Mobile ticketing available on Metra trains starting Thursday
Metra riders' smartphones can double as virtual tickets when the CTA, Pace and the commuter railroad debut the new Ventra app this Thursday.
Customers of all three systems can use the app to purchase tickets, manage Ventra accounts and search train or bus times.
But Pace and CTA riders won't have the mobile ticket option for months, and it will require newer smartphones with near-field-communication technology that communicates with Ventra readers on buses and in stations.
The change was long time coming and is a significant move for Metra, which hadn't piggybacked on the Ventra cards currently used by Pace and CTA passengers.
Riders can load the free app on Apple and Android smartphones from the App Store and Google Play.
The app lets people pick train lines, departure stations and destinations as well as monthly, 10-ride and single tickets.
Metra advises passengers to activate their tickets just before boarding. Users will be able to navigate back and forth between the ticket and other smartphone features.
Once activated, tickets will expire in about 25 minutes on a short trip within a zone, for example, or in 125 minutes on the longest rides between Zones A and M. Expired tickets will be stored and can be pulled up for a period of time in cases of lengthy delays.
Fares can be paid for using a credit or debit card or a Ventra account. Officials said it's worth creating an account since it expedites buying passes or tickets, and fares can be recovered if the phone is stolen or lost.
In the coming months, the app will be updated to let people plan transit trips and order new cards or replace missing ones.
After glitches caused a rocky debut for the Ventra card, transit agencies tested the app using about 700 volunteers, including a Daily Herald reporter.
Officials said they had worked out multiple kinks, but information on how to use it will be available at each agencies' website and at ventrachicago.com/app/.
The changes were prompted by a state law requiring a universal fare card by 2015 to allow seamless travel between CTA, Metra and Pace.
Metra officials said the smartphone app was easier and less expensive to implement than creating a system to accept Ventra cards.
Critics have said app falls short of the universal fare mandate and leaves out riders who can't afford smartphones.