By Robert C. Herguth
Date of Publication: January 16, 2004
Source: Chicago Sun-Times
As the CTA unveiled its latest electronic fare card Thursday -- the "Chicago Card Plus" -- transit officials indicated it might evolve into a long-discussed "universal fare card" that could be used by CTA, Pace and Metra riders.
When it's made available Monday, the Chicago Card Plus will allow holders to prepay fares, then use the card to board L trains and CTA and Pace buses, with the rate electronically deducted when the card is tapped against a keypad at fareboxes or turnstiles.
That's similar to an earlier model -- the "Chicago Card," which still is available -- but users of the new card will be able to use credit cards to replenish accounts when they dip to a certain level, and access trip histories and account transactions from the Internet.
The Chicago Card Plus can be used as a 30-day pass, or a "pay-per-use" pass. Yet it's Web-based, so users cannot add "value" at CTA vending machines, as can be done with the existing 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, when a $5 fee will be charged.
In the longer term, transit officials might allow the new card, which is plastic and has a computer chip, to be used to buy individual Metra tickets -- "like a debit card," said the RTA's Dave Loveday.
And monthly Metra ticket holders, instead of getting a separate pass, would be given stickers that would be affixed to the Chicago Card Plus, 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," Loveday said. "And our goal was to find something that could be implemented fairly quickly in the most inexpensive way. . . . We're still working on some of the technical issues."
Critics have blasted the RTA for not doing enough to coordinate service and fares. Last month, the RTA 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 (D-Evanston), who introduced legislation Thursday pushing the universal fare card concept.
"This is a great step for CTA and Pace to be taking, and we're excited to find out how this works to see if it's viable and can be rolled out systemwide," said Hamos' chief of staff, Mike Gwinn.
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