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In the early part of the century, the 5 cent fare was standard on transit throughout the country. Chicago was
no exception, with both the streetcars and the elevated trains. With few exceptions, Chicago has always had flat
fare systems. In 1919, the Surface Lines fare went up to 7 cents, and that fare basically remained until 1942.
The Rapid Transit fare went up to 6 cents in 1918 and to 7 cents in 1919, and to 10 cents in 1920, where it remained
until 1946. The elevated companies' justification was that since 1913, when they were ordered to allow free transfering
in the Loop, the distance of the average trip on one fare had increased.
When the CTA took over in 1947, the fares were set at 10 cents for the Surface System and 12 cents for the Rapid
Transit. The late 1940's was of course the beginning of the post-World War II increase of automobile ownership,
expressway construction, and declining support for public transportation. By 1952, the CTA fare was up to 20 cents
for the entire system. During most of the 1960's the fare was 25 cents, with a new charge of 5 cents for a transfer.
By 1970 the fare was up to 45 cents, and 10 cents for a transfer.
The creation of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) in the 1970's helped keep fares relatively stable through
that decade. Public transit would now be subsidized. But in the early 1980's, the state subsidy to the RTA was
dropped, resulting in a funding crisis at the RTA. Transit fares skyrocketed, including the CTA fare going up to
90 cents in 1981. The state subsidy was restored in 1983, and the 1990's began with the fare at $1.00, with transfers
at 25 cents. But state and federal transit subsidies usually have not been adequate enough, and there have been
fare increases throughout the 1990's. The current CTA cash fare is $1.50, with 30 cents for a transfer.
Transit in Chicago traditionally has used a "flat fare" system throughout its history. On the rapid transit,
once one has paid a fare and has proceeded through a turnstile, one can do an umlimited amount of rapid transit
riding and transferring, until exiting the system through a turnstile. No ticket or proof of payment is required
to exit. However, for transit fans exploring the rapid transit system, the Skokie Swift/Dempster St. terminal on
the Yellow Line is configured, such that one does need a new fare to reenter the system after arriving in Skokie.
Throughout its history, there have been a few periods when higher "zone" fares have been used for certain
rapid transit trains and buses, particularly those serving suburbs. At present, certain CTA express bus routes
have a 25 cent surcharge for passengers departing downtown.
FARE COLLECTION-RAPID TRANSIT
CTA rapid transit stations traditionally had agents to collect fares tokens or transfers, and allow passengers
through the turnstiles. Many stations had "automatic" turnstiles which took exact change or tokens, and
some of them issued transfers. All stations now have new turnstiles which accept the new stored value Transit Card,
the new machine readable Transfer Card, and various other passes. Those cards have magnetic stripes which store
As fare collection at rapid transit stations has become automated, the need for agents to collect fares has been
eliminated. Transit Cards are sold by vending machines, and one turnstile at each station is equipped for exact
change. Change machines are also available at stations. The agents are now "Customer Assistants", who
no longer are necessarily confined to the agents booths.
For many years, many rapid transit stations had been left unattended during slack periods, with fare collection
by conductors on the trains. But with one person operation now implemented on the CTA, stations must now be staffed
at all times a line is in service.
FARE COLLECTION-SURFACE SYSTEM/TOKENS
CTA buses carried conventional fareboxes for many years. But after the 1981 fare increase to 90 cents, with transfers
10 cents additional, many riders were paying with dollar bills. In 1985, the CTA installed new electronic fareboxes
on its buses, which handled and counted both coins and paper money. All bus fareboxes now also have card readers,
enabling them to read the new Transfer Cards, Transit Cards, and other passes.
In 1950, the CTA started selling tokens for use on the surface system, and tokens eventually became accepted on
both buses and rapid transit trains. The original tokens said "CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY" on one side,
and "SURFACE SYSTEM TOKEN" on the other side. Later tokens said "CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY"
on both sides. Regular fare tokens were silver and slightly smaller than a dime, while reduced fare tokens were
made of bronze and approximately the size of a nickel.
In 1997, the new Transit Cards began replacing the tokens, and tokens were completely eliminated in 1999.
Transfers allow passengers to make a trip involving more than one vehicle while paying only one fare.
Introduced in 1997, the stored value "Transit Card" completely automates the fare collection process,
and has completely replaced tokens.
Various passes and Transit Cards are available at "Currency Exchanges", and at certain supermarkets.
In Chicago, a Currency Exchange is a place which handles check cashing and utility bill payments for people without
bank accounts, sells money orders, and also handles wiring of money for Western Union, and provides various other
services. All passes and Transit Cards have magnetic stripes enabling them to be read by the new automated fare
Various passes are also available for sale through the CTA Web site.
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