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The Chicago Card Plus: early explanations and evaluations

A service of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference Transit and Parking Committee and the HPKCC website,
Help support our work: Join the Conference!

Join the Transit Task Force-contact chairman James Withrow.

If you expect to ride free as a senior or military, you have to get a universal card from RTA or CTA.
Free seniors univeral Card can bed obtained at RTA Customer Service, 165 N. Jefferson, 60661, 312 913-3211- (includes info on other locations to get). CTA 567 W. Lake or 1-888 YOUR CTA (TTY 1-888 CTA-TTY1), City Hall west end-north through senior services dept. Expect a modest fee, present 2 forms of ID, have photo taken. Takes up to 5 weeks to be mailed to you. Metra call 312 322-6777, Pace 847-364-PACE.

What the "cashless CTA" future looks like; in addition to options already available today

CTA site on Chicago Card: Note that the card expires after 4 years and doesn't say so or give date on the card! CTA now says they will allow you to transfer the value to new cards, but there have been problems with the website (now cleared up?) http:/

All better get one of the two cards as cash/magnetic card fares went up a quarter--with no transfers! The cards cost $5 but waived September, October 2007. The 10% bonus for adding value will then also apply to $20 and up rather than $10 and up, but the cards may become free Dec. 1 into January. None of the add-money stations are currently planned for Hyde Park, as for now they are to be near where the cards can be purchased. They are often "out" at the Jewels and Dominicks and few currency exchanges they are announced for.The CTA has relented- the old 4 year old cards expiring will not result in loss of remaining fare.

But is it a savings any more? Deja vu, vu. January 2009 will see an increase of a quarter both ways, elimination of discount on the Cards, and increase in monthly passes from $75 to $90. CTA blames slumping economy (ridership plus falling sales tax take and real estate transfer tax), increased fuel and utility prices, and more free rides. You still will save a quarter on bus rides.

The class action suit on lack of availability of the new transit cards in early 2006 has been settled without prejudice. Riders with claims must bring documentation of extra money spent and efforts to buy the cards to Edelman, Combs, Latturner & Goodwin LLC 120 S. LaSalle St. Suite #1800, Chicago, IL 60603. For more info visit

The 2006 hit was a quarter increase in fares to $2 for those paying cash (not cards etc.) and end of transfers for those who pay cash. Note that the changes will apply to all magnetic stripe fares on the trains (some sources say all train rides will be $2, others that it will not apply for holders of the Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus and passes. There is a window of waiver of fee Dec. 1- May 2006 for buyers of the Chicago and Chicago-Plus cards, although the minimum that must be added per transaction to get the 10% bonus is expected to increase from $10 to $20. And more card machines, such as in stores is under consideration. A couple other wrinkles are that transit for the disabled jumps from $1.75 to $3 (rec. to be cut from 3.50, to keep in line with PACE) despite the cost and responsibility now being placed on PACE and RTA (a 27m paratransit fund), and the downtown Rush hour shuttle goes from $1 to $2.

Also passed was a $4 pilot program to introduce 61 fare (card) machines in neighborhood Currency exchanges, with option to expand. Once you have a card, you can touch it to a scanner, pay, see verification, and touch the card to the scanner to authorize the transaction.

Extra: CTA passes all valid on Pace buses, Pace on CTA except the College Pass (to date).

March 18, 2005 the General Assembly put universal fare card on hold on being given an implementation cost of $60 million.

By 2010 a system may be in effect on CTA where your credit cards will have a chip allowing them to be read and automatically be debited by CTA readers instantaneously- just tap the reader at turnstyle or on bus.

CTA will enter into deals with credit card companies and will be able to reduce use of its own cards, which is very expensive and time consuming for them under the present vendor. This has been very successful in Europe and Asia and is part of the move to one or just a few cards vs having a card for every store etc. Deals will probably emerge as with cards and banks-- sign up with us and get week of free transit or an ongoing discount, or..... CTA will put the system out for bid in early 2009. A question is what that will do to hopes for intermodality/universal cards, as for a Metra Electric South Chicago "Gold Line" (already is with PACE), since Metra is not moving in either direction, at least at present.

Ways to pay now: CTA Chicago Card. Value added at vending machines (few outside CTA system)
CTA Chicago Card Plus. As above but can have value replenished automatically from your bank or credit card
CTA magnetic strip transit cards, passes. Buy at Jewel, Dominick's and some other locations (like phone cards)
Cash--buses only!

The Chicago Card Plus arrives

A second "Chicago Card" has been added to the first. And they're both free until April 1st, after which they will each cost $5.) Warning--cards expire without warning! For now, the Plus works in different ways from the first Chicago Card, increasing options. But this new one could become the basis of a full universal card in the future.

