago Card Plus equivalent would be offered. I suppose CTA should answer the question directly, but it would appear that either (a) the employer could direct deposit it into you card account, as most direct deposit paychecks, or (b) give out CTA prepaid debit cards. However, I suppose either would entail the need to verify that you spent the money on transit, instead of blowing the prepaid amount at Starbucks.

    It would have been better if they had a specific link on the page for more questions, but I suppose the group here would say to Facebook them.

  • In reply to jack:

    Rereading, I have to amend my remarks, since one of the listed options was:

    “Transit-only reloadable” card that functions like existing Chicago Card/Chicago Card Plus
    - Cash can be loaded onto them
    - Will be used for all special programs (e.g. Seniors)

    So, I guess you substitute "Transit Benefits" for Seniors, and you have your answer.

    I'll also say that I was not totally put at ease by the statement later on about seniors registering their other cards with the RTA.

  • Saying that Cubic won the award raised several questions, one of which CTA did answer in the linked post:

    Q: Will there be any limits on what type of credit or debit cards can be used to pay fares on CTA?
    A: No, all major card brands are accepted (Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express). In order for it to be used on the new system, it must be contactless.

    I had assumed that a bank would be the lead bidder and one would have to use a card issued by that bank, but if it accepts any card that uses contactless technology and has a recognized logo, that eliminates that problem.

    The other question seems to be whether this forces Cubic on Metra, but one would think that any vendor of a system that would recognize any major card would meet the qualification of state law. I suppose, though, that that vendor would still have to deal with multiple fare zones and on board fare checking.

    There still must be a bank behind this bid to issue the CTA gift card and clear the transactions. Also, 2014 certainly sounds 2 years later than what was first represented.

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    In reply to jack:

    I think it would be great to have one system for paying fares on CTA, Pace and Metra using a card most everyone already has on their person when they travel. I didn't see anything about this system even being considered for Metra, though.

  • In reply to Ed Lerner:

    My observation was based on PA 97-0085 requiring that the RTA establish a fixed route transfer policy by 2013 and a regional fare payment system using open technology by 2015. That was reported in the CTA Tattler with respect to other things in that bill, including that all Service Boards have trackers, and the RTA study other stuff.

    So, the RTA or Metra have to consider something, although, as I indicated, not necessarily the Cubic system. The RTA also has to consider some sort of transfer policy, but I'm sure that doesn't mandate that Metra accept the CTA fare structure or 25 cent transfers, as some have read into that requirement.

    As far as Pace, it usually has adopted what CTA has as a result of intergovernmental agreements, and obviously if one is going to transfer from Pace to CTA in accordance with the CTA transfer policy, or there will continue to be the equivalent of the joint CTA/Pace 7 day pass, Pace will have to piggyback what CTA does. At least Pace reported at the October Board Meeting that CTA was paid up with respect to the existing intergovernmental agreement.

    Now, if we had an RTA that was actually functioning....

  • So, apparently I'll be able to continue using something very like the Chicago Card (a "prepaid contactless card" if I'm not mistaken), which is what I prefer. Not that I don't have any bank-issued card, but because I prefer not to put it at risk. I will not be required to keep my credit card out loose where it could be lost or stolen, or get a bank debit card, which I would rather not use because of various downsides.

    I'm satisfied with this plan. In fact, I have hopes that the new CTA-branded prepaid cards and the machinery that recognizes the touch may work a little more reliably. It sounds like I'll find even more places to add money to the card than there are now, so I won't always have to ask myself if I need to visit the L station to recharge before taking a number of bus trips. A close reading confirms you can still recharge with cash. Which I also prefer, so I'm not letting them tap into my credit line.

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    Are there still going to be a way of getting unlimited ride passes like 30-Days? And maybe colleges who do the U-Pass program could have there own set to pass out for the term

  • In reply to Sam92:

    Same, while I haven't seen any details about the passes, I gotta believe the CTA will continue them in some way.

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