Sunday, October 14, 2007

Observations about CTA fares

Chicago has been using farecards since paper transfers were eliminated. This was back in the mid 1990s when paper transfers were eliminated in favor of transfer cards. You would pay your fare first then the bus driver or an agent at an L stop we now refer to as a customer assistant would give us this card that would have two transfers stored on them.

On a paper transfer once upon a time, all a customer assistant or a bus driver had to do was punch the necessary holes in the transfer. They had to punch the time and the route. Transfers were normally good for only two hours and if you change buses or trains more than twice you have to pay another fare.

Anyway at least a year or two after the transfer card made its grand debut, there was the transit card. Originally you had to add at least $13.50 to get an extra one dollar onto the transit card. A couple or so years later you would get 1% for every ten dollars.

Then fairly recently, within I don't know the last two or three years a new fare media has entered into Chicago transit. We call this card the Chicago Card of which there are two types. There's the regular one, the one I would use to get around the city and suburbs. Then there's the Plus card.

With this Plus card you get a few more features. You can either pay as you use or use it as a monthly pass (if you put in the necessary amount). You can register this card with an email address. You can add value using a credit or debit card online only and that's something you can't do at a CTA station yet (in Atlanta you can do it on the Marta system but I'll get to that one day). You can also check the amount of the card online as well.

With the regular card or the Plus card you still have to put in $20 in order to get that extra 1% (for the Plus card you have to be in the pay as you use mode. With both cards you can board faster since you don't have to put the card in the machine unlike a transit card. A device scans your card and you're all set.

BTW, I said earlier that a transit card once upon a time offered a 1% bonus for every $10. Since the last time the CTA raised fares, however, you no longer get that benefit. You're better off putting whatever amoung of funds you have to get around. Let's say if all you had to do was pay to go back and forth to work. You still have to take a bus to the L and then back. No problem you just have to put in enough for a fare & transfer to get you there. Then on the way back you have to put in enough to get back.

Of course these days if you're without a Chicago card an L ride costs $2.00 with a transit card or with cash. You still can ride a bus at the increased fare of $1.75, but at least a transfer has gotten cheaper for only 25 cents. Five cents less than it used to be!

If you insist on riding the transit system with cash you won't be saving money. Because you will have to pay $2 on every trip by bus and if you have to change you have to pay another $2. The CTA is forcing you to get with the times and buy yourself a Chicago Card or a transit card.

BTW, did I mention that a Chicago Card costs $5 before you even start loading money onto it? Though at least CTA will waive this fee, and they were going to waive this fee when they talked about raising fares over most of this past summer. And I wonder if they're going to offer that when they threaten to raise fares and make their cuts next month.

This leads me to the point of this post. I notice how people seem to insist on spending their two dollars to get on the bus or to put a few dollars on a transit card when they could save some money by putting $20 on a Chicago Card gaining a $2 bonus. I've never really understood how people never took advantage of these savings. Me personally I liked the idea of paying in advance and not having to worry about scrambling for a one-way fare.

I suppose some of the transit riding public doesn't appreciate what I appreciate. If the CTA raises fares as they have been threatening to do since Springfield hasn't resolved the transit funding issues of the CTA people will appreciate it more as fares could go up to over $2 for a one way ride. It something that I hope they can resolved because if the fares do go up like that, it doesn't seem likely that they'll come back to earth and that would be unfortunate.

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