Analysis of whether you should buy CTA pass or pay per ride

Following is a repost from last month. This is an analysis of whether you should buy a pass, or just use a CTA transit card and pay per ride. 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.

For weekly pass users, that would be 10 total rides at $2 apiece, or $20. You save $8 over the new $28 price for a weekly pass.

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.

For weekly pass users, that’s 10 rides at $2.25 apiece, or $22.50. Again, use the transit card and save $5.50 a week, as long as you don’t plan to use the CTA except to get to work.

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.

For weekly pass users, that’s 10 rides at $2.50 apiece, or $25. You have to decide whether you’d rather save $3 a week – a cup of coffee – or enjoy the convenience of a pass and be able to use it as much as you like over seven days.

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.

Weekly pass users: See scenario for “bus only with transfer to bus.” Same deal.

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.


Leave a comment
  • Let's take the case of a person who commutes to work Monday through Friday. If the first day you use your 30-day pass is a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, you will always get 22 weekdays of use out of the pass (minus any holidays or days you don't go in to work).

    However, if you activate your pass on a Friday, you will only get 21 weekdays to use it.

    So, to squeeze out the maximum value from your 30-day pass, never activate it on a Friday. Just pay with cash or a Transit Card on Friday and wait until the following Monday to activate.

    Of course, if you board at O'Hare on Friday, disregard the above (at least after July 1 when the exemption for Chicago Card users goes away).

  • In reply to Lerna:

    On your last paragraph, my impression was that by then, CTA would have something in place for the airport employees. In any event, the intent was to squeeze airline travelers, who, of course, don't have any interest in spending $100 for a 30 day pass; maybe they will pop for a 1 day one, but that's still $10.

  • In reply to Lerna:

    This is a great suggestion, but maybe not how the system works. It charges your card every 30 days, regardless of whether you've used it or not. The one thing I'm not sure of is when the 30 days starts... Is it when you get charged or when you next use it. That I've never been able to figure out. Maybe someone else has.

  • In reply to chris:

    Chris: You are talking about the Chicago Card Plus. If you buy your 30-day passes at Jewel or Walgreens, there is no such thing as "charging your card every 30 days."

    But, anyway, according to the Chicago Card Plus FAQ:
    "30-Day Pass customers will have their accounts reloaded with a new 30-Day Pass on the 27th day of each 30-day cycle. The new 30-day cycle will not begin until the first ride is taken following completion of the current 30-day cycle."

    So, it would appear that if you refrain from using your CC+ for a while after your 30-day cycle expires, even though you have paid for a new 30-day card, the next 30-day clock won't start ticking until you use it again.

  • In reply to chris:

    She, and certainly Kevin and I (in the prior thread) were referring to magnetic strip cards. The only card that works the way you say is a Chicago Card Plus, and that doesn't have the same kind of expiration dates.

  • Unless I've gotten an I-Go car to go buy things I don't want to carry on the bus, I'm on the bus. So the extra $14 isn't really an extra $14 in my case. I would spend that easily just tooling around town when I'm not at work.

Leave a comment