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How CTA fare hike affects different rider profiles -- increases from 13% to 61%

The CTA fare increase that went into effect Jan. 1 now means holders of Transit Cards and Chicago Card/Plus stored-value fare cards pay the same fare as cash fare payers. Only bus riders paying cash will pay more more -- $2.25 versus $2 for Transit Card and CC/P card users.

CC/P users now pay more percentage-wise than those who previously used Transit Cards or cash. So depending on how you paid your fare, you may be paying up to 41% more than last year. your seatmate. (Much more if you park at a CTA-owned garage.) So let's review those various rider scenarios to see how much more you're paying on a percentage basis. (For our scenarios, we'll assume 20 work days per month for 40 distinct monthly CTA trips.)

CCP Charlie -- 41% fare increase

CCP Charlie has been a loyal Chicago Card Plus user since the stored value card was first introduced. He always loved his 10% bonus for reloading $20 on the card, plus the convenience of knowing if the card was ever lost or stolen, he could get it replaced for $5 with the value still saved on his card account.

Charlie rides the Blue Line from Logan Square into his job in the Loop as an accountant. He sometimes uses the card on weekends, so he usually puts $80 on his card every month. Last year, that $80 got him $88, or 50.3 round trips -- $88 divided by the $1.75 rail fare for CCP users. Effectively, he was paying $1.59 per trip, so 40 trips to and from work cost him $63.64.

This year, Charlie loses the 10% reloading bonus, and the rail fare is now $2.25. So his $80 now buys just 35.6 round trips. And 40 total trips now cost $90 instead of $63.64. So he's paying 41.4% more than last year. Yikes!

Transit Card Trina -- 13% increase

Transit Card Trina didn't like the Big Brother aspect of the Chicago Card program, where it could report everywhere you went. So she stuck with Transit Cards, despite losing the 10% loading bonus in a fare hike in 2006. Like CCP Charlie, she paid just one train fare per day to get to her non-profit job in Evanston -- the Red Line and then the Purple.

In 2008, she paid $2 per trip to ride the rails on her Transit Card. So $80 exactly bought her the 40 trips to cover her 20 work days a month. This year, she will pay 25 cents more per trip, a $10 increase per month to $90. So that's 12.5% more for her 20 work days per month. Trina should consider buying a monthly pass. Then her increase would be just 7.5%, and she could take unlimited rides on the CTA.

CCP Monthly Pass Kevin -- 15% increase

That's me. I buy a monthly pass via the Chicago Card Plus. Last year it cost me $75. This year I will pay $86 - a 15% increase. The CTA originally wanted a 20% increase to $90, but the CTA board reduced the increase on all passes to about 15%.

And in 2008, 20 round trips would cost $70 -- $5 short of paying for the monthly pass. This year those 20 round trips cost $90, so I save $4 using the monthly pass over paying by the ride.

Cash-only Cary bus rider -- 13% increase

Cary, a 20-year-old who can't afford college, lives paycheck-to-paycheck on her barely-minimum wage retail job on Michigan Avenue. She barely has enough cash to get the #147 bus to work each day from Rogers Park, so she doesn't buy a Transit Card nor Chicago Card. Like Transit Card Trina, 40 trips cost her $80 in 2008. So she'll see a 12.5% increase as well to $90. But she really should save her pennies to buy a monthly pass. Then the fare hike would be 7.5%.

CC/P user, CTA parker Pauline -- 64% increase

Pauline drives to the Cumberland station on the Blue Line and takes it into the Loop. She pays for her rail fare with her Chicago Card Plus. We already know that -- like Charlie -- the fare increase is 41.4% for Pauline. But Pauline also has to reach deeper into her pocket to park at the CTA garage. Parking fees went up this year at CTA-owned lots. It now costs $4 to park up to 12 hours at most lots -- double the $2 it cost last year.

So let's do the math to get Pauline's total percentage increase. She's now paying $90 instead of $63.64 per month for 40 round trips on 20 work days. Plus, she's paying $80 instead of $40 to park on those 20 days. So that's $170 vs. $103.64 -- a whopping 64% increase in her monthly commuting costs! Pauline, try car-pooling to the garage.


I still think the CTA went about this all the wrong way.
They should have used London's Oyster Card as the model.
Cash fares in London are about double those of the Oyster Card, which is a smart card like either of the Chicago Cards.

