Summary of proposed hike in CTA passes; analysis of whether to buy pass or pay per ride

Now that there’s a big difference between paying per ride for your CTA trip vs. buying a weekly or monthly pass, it may literally pay for riders to carefully evaluate which fare mode is least expensive, based on their commuting habits.

First, let’s recap the proposed increases in rates for passes, and other changes announced in the 2013 CTA budget released today:

  • Base fares are unchanged: $2.25 for each rail trip; $2 for each bus trip; 25 cents to transfer to a bus if you use a transit card or pass other than cash.
  • No cuts in bus or rail service.
  • Monthly passes will increase by $14 to $100, from $86.
  • Weekly passes will rise by $5 to $28, from $23.
  • Three-day passes will increase by $6, to $20 from $14
  • One-day passes will rise by $4.25, to $10 from $5.75
  • The Metra Link-up pass will increase by $10, to $55 from $45.
  • The fare from O’Hare on the Blue Line cost $5, a $2.75 increase from $2.25. Only riders who use multi-day passes or reduced fares will be able to avoid the increase.
  • The reduced fare for seniors and others will increase by 15 cents to $1 from 85 cents. Low-income seniors and persons with a disability who have a valid RTA Circuit Ride Free Permit will continue to ride for free on the CTA.
  • The reduced fare elementary/high school students will decrease from 85 cents to 75 cents, saving a shiny dime per trip.

2013 proposed CTA fares

So, if you’re not a student, get out your calculator and start figuring which fare-paying mode is best for you. Let me help. (For this analysis,  we’ll assume that each month contains 21 work days on average.)

Bus only, no transfer. The cash fare stays the same at $94.50. That’s a $5.50 saving over the soon-to-be $100 monthly pass. You might want to buy the monthly pass, if for nothing but the convenience factor. If you use a transit card, the base fare is $2, or $84 total for the month. That’s a $16 saving over the soon-to-be $100 monthly pass. No brainer to stick with cash on the transit card, as long as you don’t transfer.

Bus only with transfer to bus. Add $10.50 for the transfer if you use a transit card, for $94.50 total. Again, consider the monthly pass for convenience, and if you figure on using the card for at least one more round trip. If you’re using cash and transferring on a bus, you’re really losing big time anyway because you have to pay $2.25 for each trip.

Train, bus transfer combo. The per-ride fare (you would have to use a transit card or Chicago Card because of the transfer) per month would be $99.75. Buy the monthly pass for the convenience.

Train only, no transfer. The per-ride fare would be $94.50 per month, or $5.50 cheaper than a monthly pass. If you know you will never transfer or use your card on the weekend, then pay by ride. Remember that you have to put cash on your card occasionally, so factor in the convenience of a monthly pass.

I don’t own a car, and take a train only to work. I will gladly pay $14 more for the convenience of the pass. I know I will use the pass enough to cover the additional cost.

I will have further analysis of the budget in the days ahead.


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  • Okay... and now I care. I ride from ORD when I land from wherever work brings me. I purposely take the train because at least during rush hour its competitive with a taxi to Logan Square. Asking me to pay $5 for a ride that is filled with slow zones and inconsistent service is ridiculous. On Sunday it took me nearly 30 minutes to get to ORD from Belmont/ Kimball. I get they want to pillage the tourists but have they ever thought about the city choice riders?

    1- Fun Passes aren't easy to come by so most residents just pay per ride if they're out and about. If the fun pass was made available the ChiCard, I'm sure more people would use it.
    2- A lot of low wage employees ride the 'L' from ORD, not all of them can afford a monthly pass. Now hitting them with a surcharge to ride the painfully slow and still no express blue line has to be a Title VI issue.

    Obviously I know taking a cab is way more expensive than the train but you know what? For me at least from door to terminal, the cab is 15 minutes to ORD when I fly out on a Sunday. The train is at least 40 minutes. At some price point some of the choice riders on the northwest side will start looking at their value of time and the convenience factor. I know I am.

