More commuters using Near Field Communication-enabled smartphones on Chicago's buses and elevated train system may soon be able to pay fares by tapping the phone against a reader in the station terminal.
The Chicago Transit Authority and Cubic Transportation Systems Inc. are testing the use of smartphones and other mobile devices to complement the new "tap-and-go" Ventra card system.
The mobile pay test so far has not encountered the same types of glitches commuters endured when the CTA and Cubic rolled out the Ventra plastic card in September.
Many of the initial problems with the card version were resolved by software updates Cubic introduced in November and the CTA establishing new accountability measures that it monitors with monthly reports.
The companies expect smoother sailing for the smartphone payment option.
"Eventually, all commuters will have the option to pay for rides on the CTA and Pace buses using their smartphones by downloading a Ventra app, which will allow for payment as well as personal account management," says CTA spokesperson Lambrini Lukidis.
The CTA has not determined how long it will test the mobile payment system, opting to collect as much data as needed prior to officially launching it, Lukidis says.
Cubic Transportation said at the start of the Ventra card project two years ago that it hoped to have that system in place and all kinks worked out by the end of 2014. Because the system is now operating as the companies had hoped, the move into mobile was a next step.
Currently, customers can manage accounts on smartphones using the VentraChicago mobile website. Once the CTA has the Ventra mobile payment app in place, customers will be able to tap their phones over readers installed at the bus and rail station turnstiles, Lukidis says.
The CTA and Cubic continue to discuss how to collect payments on the city's Metra train system, but plans call for those commuters to use the same Ventra mobile app, Lukidis adds.
Only the number of NFC-enabled smartphones available on the market limits the project. Although many Android smartphones carry an NFC chip and antennae, iPhones do not.
In the meantime, the CTA is growing comfortable with the progress Cubic has made with the new Ventra fare cards. In its report for January, the CTA says Ventra cards accounted for 77 percent of "taps" across the entire transportation system the week ending Jan. 11.
Of close to 1.3 million accounts for CTA ridership, 706,000 commuters are using Ventra cards. The report also indicates improvement in customer service and reliability of the cards.
Commuters in Chicago can continue to use their current magnetic-stripe transit cards, but the CTA plans to ultimately eliminate use of those cards, called the Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus.
Prior to the Cubic software upgrades, the turnstile readers did not always acknowledge a Ventra payment. In some cases, commuters claimed they were charged twice on their cards for one ride.
Long waits at customer service call-in centers were common during the initial rollout of the Ventra product.
The Ventra system, developed through Cubic, MasterCard and First Data, replaces a 20-year-old payment system for Chicago transportation.