Chicago gets smart about transit

The Chicago Transit Authority and a suburban bus system have joined in a pilot program to test the ease and acceptance of SmartCard, a "touch-and-go" payment system for commuters.

The authority began selling 3,500 of the $5 plastic cards Aug. 1. Commuters traveling by rail or bus in the CTA system simply touch the card to a designated pad, and the cost of the trip is automatically deducted.

Cubic Transportation Systems Inc. designed SmartCard and the similar SmarTrip system in Washington, D.C.

Chicago's pilot also includes the suburban bus system, Pace. Like CTA, Pace is a division of Chicago's Regional Transportation Authority and operates about 600 buses. The SmartCard system will support more than 1,800 buses and 143 rail stations.

"When there are several agencies, it really makes the passengers confused," said Toulla Constantinou, general manager of Cubic's Chicago office. "By doing it this way, they can have seamless transportation and not have to worry about what system they're using."

Constantinou said Pace and CTA use the same fare system but that the partnership is different. A system had to be set up to register where a SmartCard was used so that fares could be deducted appropriately.

When Chicago installed its card system three years ago, it was designed with the foresight of creating a "touch-and-go" system. As the technology was developed, employees and disabled travelers tried the system on a limited basis.

The pilot will last four months. People using the SmartCard system will be asked to fill out surveys to help the board determine whether to expand the pilot.

The SmartCard pilot is part of a $106 million farecard contract with Cubic. More information can be found at


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