TagRFID

CTA fare breakdown for Ventra and fares it replaces

This CTA graphic shows all the fare media Ventra replaces. 

The Chicago Transit Authority expanded its pilot contactless card fare payment technology systemwide in 2002, and introduced Chicago Card Plus, which added the benefit of linking to a credit/debit card, in 2004. After 11 years, the two cards were hardly “popular” as Jon Hilkevitch called them today. In the context of his article I believe he meant “liked” or “admired” and not widespread, as Ventra does not have the same admiration because of all of the issues people are experiencing.

While Chicago Card/Plus users likely preferred this fare payment over magnetic stripe, for their convenience and speed, a minority of passengers used it.

Data from CTA for January to July 2013, representing 1.6 million average weekday rides.

Magnetic Stripe: 75%
CCP & CC: 19% (17% & 2% respectively)
Bus Cash: 6%

Ventra? 69% this week.

What people will say when Ventra comes out

Ventra is not a replacement for the Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus. It’s a single card that replaces the following fare media*:

  • Transit Card (pay per ride)
  • 1-day pass
  • 3-day pass
  • 7-day pass
  • 30-day pass
  • 30-day reduced fare pass for seniors 65+ and customers with disabilities
  • U-Pass
  • Chicago Card (pay per ride, linked to personal credit/debit card)
  • Chicago Card Plus (pay per ride or 30-day pass, linked to personal credit/debit card)
  • Military Service Pass
  • There might be another pass type I’m forgetting

When people see how simple this really is, and how not inconvenient Ventra makes it for them and for CTA to administer, they will be shocked. You’ll hear things like:

“I can use my credit or debit card now to pay for passes at every vending machine?”

Previously, only certain stations had the correct vending machine. O’Hare airport is notorious for having three vending machines, none of which do the same thing but that do have overlapping functions.

“I can buy a 1-day or multi-pass at all 145 train stations, and not just at Walgreens or CVS, who tend to sell out? And with a credit or debit card?”

Yep. Isn’t that convenient?

“So you’re saying that when school is out and my U-Pass doesn’t get me unlimited free rides until the next semester, I can just hit up one of these 2,000+ retail locations and throw $20 – cash or credit, no difference – on there, or add a 3-day pass because I’m running around for internship interviews?”

Yes, that’s what I’m saying.

“Boarding this bus is way faster now that everyone has a contactless card. And this only took $5 at the vending machine, a 2 minute phone call after which I got that $5 back?”

You can even register online with your smartphone.

* Paper 1-day passes will be available. A single-ride paper ticket will be available.

My Chicago Card Plus tells me how often I use the CTA

In this interview with Chicago Transit Authority president Forrest Claypool, I admitted to him and everyone else in the room (three bloggers and three CTA staff) that I rarely ride the CTA. The purpose of my admission was to explain how I gathered up so many questions. A lot of them come from friends and Grid Chicago readers. I always use my Chicago Card Plus to pay for fares because it’s extremely convenient: I never have to worry about having the correct fare and it can be replaced for a nominal $5 fee, protecting your money (the Chicago Card doesn’t have the same benefit because it can’t be registered). Anyway, it also tracks you and you can look up your history. I looked at it to understand just how rarely I use the CTA.

The Chicago Card Plus website shows your data in two ways: the last 5 transactions, and the last 90 days. It turns out that the last 5 transactions were beyond the 90 day period.

  • June 29, train (Blue Line)
  • May 22, bus (56/Milwaukee)
  • March 31, bus (I don’t remember which, but probably the Belmont bus with my mom)
  • March 31, bus

The fifth transaction was loading the card with more money. I think there was one other bus use on March 31, because the most recent two showed as transfer transactions. So I’ve added one more to the list.

  • March 31, bus

Five uses in 98 days, or 1 ride per 19.6 days.

Improving bicycling to airports

An airport may seem like the last place to which you would ride your bike. You still want to ride there: It’s an alternative to driving (either by yourself, or getting dropped off), taking a taxi, or riding transit. It’s an ideal destination to which to encourage bicycling: Thousands of passengers move in and out, in addition to thousands more workers – switching just a portion of these trips to bicycling would reduce congestion and damaging demands on the transportation system. I see two major issues that stifle the frequency of biking to the airport: how to get there, and parking.

A photo from Jonathan Maus’ first trip to the airport via bicycle. See links in “Getting There” below.

Many cities have airports far away from population centers. Think Denver, Colorado (a commuter rail will reach DIA soon). Kansai near Kobe, Japan, is on an artificial island two miles from shore. A causeway carrying high-speed trains and a highway gets passengers to KIX.

But what if you live in a city where the airport is in town, accessible by city streets (either minor or arterial), or is even a short train ride away? It seems more plausible to bike there. I’m thinking of airports like Midway in Chicago, Illinois (MDW), or Portland, Oregon (PDX).

Getting There

In Portland, bicyclists can either take the MAX light rail train, or bike all the way (PDF map). At the airport, the path leads right into a bike parking area. Photo of bike parking at PDX and Read Jonathan Maus’ experience.

