Debit cards, smart phones to pay CTA fares?

November 15, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Tuesday, the transit agency's board approved a plan to use a new fare payment service. It also approved a new budget that hinges on something the CTA's unions have not yet agreed to.

While the CTA is relying on the unions to make concessions, the transit agency is also thinking about future budgets that will include cost savings with a new payment system.

With little fanfare, the CTA board approved a multimillion dollar, multi-year contract to a company that will install a fare collection system aimed at making it easier for riders.

It is being called a game changer. The CTA is going to lead the nation in technology by transforming its fare system so riders can pay with credit or debit cards and eventually smart phones.

"It will provide a tremendous convenience for our customers, allowing them to simply tap a card against the turnstile and walk in," said CTA President Forrest Claypool.

Riders without credit or debit cards can buy pre-paid cards at more than 1,000 retail and station locations. Discounts, such as the senior discount, can be applied to those cards. Buses will continue to accept cash only.

"Anything that makes it easier to pay, I think people would definitely use. I'd take the bus every day," said rider Megan O'Neill.

"I think using the debit or credit card would be much easier," CTA rider Sheila Ferba.

Riders have at least two more years to get used to the idea. It will take that long to get the new system in place.

The CTA says the system will save the transit agency more than $5 million a year.

While the CTA board approved the new technology, it also adopted a budget that does not include fare hikes or service cuts, but it does rely on union work rule reforms, something the unions haven't agreed to yet.

"I think it is irresponsible of the board to pass any budget based on something they may or may not get," said Robert Kelly of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308.

"All the budget does is give us time to go through the collective bargaining process…the contracts expire at the end of the year," said Claypool.

Talks have yet to be scheduled between both sides. Before they begin, the unions plan to poll their membership about reforms to work rules.

Claypool says, if the union does not give back, there will be layoffs.

The new fare card system is expected to be in place by 2013 or 2014.

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