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'Smart Cards' in Transit

There are over 207,000 Chicago Card or Chicago Plus cards in circulation used to board CTA and Pace buses and trains.  The touch-and-go technology eliminates the need for exact change and deducts a person’s fare from their linked bank account.  This moneyless system often called a ‘Smart Card,’ is growing increasingly popular among transit agencies around the world as an efficient, cost-effective, and time-saving fare collection method.

Hong Kong takes their smart card to an entirely new level.  The Octopus Card, as it is known in the region, not only uses smart card technology in their transit system, but passengers can use their card to purchase a newspaper at a kiosk before boarding, buy coffee or a snack outside the train station, or even pay for groceries at the local supermarket.  With more than 1,000 registered businesses accepting this form of payment, the Octopus Card extends its tentacles beyond the scope of transit.

Usage of the Octopus Card extends to Hong Kong’s 18,000 parking meters, as drivers use the card to add time to their parking space.  While Chicago won’t be able to use their Chicago Cards to pay for parking just yet, Chicago was recently selected as a recipient of a $153 million federal grant to implement a comprehensive bus rapid transit network and parking pricing program to help alleviate traffic congestion in the city.  Like Hong Kong’s Octopus Card, Chicago is turning to a moneyless system at its parking meters using wireless handheld devices and cell phones to pay for their on-street parking.

Hong Kong’s Octopus Card is multi-dimensional and user-friendly. This card is so popular and widely used in Hong Kong that in 2006 its usage was extended to two Chinese cities, Shenzhen and Macau.  While Metra, Pace, and CTA all utilize various fare card systems for the services they provide, Pace and CTA have had a fare sharing agreement since the mid-1990s and now allow the same smart card pass to be used on both of their systems.  Chicago can learn from the success of Hong Kong’s universal fare card and help better improve the connectivity of the region.

This article was featured in Talking Transit, MPC’s bi-weekly e-newsletter. To receive the newsletter, email with ‘Subscribe’ in the subject line.


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