In Chicago, bicyclists can ride directly to Midway on any street (Archer provides a direct connection, but has high-volume traffic on many segments), and there are many north-south and east-west streets with marked bicycle facilities. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Orange Line terminates at the station. Bicyclists will find sheltered bike parking outside or inside the train station.

Neither situation assuages my concerns about bike parking security.

Parking: Lockers

Cities, transit agencies, and airport operators should work together to provide secure, electronically accessed bicycle lockers either on airport property, at adjacent transit centers, or at key stations on connecting trains. Electronic bike lockers will provide bicyclists with the convenience and security necessary to encourage them to ride. I would ride to the train station nearest my house if I knew I could store my bike in a locker for seven vacation days.

A bike locker at the Victoria International Airport available for cheap use near the departures entrance. Photo by John Luton.

The airport in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada (YYJ), provides bike lockers for $2 a day. It’s not as convenient as one that’s accessed electronically; it requires you visit the security office to get keys. The manufacturer, Cycle Safe, offers an electronic option.

This photo shows the BikeLink electronic card access solution for bicycle lockers. Load a magnetic stripe card with cash and control any locker in the network. Photo by John Luton.

I think BikeLink is a great solution in providing electronic bike locker access. It would work like this: The local airport authority, in collaboration with the city and transit agencies, would install BikeLink lockers at several, various locations at the airport, and transit centers (both bus and train). Users purchase a smart card and load it with cash. It now works like a debit card. Users insert the card into the locker they want to use, open the door, store their bike, and lock the door. Days later, when your vacation is up, re-insert your smart card to unlock the door. The BikeLink network operator debits your card for the amount of time you used the locker.

So far, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and nearby Silicon Valley cities have installed these lockers at many train stations, parking garages, ferry terminals, libraries, and university campuses. Find a map on BikeLink’s website.

BikeLinks works similar to pay-as-you-go cellphones or RFID transit passes (like ORCA in Seattle, Washington, or the Oyster card in London, England). The BikeLink smart card differs in that it uses the traditional magnetic stripe. However, enterprising agencies could build an integrated RFID card (much like the I-Go car sharing program and the Chicago Card that opens car doors and bus doors).

I’ll be waiting for this to happen. In the meantime, on Monday, I’m going to hop on the bus and transfer to the train, a journey that costs a reasonable $2.50 and takes 30 minutes.

The magic of the RFID card: Applications in transit

The Chicago Transit Authority should convert the U-Pass program from using magnetic stripe fare media to an RFID, or proximity, card.

Several times on weekdays on the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, a crowd of up to thirty students waits for the 8/Halsted bus after a class period ends. A very high percentage of the students will use a U-Pass to pay for the bus fare. All U-Pass users have to dip their cards. According to the Transportation Research Board’s Transit Capacity and Service Manual, each passenger with a dip card will take 4.2 seconds to pay their fare whilst users paying with contactless cards will take 3.0 seconds each to pay their fares.

Converting the U-Pass student fare program to use the same contactless fare collection as the Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus will improve the Chicago Transit Authority’s quality of service on all bus routes, especially those routes used heavily by program participants.

Contactless fare collection technology (also known as Radio Frequency Identification, RFID, or proximity cards) gives customers additional options to pay and manage their transit fares. It keeps prepaid fares secure against theft and loss. The customer can easily switch payment methods – between a credit/debit card online and debit card/cash at vending locations – and fare types – pay-per-use or 30-day unlimited use. What is most important is how contactless fare collection speeds boarding onto buses and passing through turnstiles at rail stations. This aspect of the technology most discernibly improves the CTA’s quality of service. Taking into consideration all these benefits, contactless cards provide the greatest passenger convenience for fare payment.

Quality of service is the customer’s perception or assessment of performance. The first percept would be the increased boarding speed at key bus stops. The improvements, visible to the boarding passengers and which positively affect the route, cascade from there: increased boarding speed reduces dwell time, which can help keep buses operating on their posted schedule and shrink the rate of bus bunching. The performance gains are measurable – there would be a half-minute decrease in dwell time at UIC bus stops, amongst other gains.

Contactless fare cards are more durable than the U-Pass, which is surprisingly less durable than the CTA’s paper Transit Cards. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the U-Pass card material is more prone to cracking and tearing than the Transit Card material. Currently, UIC students who require a replacement card must pay a $35 fee – an exorbitant amount that does little to deter the anger or frustration of those students who use their cards daily.

A secondary benefit in convenience for the student, the participating colleges, and the CTA, is that producing the U-Pass as a contactless farecard could be permanent: students would keep the same fare media through their entire tenure at the school. Each and every semester, the schools and CTA would spend less labor hours for temporary U-Pass farecard printing and distribution. Alternatively, the U-Pass program could be applied to the existing Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus system, similar to how London Oyster cardholders can add 7-day, monthly and annual passes, giving transit passengers more options than 30-day unlimited use or pay-per-use. During the semester and the U-Pass activity period, no fare would be deducted from the student’s contactless farecard. When the semester is over or the U-Pass activity period is complete, the contactless farecard would automatically switch to the user-defined fare choice and payment plan.

Converting existing fare programs to work like the CTA’s Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus would be a prudent and appropriate step for the CTA to take to improve the quality of service for U-Pass eligible students and the bus system alike.

© 2019 Steven Can Plan

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