Starting Monday, commuters who use Pace buses or take the CTA can start switching between the two transit systems without pulling out separate cards or passes.
But first, you'll need a Ventra card or ticket.
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Ventra -- Latin for wind -- is the new universal fare program adopted by both agencies as part of a state mandate.
It's a revolution in transit for the region, but that means a learning curve for passengers and the agencies offering it.
The changes don't mean existing cards or passes won't work -- yet. The old (as of Monday) system will work for several months and cash will still be accepted on buses.
"There is time for people to transition," Pace spokesman Patrick Wilmot said. "The systems (old and new) will operate in parallel until December."
Passengers also can use a contactless credit or bank card on both systems Monday. A contactless card uses radio-frequency technology and often is marked with a wave symbol.
Metra is also required by law to provide a universal fare system with CTA and Pace by 2015, but it's still working out details.
Ventra "was designed with the possibility of adding Metra in the future ... when or if they ultimately determine to be part of it," Wilmot said.
Eventually, compatible smartphones will be integrated into Ventra, CTA and Pace officials said.
How do I Ventra?
Just tap your Ventra card at fare boxes, now called Ventra card readers, when boarding CTA or Pace buses or at train stations. A green light will flash when you're good to go.
To order a Ventra card, apply online now at www.ventrachicago.com/ or by phone (877) 669-8368 (NOW VENTRA). Registration is automatic.
Or, effective Monday, purchase a card at numerous retail stores, including many Jewel stores, and at CTA stations. To find a retailer in your area, go to www.ventrachicago.com/retailers/locations/. Passengers buying cards at stores or from machines will need to register online or by phone.
Riders can add money to Ventra cards in a variety of ways, including cash, credit or a bank account.
Commuters can register contactless credit or bank cards onto the Ventra system as well. If you prefer not to register your credit/bank card, it still can be used to pay fares but won't allow for transfers, so people using two buses, for example, will pay twice.
What will it cost?
The agencies are waiving a $5 card purchase fee through Dec. 15 if you purchase a card online, by phone or at the Ventra customer service center, 165 N. Jefferson St., Chicago.
A $5 fee applies for cards bought elsewhere, but it will be refunded into your account for transit use upon registration.
Fares remain the same, but there might be a change in store for Pace riders in December, pending board approval. People paying cash on Pace buses won't be able to buy transfers if the change is approved. The move is necessitated by the fact the new technology won't allow for issuing transfers, Wilmot said.
He added that with multiple locations to buy Ventra cards in the suburbs, riders should be able to switch over to the fare card and obtain transfers that way.
The agency is also considering phasing out its 10-ride pass because of declining use.
Commuters can purchase one-day or single-ride contactless Ventra tickets at CTA stations, but a 50-cent fee applies to the single-ride option.
New Pace features
• Pace will offer a new $140 Premium 30-day pass with Ventra for express bus or stadium bus users that provides a discount as of Oct. 7.
• Pace also plans to add 12 vending machines where riders can buy Ventra cards across the suburbs. Possible locations are Pace's Elgin Transportation Center, near the Aurora Metra station or at major shopping malls.
If you don't use your Ventra card within 18 months, a dormancy fee of $5 a month goes into effect. However, officials say registered users will be notified three months in advance of that happening. Any account activity resets the pass.
Ventra also offers a debit card feature that includes certain fees. Be sure to check the small print or learn more at www.ventrachicago.com/faq/.
Dates to remember
The Ventra system launches Monday for all customers after being available for select users in August.
Within a few weeks, Chicago Card Plus and registered Chicago Card customers should receive Ventra replacements in the mail.
Customers are encouraged to use up balances on existing magnetic stripe cards or unregistered Chicago Card cards in the next few months. Balances can also be transferred from existing cards to Ventra throughout the fall at these locations and dates: 4 to 7 p.m. Sept. 30 at Pace headquarters, 550 W. Algonquin Road, Arlington Heights; and 4 to 7 p.m. Oct. 17 at the CTA Rosemont Blue Line station.
Chicago Card Plus and Chicago Card will stop being accepted Nov. 15.
And, as of Dec. 15, it's a new Ventra world where Pace and the CTA will not accept current magnetic strip cards.
Reduced fare customers
The Regional Transportation Authority will start mailing out Ventra passes for RTA Ride Free, Reduced Fare or ADA Paratransit permit customers this month and expects to wrap up by the end of November. The $5 registration does not apply to those users although the dormancy fee is in place. For the immediate future, paratransit riders can continue to pay in cash or with Pace ADA One Ride tickets.