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posted: 6/23/2014 5:30 AM

Has Metra missed the universal fare card train?

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  • Pace representative Colin Fleming, left, signs up Brandyn Gray of Prospect Heights for the new Ventra fare system at the Des Plaines Metra station Thursday.

      Pace representative Colin Fleming, left, signs up Brandyn Gray of Prospect Heights for the new Ventra fare system at the Des Plaines Metra station Thursday.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Video: In Transit


July 1 marks the dawn of the universal fare card in Illinois. On that date, Pace and the CTA officially switch over to Ventra, the new joint fare system.

But wait, you say, there are three transit agencies in the region. Where does Metra fit in? Can you wave your Ventra card at the conductor and have it be accepted as a Metra fare?

The answer is -- no, Metra officials said last week.

And it appears the answer will remain "no" even in January, the state deadline for a seamless transition between all three systems.

As it stands now, the Ventra universe consists of Pace and the CTA. In 2015, Metra does intend to start accepting contactless credit cards at stations, as well as allow riders to buy and display mobile tickets on smartphones using credit, debit and Ventra cards for payment.

But if you don't have a smartphone, you're out of luck.

"These changes will allow us to meet the legislative mandate for a regional fare payment system that allows consumers to use contactless credit cards, debit cards and prepaid cards to pay for all fixed-route public transportation services," Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said in an email.

In a 2011 news conference, Gov. Pat Quinn hailed the "landmark" universal fare legislation and spelled out the goal. "What we want in our system," he said, "is a universal fare card that people can use with respect to Metra, Pace and the CTA."

Bill sponsor and former state Rep. Will Burns added, "I look forward to the day I can use one document to go between all three transit systems and make it easier to move people throughout the region."

Currently, Metra's focused on getting the smartphone and contactless credit card systems up and running. The agency expects to test mobile ticketing by the end of the year, Gillis said.

And by January, Metra expects to have installed readers at stations with ticket agents that accept contactless credit cards, debit cards and, initially, Ventra cards whose owners have utilized the debit card option.

"After that we'll evaluate what the next steps will be," said Lynette Ciavarella, strategic planning senior division director.

One more thing

• Neither CTA nor Pace will accept magnetic stripe fare cards effective July 1. Cash is still taken on buses, but Pace will no longer provide transfers to cash-paying customers.

• Ventra cards can be bought at CTA stations, the Aurora and Elgin transportation centers and Joliet Union Station. Or, order at or (877) 669-8368 (NOW-VENTRA).

• Numerous suburban retailers sell and add value to Ventra cards including Jewel, Wal-Mart, Ultra Foods, Walgreens and currency exchanges. But not every store is participating, as I found last week. The Jewel store minutes from my home doesn't offer Ventra. But another Jewel and a CVS nearby did.

"Suburban stores were targeted based on proximity to bus routes," Pace spokesman Patrick Wilmot said. "More stores are being added to the retail network all the time."

• To find stores supplying Ventra products, go to

• Seniors and riders with disabilities that participate in the RTA Reduced Fare, Ride Free or ADA Paratransit programs should have received new Ventra permits in the mail by now. The next step is to activate the permits by calling (877) 450-5328, RTA planners said. If you don't have a Ventra permit yet, call (312) 913-3110.

Your voice

Who knew a column on bike safety could rile up so many drivers? Gordon Speake of Palatine found my recent column "disingenuous and biased. You did not address the fact that most bike riders blow stop signs and, occasionally, stop lights!" he wrote. "You cast all of the blame on vehicle drivers."

Got a comment on bikes, cars or Ventra? Drop me an email at

You should know

Wednesday is John S. Gates' last meeting as Regional Transportation Authority chairman. Who will succeed him?

State Sen. Kirk Dillard appears a favorite, but board Director Dwight Magalis is also in the running. DuPage County Chairman Dan Cronin, who has sought transit reforms, said either would perform admirably, but when push comes to shove Dillard is his first choice. Meanwhile, GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, who beat

Dillard in the primary, is said to be lobbying against his rival. Rauner's camp did not respond to a request for comment.

Gridlock alert

IDOT is working on Route 22 in Lake Barrington and South Barrington again. Expect lane closures between Route 59 and Route 12 now through Sept. 30.

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