(A cheap-and-quick universal pass is being tested with those in employee commute benefit programs, with CTA-PACE on one side and Metra on the other, seen by critics as a design for failure but helpful to some, mainly CTA riders who have to then use Metra to get to work. Several companies say a full universal card is do-able at reasonable cost. Planners from the three agencies are meeting to determine "how" best to do it.

The main differences between Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus are:

  1. With the Chicago you can add value at vending machines, with Plus you do it electronically (web-based).
  2. You can't apply discount fares to the new card, at least not for now.

What's Here

Slowly now, put down the car keys. Reason 2: CTA Fare Cards catch up with the technology

"Our goal is to try to find the most convenient and cost-effective way so a transit rider will have one card, or one fare mechanism, on all three service boards if they decide to use it, And our goal was to find something that could be implemented fairly quickly in the most inexpensive way." David Lovejoy, RTA

Red Streak, January 16, 2004. By Robert C. Herguth

As the CTA unveiled its latest electronic fare card, officials hinted it might evolve into a long-discussed "universal fare card" that can be used by CTA, Pace and Metra riders.

When it's made available starting Monday, the Chicago Card Plus will allow holders to prepay fares, then use th card to board L trains and CTA and Pace buses. Rates are electronically deducted when a card is tapped against farebox or turnstile keypad.

That's similar to an earlier model--called the Chicago Card which still is available--but users of the new card can use credit cards to automatically replenish accounts if they dip to a certain level, and access trip histories and account transactions on the Internet.

It can be used as a 3o-day pass, or a "pay-per-use" pass. It's Web-based, so users cannot add "value" at CTA vending machines as with a Chicago Card.

For now, discount fares cannot be applied to the new cards, CTA officials said. Both Chicago Cards will be free until April 1, [2004] when a $5 fee will be charged.

In the longer term, transit officials might allow the new card, made of plastic and containing a tiny computer chip, to be used to buy individual Metra tickets--"like a debit card," said the RTA's David Lovejoy.

And monthly Metra ticket holders, instead of getting a separate pass, would be given stickers to affix to the card, he said.

"Our goal is to try to find the most convenient and cost-effective way so a transit rider will have one card, or one fare mechanism, on all three service boards if they decide to use it," he said. And our goal was to find something that could be implemented fairly quickly in the most inexpensive way."

Critics have blasted the RTA, which oversees the other three agencies, for not doing enough to coordinate services and fares. Last month, it floated a plan to effectively slap together a monthly Metra pass and a 30-day CTA/Pace pass, a plan not widely embraced.

The new plans seemed well-received by one of the chief critics, state Rep. Julie Hamos of Evanston, who introduced legislation pushing the universal fare card concept.

"This is a great step for CTA and Pace to be taking, and we're so excited to find out how this works and to see if it's viable and can be rolled out system wide," a Hamos spokesman said.


More about the first Chicago Card (smart card), still the better choice for many, and differences in the Plus

With a touch, swipe, or pass, the card will automatically record your trip and deduct the correct stored amount. You can add money (up to a maximum) without an expiration date. Use of the card should speed boarding and transfer, including at crowded train stations. For a full description and application form visit Smart Card. Or contact Chicago Transit Authority. The Transit Task Force--and several commuters we know--wish this card could also get you on Metra, as it already does on Pace-the capability is built in and there is scanner technology. Note, you can add value with cash in the vending machines and apply discount rates to these cards, but not to the newer Chicago Card Plus.

The HPKCC Transit Task Force thinks the Chicago Card is a good start for a universal fare card.... In fact, CTA experts tell us the Card was specifically designed with feasibilities that could easily make it a platform for a universal card, including ability to be read with a palm pilot. Chicago Card Plus has these same capabilities and is also web-based.


Chicago Tribune, November 11, 2003

The CTA...delayed plans to eliminate a 10 percent bonus tacked onto transit card purchases of at least $10 until a new form of the agency's Chicago Card "smart card" is available in early 2004. The cards have several advantages, including speeding up passenger boarding times on buses.

In addition, the $5 cost of the Chicago Card, and the soon-to-debut Chicago Card Plus, will be waived for riders who purchase and register the cards by March 31, 2004. The waiver is projected to cost the CTA $200,000.

Riders who currently have a Chicago Card will not be given a $5 refund, but they will be able to upgrade to the Chicago Card Plus at no additional cost, said CTA spokeswoman Sheila Gregory.

The Chicago Card is a stored-value card used to pay CTA fares. The card is replenished by adding money to the card at a CTA transit-card vending machine located mostly at rail stations.

The Chicago Card Plus will be an account-based system in which card-holders provide the?CTA with credit card information to automatically add money when their Chicago Card Plus accounts reach a specified minimum level. Value cannot be added to Chicago Card Plus cards at CTA transit-card vending machines.

Commuters who use the CTA/RTA transit-benefit program, which sets aside a specified amount of pre-tax income for transit use, will be able to shift their transit-benefit accounts to the Chicago Card Plus. A date for the change wasn't immediately set.