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Chicago Transit Authority enhances customer service with new initiatives

Posted on September 30, 2013

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The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), the host transit system for APTA’s 2013 Annual Meeting, has undertaken an impressive roster of initiatives including launching a new bus rapid transit system, introducing an open fare payment system and reconstruction of its Red Line South — a massive $425 million dollar initiative, as well as many others. CTA President Forrest Claypool weighed in on these projects and discussed their impact on the agency and its services.

METRO: How significant is the move to open fare payment for the CTA and for the public transit industry in general?

Claypool: Ventra is the one-card solution for transit riders across the region. CTA and Pace are the first transit agencies in North America to offer an open payment system. This means our customers can use a contactless Ventra Card, or even their personal bank cards, to pay for train and bus rides, the same way they pay for other daily purchases. The open, account-based system offers modern amenities and conveniences, such as personal account management. Ventra also makes it easy to access and pay for transit whether by phone, online, adding cash at vending machines, or checking balances on your tablet or smartphone. Ventra also provides balance protection, a benefit not previously available to everyone on CTA and Pace.

What types of impacts do you foresee for the system now that Ventra is in place?
Ultimately, the customer experience will be enhanced, which has been at the heart of every improvement made in the last two years here at CTA. With Ventra, a quick ‘tap’ of a fare reader lets customers board with ease. In addition, this change actually saves the CTA $5 million every year for the next 10 years.

The Ventra open fare payment system allows contactless personal bank cards to be used to pay for fares at turnstiles and on buses.
The Ventra open fare payment system allows contactless personal bank cards to be used to pay for fares at turnstiles and on buses.
How will it change access to Pace bus services?
Ventra now allows for seamless travel between the CTA and Pace Suburban Bus Service. Multiple fare cards and stored value can be loaded onto a Ventra Card or personal bank card, and the system will intuitively know which fare to charge. Ventra makes taking public transportation easy; the easier it is, the more likely people are to use it for the first time or continue taking public transportation.

The Red Line reconstruction project is a massive undertaking. How challenging was it to transition riders to other options? How were you able to do this successfully?
According to American Public Transportation Association (APTA), the CTA is the first transit agency to completely shut down such a large stretch of track (10.2 miles) and rebuild a railroad from the dirt up in such a short time period of just five months — rather than make South Side residents endure a substandard railroad and wait four years for a new railroad by doing the work on weekends. That decision saved the agency $75 million, which is being reinvested in stations along that line, and residents will get a brand new railroad that will reduce daily round-trip commutes by 20 minutes.

To help customers inconvenienced by the temporary Red Line South branch shutdown — an estimated 80,000 people each weekday — the CTA undertook a major alternative service effort to provide customers with plenty of service alternatives that are being widely used by our customers.

The multiple, convenient options included re-routing Red Line trains onto nearby elevated Green Line tracks parallel to the Red Line; free rail entry at the Garfield elevated station on the South Side that served as a hub for free shuttle buses that picked up passengers at shuttered Red Line station locations; added significant additional bus service on routes in the project area and provided 50-cent fare discounts on dozens of routes on the South Side. The brand new shuttle buses were obtained from CTA piggybacking on a contract belonging to King County Metro, Seattle’s public transit agency, to purchase the 100 low-floor, fully-accessible articulated buses the authority decided it did not need because of changing business conditions.

With just weeks to go until the line reopens for customers, the project is on-time and on-budget.

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