  • In reply to ibright05:

    Long story short, this fare increase basically shows the problem with a universal fare and why distance/ time based fares should have been looked at. Obviously a ride from ORD to Clark n Lake is prolly valued at $5 but a ride from ORD to Belmont? H*ell to the no.

  • In reply to ibright05:

    Claypool made it quite clear on TV that the point to the $5 fare or raising the one day pass to $10 was to soak the tourists. As I noted in the prior post, there isn't much alternative from O'Hare. I bet that the surcharge was not assessed at Midway because there is a CTA bus terminal affording plenty of other choices.

    As far as the workers, the question is whether they are so poor that they can't afford a 7 day pass, which would avoid the surcharge. Also, whether they get transit benefits.

    As to whether it is worth it, it goes back to "the purpose of the airport express is that someone doesn't pee on your shoe" according to Roe Conn, but the airport express also seems long dead.

    Other than that, I suppose someone could take a hotel shuttle to Rosemont, and hop on the L there.

  • In reply to ibright05:

    The CTA can't have distance based fares due to the design of most L stations.
    To have distance based fares, all stations must have a huge exit area so that large numbers of passengers can exit quickly & more importantly, safely! Some downtown stations, 95th & Howard have that occur every day. Not even the remodeled Loop subway stations have this capability.
    As for distance based bus fares, completely impossible with only a driver.

  • I thought that your bus only with transfer was wrong, in that the transfers cost $10.50. However, it turns out to be right, as the base fare with a transfer card is $2.00, while it is $2.25 cash.

    As I noted in the prior post, the assumption is 22 days.

    Since you bring up "the convenience of the pass," the question is whether it is worth enough to you not to have to refill a cash card periodically vs. the cost of CTA having $100 of your money in advance.

  • In reply to jack:

    "transit" card.

  • Well, this pretty much eliminate any discount I receive for the 30 day pass for work. I used to use more CTA on weekends, but not as much anymore. If I did, it would make it more worthwhile. Now, it's a break-even proposition, with the only benefit that I don't have to pay through the nose at O'Hare.

    It's stupid that the kids are getting a discount of 10 cents. Seriously, is this stopping you from going to school, or is there some other issue at hand (ie. parents, violence, laziness, etc)? If they can prove that a drop of 10 cents for their fare increases attendance percentages by a statistically meaningful amount, I'll eat my words. Sounds like a waste to me.

    Also, sounds like more people will be using cash fares now with the discount being eliminated. Great, longer lines at bus loading to accommodate the occasional rider. It's the exact opposite of what they should be doing. They should be trying to convert more users to the passes, not the opposite. I really can't understand these increases for some, but not everyone. It will be interesting to see how this affects ridership numbers.

    It's good that the reduced fares are going up at least.

    It's also really dumb to be charging so much at O'Hare. It's almost encouraging people to drive or take cabs. But, I'm sure it will raise a lot of money, while sowing a lot of confusion at the O'Hare turnstiles for pretty much everyone. It's going to suck to be the worker at that station, having to explain why that entrance costs more than any other on the system. If roughly half the people boarding there (on track for 3.5M this year) pay with non-pass fare, that's about an extra $4.8M. Not bad, but that's assuming ridership doesn't go down because of it, and that my assumptions on day passes is accurate for that station. We'll see.

  • In reply to chris:

    Two quickies:

    You have to distinguish cash fares from stored value cards. As Kevin points out, if you have to transfer and pay cash, you pay double. Hence, it is unlikely that those paying cash will increase, and, of course, theoretically you can't pay cash to enter the rapid transit, but are supposed to buy a card.

    On the school side, you seem to be the opposite of Cheryl, and if you ask me I don't think it is the CTA's job to be subsidizing student attendance, but maybe it is a subdivision of CPS ;-).

  • In reply to jack:

    Well, Cheryl was OK with the increase IF more students attend more often. My point is that that's a big "IF". I don't see 10 cents making a difference either way. The real question might be "Is Cheryl OK with the $14 increase if there is no effect on CPS attendance with the lower student fares?"

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