Universal payment app coming for CTA, Pace, Metra in 2015

Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Universal payment app coming for CTA, Pace, Metra
A new smartphone payment system is coming for riders on the CTA, Pace and Metra.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A new smartphone payment system is coming for riders on the CTA, Pace and Metra. It will be run by Ventra and should be unveiled by February.

Say you want to go to a Bears game and you take Metra downtown - that's one fare. Then you need a Ventra card for your bus ride to Soldier Field. The inconvenience of different fare cards is now headed into the past. The CTA, Metra and Pace are finally all aboard, taking a big step toward a universal fare card. It will come by way of a free app for your Apple or Android smartphone offering mobile ticketing.

"This app will allow people to use the app to basically board Metra, Pace and the CTA with their mobile phones," said CTA President Forrest Claypool.

Ventra - now used by CTA and Pace - will provide the mobile app which could be used to buy tickets, and check balances. Beginning in February, all three agencies will select volunteers to test the program as a pilot effort.

So if the pilot works, sometime next year - no specific date - you'll be able to download the app, the virtual Ventra card. You tap it on the reader, and you're on your way.

That's how it'd work on CTA trains, buses, and Pace buses. But it'll be different on Metra, where conductors would have to visually verify the ticket as it appears on your mobile phone.

"I think it would be a good idea because it would probably be faster, but then again, what if your phone dies," said Monica Pinado, a CTA rider.

There are many questions yet, and with mobile ticketing come some concerns.

"I'm still nervous because of all this cloud and people having access to what I don't want them to have access to," said Beverly Armstead, a CTA rider.

"All of us at all three agencies want to make sure this is in working order, that the bugs are worked out and that everyone will have a good experience and I think that people who use their smartphones will understand we want to get it done right," said Marty Oberman, Metra chairman.

The Ventra card had a flawed roll-out with CTA, and all three agencies want to avoid anything that approaches a repeat of that. There will be internal testing, and then in February, the start of the pilot program with test customers.

What's significant here is that finally all three public transit agencies are on the same page in pursuit of a universal fare system.