MPC research assistant Elizabeth Felter contributed to this post.
Ever wish you could hop from the Pace Bus to the Metra to the El without paying for multiple tickets? Well, soon one card will get you a ride on all three. On Thursday, July 7, Gov. Pat Quinn signed HB 3597, a bill for “21st Century transit reform” that requests the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) to develop a universal fare card for use on all bus and rail services provided by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra, and Pace by Jan. 1, 2015. The bill also requires Metra and Pace to implement real-time arrival information online, similar to the CTA’s Bus and Train Tracker. And, get your laptops ready: By the start of 2012, the RTA must submit a feasibility study for wireless internet service on all buses and trains.
In offering a universal fare card, Chicago will join a number of cities already enjoying this 21st Century convenience. In 1997, Hong Kong’s Octopus smartcard first employed universal system “touch and go” technology (you can even use it to pay for snacks at convenience stores.) Berlin’s regional transportation authority implemented a unified fare card system in 1999, through which fares are collected by the regional agency and then redistributed to operating agencies based on monthly ridership. The Clipper Card in the San Francisco Bay Area allows for an easy transition between buses, ferries, and local and regional rail. Even cooler: New York City residents can pay for transit with the tap of a smartphone, as can the Chinese, because both have moved toward payment systems that deduct funds from the SIM card of a cell phone.
While the CTA and Pace have coordinated fare collection, a modernization of the system to include Metra would make for more cohesive movement of people throughout the region. Using a single ticket (or cell phone) would increase efficiency and relieve confusion for commuters and tourists. Creating a universal fare would improve the comfort of current riders and encourage new ridership, moving Chicagoland transit into the digital age.
Have you used a universal fare card in other cities? What features do you think Chicago should adopt?