The Chicago Card fare would have stayed the same, even the bonus would have remained, but maybe only 5% until the feds & state get their act together.

But the cash fare would double to $4 & no transfers & the transit [swipe] card would go to $3 & no transfers.

Those users slow down everyone else as they fumble for their money or cards.
Or worse, the scammers attempting to ride free & who try ten different single ride swipe cards until one works! They're hoping the driver will get fed up & let them pass.
I was on a Halsted last week where that happened. The driver made him pay!

Thanks for the interesting math. I guess I'm in CCP Charlie's situ.

Just wanted to mention that the statement that "you may be paying up to 41% more than your seatmate," doesn't seem accurate. In fact, the rest of the piece shows everyone paying the same for their seat.

If I read this right, I might be paying 41% than what I did before, but now I'm paying exactly the same as Transit Card Trina, my seatmate with the lowest rate of increase. I don't like the increase, but I won't hold it against my seatmate.

I don't know about that. I usually use use the Visitor Passes (although that may change once my stash of 2-day passes runs out). More often than not, Chicago Card users seem to be the ones having problems with the fare box not registering payment. On the other hand, I've never had a problem with the magnetic passes. I just get the pass out and get ready before the bus arrives so I'm not fumbling for it.

I agree that cash users should have had their costs rise by more. It also costs the CTA more money to deal with the cash and service of those machines.

One more (complicated) group. What about people who utilize a transit benefit and get money deducted from their paycheck on a pre-tax basis? Because of the tax savings, the effective increase is less I believe.

I agree with Jocelyn. I fit into the category she mentions.

I am with Pauline, but I park at the Kimball Brown Line lot. I don't know how the fare boxes are set up at Cumberland, but at Kimball you have to fold up four dollar bills to stuff into a little 1/4" hole, or come up with 16 quarters a day to put in the coin slots. I am still trying to figure out the best way to come up with the sheer volume of cash and coin required for a weeks worth of parking. Maybe CTA is pushing for a two-dollar bill comeback.

The boxes are rusted and unreadable in spots, and dollar coins do not fit in the coin slots at all. Lots of fun on a subzero or rainy day.

CTA needs to come up with some alternative, like purchasing parking tokens or passes that fit in their boxes - or scrap the boxes altogether for something that takes credit cards.

In DC the Metro smart cards can be used to pay for parking as well as fares. It might be cost-effective for CTA and convenient for park 'n' riders for CTA to explore this option.

I'm another one who buys my CCP through work. I think the percentage of increase remains the same, but we're still paying less than the face value of the card because of the tax benefit.

I'm an infrequent transit user, maybe three or four rides (one-way) a week, so I don't mind that I'm now paying $2.25 instead of $1.75 – still seems reasonable to me.

What's not reasonable is that, as a Chicago Card Plus user, I'm paying the same fare as a cash user. Using a CCP is completely automated, requiring practically no effort from the CTA. Cash, on the other hand, has to be manually collected from each rail station and bus, secured, counted, balanced, and deposited. The overhead for cash fare is much higher than the Chicago Card, and with the card, the CTA has the added benefit of being able to track and analyze rider patterns.

So, what's the benefit for CCP riders now? We don't get reduced fare anymore. We don't get the bonus anymore. Why are we doing this again?

I'm in the Chris and Jocelyn category as well.


And I'm still irked that bus fair is cheaper than rail fair, now. It seems to me with the recent (and future) cost of fuel getting the CTA into this situation where they had to increase fares, that they would charge more for a bus ride than a train ride. I'd like to see numbers showing that the bus system is cheaper to operate than the rail system.


I often park at Cumberland and it is a manned parking garage where you pay a person on the way out. I have a feeling that they will need to keep a lot of $1 bills on hand now for people that will pay with a $5 bill.

Considering that now the monthly pass is cheaper than paying each day, I, along with probably many others, will now be using the pass on my CCP.

I wonder if this was a strategic change on CTA's part? It does make sense that the pass is slightly cheaper, though. And that would seem to mirror what transit agencies across the country usually structure their fares at.

I would echo the comments above as well, however, noting that cash should be more expensive than CCP.

Paying more on a per-ride basis for rail, which is more efficient, more environmentally friendly, and transports substantially more people than a bus at a lower cost per capita is mystifying. The CTA should be encouraging rail riding over bus riding.

