Chicago Card

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Chicago Card
Location Chicago
Technology Smart Card
Manager RFID
Currency USD
Stored-value Pay-Per-Ride
Validity Chicago Transit Authority
  Pace Suburban Bus
Variants Chicago Card Plus

The Chicago Card and the Chicago Card Plus are contactless smart cards that were used by riders of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and Pace to electronically pay for bus and train fares in the city of Chicago, Illinois, USA and the surrounding suburbs. As of June 1, 2014, CTA and Pace no longer accept these cards.[1]

The blue Chicago Card is a stored value card. Users add value to the card at CTA vending machines or at select retail locations, and turnstiles or fareboxes deduct value from the card. Users usually register cards with CTA and can receive a replacement in the event of theft, loss, or damage to the card.

The blue-and-gold Chicago Card Plus is an account-based card. Users link the card to either a credit card, debit card, or employer-provided transit benefit program. The cards may be set up as monthly passes or on a pay-per-use basis. The account reloads from the linked source either when the monthly pass expires or when a user-defined threshold is passed as a pay-per-use card. Because of this direct link to personal accounts, all Chicago Card Pluses are registered to users.

Both cards can be obtained for free from CTA's headquarters and website. Chicago Cards can also be obtained at retail outlets throughout Chicago.


CTA's Automated Fare Collection (AFC) system was installed in 1997 by Cubic Transportation Systems, Inc., the largest provider of AFC systems in the USA. The AFC system replaced the CTA’s tokens with magnetic-stripe stored-value cards printed on plastic or paper based on Cubic's earlier MetroCard implementation in New York City. All fare collection and payment equipment was designed to be retrofitted at a later date with smart card readers, a technology that was on the horizon. A small pilot program (“Chicago Gold”) for reduced-fare disabled riders in 1999 led to a contract with Cubic to install smart card readers universally in 2000. In August 2000, a more extensive “Chicago Card” pilot program distributed stored-value smart cards to volunteer participants. The pilot program was expanded system-wide in November 2002. The Chicago Card Plus, an account-based card linked to a user’s credit or debit card account, debuted in January 2004. “Go Lane” card readers were installed in the buses, starting in 2005, allowing Chicago Card users to bypass the line of passengers using the farebox; although only one payment could be accepted at a time, eliminating this possible efficiency. The Go Lane card readers were removed starting in May 2010 and Chicago Card card readers were moved back to the main fare box.[2]

In February 2007, CTA announced that it had settled a class action lawsuit alleging there were not enough Chicago Cards available to meet demand on January 1, 2006, when the cash fare increase went into effect, but Chicago Card users were charged the old fares.[3]


Benefits of the Chicago Card and the Chicago Card Plus include the following:

  • Because it is a contactless card, the card never needs to be removed from its holder, be it a wallet, purse, or backpack. (It may need to be removed if there is another smartcard nearby)
  • The Chicago Card can be reloaded at any L stop and many currency exchanges and supermarkets.
  • If registered, the card can be replaced.
  • The Chicago Card Plus is an account-based system that allows customers to manage their account using the internet and a credit card. For those customers willing to manage their fares in this manner, the Chicago Card Plus can become very convenient.
  • Until July 1, 2013, Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus users will pay only $2.25 at the O'Hare Blue Line station instead of the new $5 fare.


  • A 30 day pass is only possible with the Chicago Card Plus.
  • Unlike many other transit "monthly passes" the Chicago Card Plus only offers a "30 day pass", meaning the pass is active for 30 days regardless of when the account is activated. This card must be loaded twice in most months because of this feature.
  • In order to obtain a 30 day pass you must link a credit or debit card account. Reloading at CTA/retail locations is not possible.
  • In order to postpone a 30 day pass (even for one day) the entire card must be deactivated and may not be reactivated. (A new card must be activated.)
  • The regular (blue-only) Chicago Card is only able to be loaded at specified CTA/retail locations.
  • Users are unable to transfer funds between Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus.
  • The two cards have very little in common, making it difficult to choose which card to purchase. Some users find themselves possessing both cards depending on their commuting needs/financial situation. This causes riders to spend more money than is necessary in order to maintain the two cards.
  • Because the cards are registered to discrete individuals, the CTA can track user movement through the system.
  • All cards expire four years from date of manufacture and have to be replaced when they expire. Though the replacement is free there is no expiry date printed on the card and recovering your balance may be difficult.[4]
  • The card may have to be taken out of the user's wallet if there is another smartcard close by.[5]

Student Pass[edit]

In addition to the blue card, CTA also offers transit cards to students in both grammar schools and high schools. The passes have "STUDENT RIDING PERMIT", the year that the card is active, and the card's expiration date printed on them. The cards can appear in a variety of colors including pink, blue, and yellow. Student Passes can be bought at many schools and allow students to pay $0.75 instead of the standard $2.25 fare. Disadvantages include the possibility that presentation of the passenger's student ID may be required in order for the pass to be honored and that the card is only valid on school days when school is in session (Monday through Friday, from 5:30 A.M. to 8:30 P.M., excluding holidays such as Thanksgiving Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day, and the two week winter break period including Christmas Day and New Years).


The CTA has announced it will replace the Chicago Card and other fare media with a new electronic fare payment system named Ventra.[6] There are also reports that the Regional Transportation Authority is planning to require that Pace and Metra adopt that system.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Transitioning to Ventra". Press Releases. Chicago Transit Authority. Retrieved 2014-06-14. 
  2. ^ "Keep Your Eye on the Target!". Press Releases. Chicago Transit Authority. Retrieved 2013-01-14. 
  3. ^ "CTA Settles Chicago Cards Lawsuit" (Press release). Chicago Transit Authority. 2007-02-16. [dead link]
  4. ^ "Expiring/Expired Cards". Chicago Card - Frequently Asked Questions. Chicago Transit Authority. Retrieved 2010-07-12. 
  5. ^ "Using a Chicago Card Plus". Chicago Card Plus - Frequently Asked Questions. Chicago Transit Authority. 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-01. 
  6. ^ "Ventra Chicago". Chicago Transit Authority. Retrieved 2013-03-20. 
  7. ^ Richard Wronski (April 3, 2009). "RTA aims for 1 fare card for all transit". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2009-12-26. [dead link]

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