The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is replacing all types of Chicago Cards and magnetic stripe cards with a new universal payment system known as Ventra by 2014.
According to the Ventra website, riders will have access to three different options for payment when the program goes live this summer. A MasterCard-stamped Ventra Card will hold both a transit account and a prepaid debit account, able to be used as payment anywhere MasterCard is accepted. Bank-issued debit and credit cards can be registered with the CTA and be used as Ventra Transit passes. Additionally, Ventra single-ride tickets and one day passes will also be sold. Pace and CTA buses will continue to take cash payments.
A pilot program of the system will launch in the spring. By 2014, Ventra will completely replace the Chicago Card system.
In 2011, the Illinois General Assembly mandated that the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) implement a universal payment system compatible with all services provided by CTA, Pace—a suburban transit system of the RTA—and Metra by January 1, 2015.
Although Pace opted into the CTA’s Ventra program in July 2012, Metra has declined to participate due to systematic differences, according to Metra spokesman Michael Gillis.
“[CTA and Pace’s] systems are closed, which means they have turnstiles or you have to go past a bus operator, whereas ours are open and we don’t have any turnstiles,” said Gillis. “Our fares, unlike theirs, are based on how far you travel, so you don’t pay a flat rate like you do on the CTA and Pace.”
According to CTA media representative Lambrini Lukidis, current Chicago Card Plus owners and people with registered Chicago Cards will receive Ventra cards without paying the five dollar fee other riders will have to pay for their first Ventra card, though she said they have not yet decided when this will happen.
Eligible riders will still have access to reduced and free ride permits, which will be administered by the Illinois Regional Transit Authority, according to RTA spokeswoman Diane Palmer.