Penalizing CC/CCP users to the extent that the CTA did is also incredibly short-sighted. I can accept doing away with the bonus, but the CTA should be encouraging more people (especially regular CTA riders) to ditch transit cards.

More long-term policy considerations and planning by the CTA seems to be lacking, as evidenced by these decisions.

Thankfully I am a part of the transit benefit program. Even with a fare increase the estimated annual savings I can achieve is $412.80 by purchasing my (now) monthly pass with pre-taxed dollars.

I second what the Doc wrote.

A possible rationale behind the higher rail fares: trips are likely to be longer, and there are free transfers available between lines.

The Doc:

You needed this particular decision to see that they lack long-term policy considerations and planning?

Whoa, where have you spent the last 6 years (all the time I can personally attest to anyways)?

That's got to be one of the biggest understatements in recent Chicago history...lol


I think the CTA should consider fares based on length of travel. It's common in many parts of the world to at least pay more for bus travel based on length of route (not sure about rail), and it would make sense that CTA at least consider implementing something similar.

I think the reason for higher rail costs are the cost of building and maintaining the infrastructure. Someone else maintains the infrastructure (streets, stoplights, etc) for the buses.

Stan, that's a good idea but I don't think CTA employees are intelligent enough to operate that system. I asked a bus driver last night how late the bus ran ans she replied, "call CTA because I don't know."

I've never thought that charging based on length of commute makes sense in Chicago. Inside the city limits, it's generally the case that living close to downtown is much more expensive than living in the neighborhoods near the city limits, with the cost of living increasing as you approach the loop from far away. Given that so much of the city's population commutes to the loop for work, that kind of pricing basically punishes people for not being able to afford to live close to downtown.

Now, it works on Metra, though, because those kids of demographics don't work out in the 'burbs. Someone who lives in Aurora could probably afford to live in Oak Park, and likewise someone who lives in Kenosha could probably afford housing in Evanston, so charging the one more than the other for living so much farther away does make sense, since it's still so much cheaper than driving those longer distances.

And while yes, it is ture that distance-based pricing does work in other cities, I still don't see how it would be fair to charge someone more for, e.g. living in Pullman instead of the South Loop or in Austin instead of the Gold Coast, when most people can't afford both as options.

"I agree that cash users should have had their costs rise by more. It also costs the CTA more money to deal with the cash and service of those machines."

Not to mention the counting. I remember the big scandal years ago when some TV station or newspaper discovered cash just strewn around a counting room, unaccounted for and treated pretty much like litter.

I don't see a big problem with charging more for the train than bus, since you get a better ride on the train and bus riders are disproportionately poor. As long as the price differential isn't big enough to cause a major shift from the trains to the buses, it won't undermine the environmental benefits of trains.

The reason the CTA is eliminating the price advantage for the Chicago Card is that it will soon start to eliminate its fare card system altogether. Instead of paying millions of dollars to collect fares, it will get banks and credit card companies to pay it to use their cards as fare cards. For those unwilling or unable to use credit or debit cards, there will be prepaid cards available at a variety of stores.

They figure there's no sense in losing money providing an incentive to switch to a card that will soon be phased out.

Here it is again. People are suggesting distance based fares without even bothering to explain why this is a good idea. I don't understand why that occurs so often. I would suggest anyone who thinks distance based fares are a good idea should read the discussion beginning towards the end of the first page on this thread: http://www.ctatattler.com/2008/08/sour-economy-co/comments/page/1/#comments

We had a long and productive discussion about that. Don't forget that that is a two page thread so don't miss the conspicious next button (without the word "next") at the bottom of the first page.

I have more to say about things that have been stated on this thread so I will be back.

I agree with Charles McPhate's comments.

"I don't see a big problem with charging more for the train than bus, since you get a better ride on the train and bus riders are disproportionately poor."

Jake, do you have numbers to back up that last assertion? Or are you just going by the appearance of people you see on the buses?

If I follow your logic, then would you agree that people who don't have the wherewithal to get some sort of pass or card should pay less, not more, when they pay cash to join their poor brethren on the buses?

(I don't actually believe that; I'm playing devil's advocate here.)

Just look at a CTA map - the huge swaths of the city without rail service are largely poor neighborhoods. In the middle class parts without the El, like the far Northwest and Southwest sides, transport is mainly by car. It's no coincidence, of course - rail access increases property values, pricing out the poor. And the problem is getting worse.

