Convenience of Chicago Cards to Improve with Additional Reload Outlets

October 11, 2005
10/11/05

The Chicago Transit Board today approved a contract for up to $4 million for the purchase of machines that will allow Chicago Card customers to add value to and check balances on their Chicago Cards. CTA will conduct a pilot program to test the machines at select locations throughout the area by the end of the year. To date, 61 merchants have expressed interest in participating in the pilot. If the pilot proves successful the contract provides an option to purchase additional equipment to expand the number of outlets where reloading of Chicago Cards is offered.

Previously, customers could only add value or check balances on Chicago Cards at farecard vending machines located primarily at CTA rail stations. By increasing the number of outlets where customers may easily add value, the Chicago Card will become an even more convenient choice in CTA fare payment.

Adding value at the new locations will be fast and convenient. Customers will simply touch their Chicago Card to the electronic scanner and pay cash to the merchant. Once the amount is verified by the merchant, the customer again touches the card to the scanner to authorize the transaction. For the pilot, merchants will be able to accept cash only from CTA customers.

Value is stored on a Chicago Card, just as it is on a magnetic strip transit card, but it offers additional features, such as faster boarding on buses and trains. The Chicago Card, like its account-based counterpart Chicago Card Plus, resembles a credit card and enables customers to simply touch the card against a target on bus fareboxes and rail turnstiles, and go. The extra seconds saved for each customer makes travel even more efficient as those seconds add up and shave time off the boarding process for everyone.

Registering the Chicago Card protects the balance if the card is lost, stolen or damaged. By notifying the CTA, a new card will be issued with the remaining value of the missing card intact. The technology allows for a four-year use life and greater durability than magnetic strip cards.

?Earlier in the year we expanded the number of places where customers can obtain a Chicago Card. By making the cards more widely available to customers, we saw a marked increase in circulation. With today's action it is now more convenient to add value to Chicago Cards, which will help to make this electronic farecard an even better option for customers," said CTA President Frank Kruesi. "The Chicago Card streamlines CTA operations while increasing convenience for our customers, a combination that supports the CTA's commitment to improving efficiency in operations and providing a valuable and beneficial product for our customers."

In February, CTA made Chicago Cards available for purchase at 150 non-CTA outlets such as Currency Exchanges, Jewel-Osco and Dominick's Finer Food stores. Increasing the availability of these electronic farecards has helped to significantly boost circulation, as did waiving the $5 purchase fee earlier this year. Through the end of September, more than 93,000 Chicago Cards are in circulation, a 47 percent increase over year-end 2004. For the same period, nearly 123,000 Chicago Card Plus farecards are in circulation, a 55 percent increase over year-end 2004 for those who prefer a farecard option where the value is stored in an account and reloads automatically.

?The technological developments in the transit sector have allowed CTA to provide more efficient service. Both Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus are examples of CTA investing in system enhancements that benefit our customers," said Chicago Transit Board Chairman Carole Brown. "We have purchased and applied technologies to improve our bus fleet, rail service and stations, internal operations and fare media, all focused on improving the transit experience for customers."

Last week, CTA President Frank Kruesi announced his recommendations for the CTA's 2006 budget. To offset spiking fuel prices, which continue to put significant pressure on the CTA's budget, Kruesi recommended a 25 cent fare increase for customers paying cash and rail customers who use magnetic strip transit cards. Fares would not increase for customers who use either of the Chicago Card options, passes on buses or trains, or for bus customers who use magnetic strip farecards. The budget proposal also recommends a waiver of the $5 purchase fee for Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus from December 1, 2005, through the first quarter of 2006 as an additional incentive for customers to switch.

The 2006 budget proposal recommends that pass prices remain unchanged. The proposed 2006 fare increase was carefully structured to minimize the adverse impact on CTA customers, especially those who can least afford it. Keeping pass prices steady is a key element in the 2006 proposal.

Although they make up only one-quarter of all CTA customers, those earning less than $20,000 account for more than one-third of all 7-Day pass purchases.Purchasers of CTA's 7-Day pass have average annual household incomes one-third lower than CTA customers in general. Half of all of CTA's reduced-fare monthly passes are sold to persons with annual household incomes of less than $20,000. If the 2006 proposed fare increase is approved, by limiting the price increase to cash fares, CTA will be able to shield its most price sensitive customers while still generating about $17 million to offset high fuel prices.

Both the Chicago Card and the Chicago Card Plus currently offer a 10 percent bonus for every $10 of value added. The 2006 budget proposal recommends raising the bonus threshold to 10 percent for every $20 of value added.

The Board also approved an ordinance that establishes a 1.8 percent rate of commission on the amount of value added to Chicago Cards for participating sales outlets. The action is designed to provide an additional incentive for merchants offering the ability to add value and check balances of Chicago Cards.

Information on the pilot locations for reloading Chicago Cards will be posted on the Chicago Card web site www.chicago-card.com/cc when agreements have been finalized.

For existing information on locations for reloading Chicago Cards, call 1-888-YOUR-CTA (1-888-968-7282), Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. or visit www.chicago-card.com/cc on the Internet.

Chicago Cards are also available at CTA's main office at 567 West Lake Street, via mail, online at CTA's web site www.transitchicago.com or at www.chicago-card.com/cc, or by calling 1-888-YOUR-CTA (1-888-968-7282), Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The two-year contract for the purchase and installation of the machines is with Cubic Transportation Systems, which owns the patent on smart card technology. Cubic manufactured the CTA's current automated fare collection system which was installed in 1997.

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