Chicago’s RTA, part-time parent of the CTA, Pace, and Metra, has another new fare collection system. The CTA had tokens many years ago, then they and Pace went to magnetic stripe cards that either had a certain amount of cash on the card or was valid for a certain amount of time.
Then came a smart card that could be tapped instead of swiped, the Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus (one of which could be tied to a credit card). I think those were also good on both CTA and Pace.
None of that was good enough, though, so now the CTA is spending $454,000,000 on another system, Ventra. This one comes as a fare card or as a Debit card (MasterCard branded).
Questions of waste, fraud, and abuse aside, tap in/tap out cards are clearly the future … at least until the next big thing. If we could just convince transit authorities to use the tap out feature. You could charge accurate distance-based fares, because you know the start and end of the trip, but more importantly for transit nerds, you’d have really accurate ridership data. Heck, you could even calculate revenue passenger-miles, something that isn’t possible with unlinked trips, the current standard. Very exciting. For a few of us.
Oh, and don’t try to pay your Metra commuter train fare with Ventra – for that, you still need to have a ticket, 10-ride punch card, or monthly pass. Or you can pay cash on board to the uniformed men that make their way through the coaches after each stop. Yes, really.