Should people paying with cash pay lower fares because they're more likely to be poor? The drawbacks - slow boarding and higher collection costs - are large enough to argue against it. It would make more sense to help the poor in more direct and efficient ways, like replacing Illinois's flat tax and high sales taxes with a progressive income tax, increasing the earned income exemption, or increasing the rate of unionization.

"or increasing the rate of unionization."

And I assume that means, among other things, that you want union officials to be able to force workers, through intimidation and peer pressure, to unionize even if they don't want to. As you know, the democrats in congress are attempting to get a law passed that will destroy the requirement of a secret ballot when employees vote on whether they would like to unionize. It's ironic. I always thought that it was the liberals who always give the most lip-service to the importance of integrety in voting.

who is this jocelyn!?!? my real name is jocelyn!! yay!!

i don't get it. first of all, i buy the monthly pass ... i don't want to use my credit card as a fare card. it already comes out of my checking account. i'm not giving up my chicago card. i don't need to combine everything like that. grr.

second of all, i guess i've never quite understood why people do the chicago card, but not the monthly pass. i live paycheck to paycheck. BIGTIME. i don't have a lot of money at all. but that once a month expenditure really makes it worth it for me, especially knowing that i can get on and off CTA when and wherever i want to.

anyway ... we'll see how this all goes. (hi, jocelyn!!)

Re lower bus fares vs rail fares

If you're worried about the poor, let them buy reduced fare cards. We're already giving them away like beads at a Mardi Gras parade, so why not?

I'm all for taxing people based on their means, but not everyone who lives along the rail corridors are wealthier than those served only by buses. I know many people on the wealthier North Side who commute by bus because the stops are closer than the rail stations. I sometimes hop on the bus in bad weather instead of walking from one end of the Loop to the other, and I live in River North, arguably one of the city's more expensive neighborhoods.

I also don't agree with the argument that trains are more expensive because you're going longer distances. There are times when I get on the train to go only four stops, and it takes less time than the same distance on the bus. In fact, I can often go from State/Lake to Belmont on the Red Line in less time than it takes to transit the loop on a bus.

I need to see numbers that the rail systems is more costly to operate than the buses, before I'll agree that trains should cost more.

The different bus and train fares make no sense anyway. Get this:

Use a bus first, then a train, you pay $2.25.
Use a train first, then a bus, you pay $2.50.

So the same trip costs two different fares, depending on if you go from A to B, or B to A. WTF? Only with the CTA. Find me any city on the world where this applies as well.

Now, to save $0.25, I recommend to jump on a bus before you enter the train. Swipe your Chicago card and immediately exit ($2), then take the train ($0.25) and the bus ($0.00). = $2.25
You ride cheaper by adding a bus entry to your ride. How amazing.

And so in the end much complaining was done as if this was totally unexpected even though everyone knew months in advance and no one stopped riding the bus or train. Joy.

Surprise! Once again the CTA has made a terrible decision. I am now going to plainly claim that I could run that organization better than anyone in charge currently. And I do this fully knowledgeable that I have no prior experience in transit, I'm that confident.

[Once again the CTA has made a terrible decision. I am now going to plainly claim that I could run that organization better than anyone in charge currently. And I do this fully knowledgeable that I have no prior experience in transit, I'm that confident.]

I wonder why you think this reflects more poorly on the CTA than it does yourself.


RE: your anti-union rant - you are incorrect in your claim that the card-check law will eliminate secret ballots. It simply allows the union to make the choice between a card-check or secret ballot, rather than allow the employer to make that choice for them as is now the case. The secret ballot as it now stands allows the employer to stage extensive obstacles - such as firing organizers, intimidating and threatening employees, and the like.

I'm hesitant to get into union arguments with the likes of MK. Usually card-check opponents are anti-union in general, and simply using the secret ballot issue as a high-minded shield to avoid discussion of their real objectives.

Not saying that describes MK, necessarily.

Hi other Jocelyn!!

Okay I did some math, I think it all depends how you look at it.
Let's say I get taxed at 22.5%. My perceived savings can be calculated by determining the difference in price between post-tax and pre-tax costs of the transit card. Before, I was saving $16.875/month by using the transit benefit (0.225*$75) and now I am saving $19.35/month by using the transit benefit (0.225*$86). However, if we look at what the pre-tax cost of the transit card feels like in post-tax dollars, the cost used to be $58.125 (75-16.875) and now is $66.65 (86-19.35). My effective increase is exactly the same in post-tax dollars (66.65/58.125=15%)

I think that means the hike still feels the same, but because we're talking about a larger cost it makes much more sense to use the transit benefit if offered by your employer.

