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CTA, Pace to let you pay by credit card to ride buses, L trains

CTA riders walk through turnstyles Brown Line Merchandise Mart stop Chicago. | Sun-Times Medifile photo

CTA riders walk through the turnstyles at the Brown Line Merchandise Mart stop in Chicago. | Sun-Times Media file photo

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Updated: July 15, 2012 3:23PM

Starting in the summer of 2013, you’ll be able to tap your credit card or debit card to pay the fare when you ride the L or any CTA or Pace bus.

The CTA plans to begin with a “small, targeted rollout” and then have the system fully in place by 2014.

Now, you can use a prepaid fare card to ride the L or buses, and you also can pay cash to ride CTA and Pace buses, though you can’t get change.

Adding the ability to pay with a credit card is the first step toward creating a universal fare card for mass transit in the city and suburbs that also ultimately is to include Metra.

For now, the transit agencies are all keeping their own fare-collection systems.

The credit- and debit-card payments will be possible under a system the CTA agreed to buy last year for $454.1 million from Cubic Transportation Systems. The San Diego company also sold the CTA the “contactless” fare-reader card systems the agency uses for riders who use the Chicago Card or Chicago Card Plus.

You’ll be able to use the new technology only with a “contactless” credit or debit card. American Express, Visa and MasterCard all issue those.

To check whether you have a contactless card, look for a symbol with four small arcs — resembling the symbol for sound volume. If you have it, you have a contactless card that will be able to be tapped against the readers to pay the fare. Visa calls its contactless-card program payWave. Mastercard’s is PayPass.

Pace agreed to get the credit card payment system from Cubic Transportation, paying $54.8 million to piggyback onto the CTA’s contract.

Customers without credit cards or debit cards will be able to pay in cash to buy reloadable contactless cards at retail outlets and vending machines in stations. And cash fares will still be accepted on all CTA and Pace buses.

The CTA says it won’t lose money on credit-card processing fees because Cubic, under its contract, will cover those costs.

Metra, meanwhile, is aiming to begin testing a new fare-collection system a year from now. That will be needed before a universal farecard is possible to get around via mass transit in Chicago and the suburbs.

The transit agencies still haven’t worked out how they’ll overcome a key hurdle: The CTA and Pace charge a flat fare no matter how far riders go; Metra uses fare zones to charge riders based on the distance they travel.

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