The Chicago area’s transit authorities are a step closer to a cross-platform open-payment system that will enable riders to use open-loop contactless cards to access buses and trains.

On June 13, the suburban bus agency Pace signed into the Chicago Transit Authority’s Open Standard Fare System contract with Cubic Transportation Systems (see story). In doing so, Pace will join the CTA in installing and operating its new system.

The CTA operates commuter buses and elevated and subway trains, and both agencies support a closed-loop contactless card system. The lone holdout is the region’s Metra commuter train system, which uses conductors who punch paper cards on trains to confirm riders’ payments.

Illinois legislators last year mandated that the Chicago-area transit operators establish a universal fare-collection system by 2015. Metra officials reportedly are in talks to bring that system into the mix.

Metra’s pricing is based on distance traveled, and this appears to be complicating its participation in the open system. Both the CTA and Pace charge one fare per ride, regardless of distance.

The effort is among various similar ones nationally where transit agencies are working to rid themselves of having to operate their own closed systems to support rider payments (see story).

“This is the latest example of the regional transit providers working together to better coordinate services to benefit our customers,” CTA President Forrest Claypool said in a press release. “This will deliver a seamless, modern fare-collection system for riders of public transportation in Chicago and the suburbs.”

Transition to the new fare payment system for Pace will match the timeframe previously outlined in the contract for CTA, according to a press release. The new open fare-system implementation will begin next summer with a systemwide implementation in place by 2014.

Once the new system is in place, CTA and Pace customers may “tap” their contactless credit, debit and bankcards on a card reader to board trains and buses. Those without their own contactless credit or debit cards will be able to purchase reloadable contactless cards with cash at retail outlets and vending machines in stations, and cash fares will still be accepted on CTA buses and Pace, according to the release.

The CTA says it is the first major U.S. transit agency that will introduce a combined transit and retail card. Those who use the reloadable cards also may use them to make nontransit-related purchases at any retailer that accepts credit cards.

In November, the Chicago Transit Board approved a $454.1 million contract to Cubic to develop and implement the Open Standards Fare System in Chicago.

Pace’s board approval to add its buses to that contract brings the total contract value to $508.9 million. Pace will pay the additional $54.8 million contract cost to cover the expense of new fare card readers and the ongoing operational costs of the open fare system over a 10-year period, according to the release.

The addition of Pace to the CTA’s contract with Cubic will add 500 retail locations where customers can purchase and reload the prepaid cards, bringing the total retail network to 2,500 locations across Chicago and neighboring communities, the release notes.

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