[So the same trip costs two different fares, depending on if you go from A to B, or B to A. WTF? Only with the CTA. Find me any city on the world where this applies as well.]

I'm not sure it works this way. Last year, when the Transit Card cost $1.75 for the bus and $2 for the train, a transfer fee of $.50 was deducted when going from bus to train (essentially treating the train ride as the first trip and the bus as the transfer). I would imagine the same is true for the Chicago Card now.

Does anyone think the fare increases will decrease the amount of bums on the train now?

And I believe that rail riders are generally the poorer constituency, but I'm just guessing. I think the amount of bums (essentially no income) on trains is higher than buses, so that should make them a poorer group.

As for why rail costs more, I believe (as stated before, but apparently nobody read it) that rail is costlier to maintain and build. Granted, individual rides are cheaper than a bus, but only after big upfront costs. Maybe this is going to be a down-payment for the rail expansion of Red, Yellow, Orange lines (or circle line, Mid-City Transitway, etc).

CCP Charlie is a doofus if he was regularly spending more than $75 on transit fare per month before 1/1/09, since he could buy 30 days of unlimited rides for that amount. Likewise if he's regularly paying more than $86 per month now.

(Okay, the average month has 30.42 days, not 30, so I guess CCP Charlie was really only a doofus in 2008 if he was regularly paying more than $75 * (30.42/30) ~= $76 in transit fare per month. And now the figure would be just over $87.)

One statement in the post seems wrong to me: "CC/P users now pay more percentage-wise than those who previously used Transit Cards or cash." These two groups now pay the same amount so neither is paying more than the other, on any basis, except for the initial cost of the Chicago Card fare media.


Cool. Can I get a job when you take over for $180K a year + benefits to do nothing?


My personal fare increase is in line with CCP Charlie's, except that he rides more often than I do. Pay-per-ride CCP makes sense for me, since that's how my Transit Benefit works and since I usually bike to work. (Curiously, Boston calls its transit smart cards Charlie Cards.)

Some answers for above:
- Rail fares are higher than bus fares due to price elasticity. Remember this from economics class? Rail riders are willing to pay higher fares for what they usually consider to be a premium product. And if we train riders are willing to pay, then CTA will make us pay.
- Bus riders, per the census, are poorer than rail riders.
- Retaining the Chicago Card bonus would've been a nice touch, to retain some kind of incentive. As others have noted, the smart card lowers CTA's transaction costs (in time and money).
- The parking lots are all outsourced (privatized!), which is why the payment methods differ so much. Of course, CTA could require that everyone use the same payment method, but for whatever reason hasn't.
- Monthly passes are cheaper than, or at least equivalent to, the cost of weekday commutes partly since pass riders generally are much more likely to use their passes for off-peak travel. That additional off-peak travel has little marginal cost, both for the CTA and the rider.
- My favourite bit of London's Oyster Card is the "automatic day pass." If CTA's Chicago Card had this feature, your first/second train rides would be $2.25, your third $1.50, and the rest free -- since by that point, you've crossed the $6 cost of a day pass. It saves me from having to keep 1-day passes stockpiled for those run-around-town days.

Oh, and Justin, KevinB, etc.: I'm sorry that the rest of the world just isn't as brilliant as you. Please find some way to accept that which doesn't involve so much negativity. It's not attractive.

A point of comparison: even if the overall cost of gas doubled in 2007, that would have pushed up the cost of driving by a mere 17% over the year -- much less than the 41% fare increase I'm facing. When AAA comes out with "2009 Your Driving Costs," I think they'll find that the cost of driving actually rose less than that, since both miles driven and car prices fell in 2008.

One thing to blame our politicians for: if riding transit is so good, why do transit fares consistently go up much faster than the cost of driving?

(The cost of gas was 17.1% of the cost of owning a car in 2006, per the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.)

To Irk: Sorry, but I don't think I made it clear that CCP Charlie never used the CTA enough (only $63.64 per month) to make it worth buying the monthly pass.

To paytonc: Don't forget that CTA fares for CCP users have not increased since 2004. So that's four years of 17% increases.

The loss of benefits to ccp is irritating.

As for me, the last thing I want to do at a train station or bus is pull out my credit card and swipe... I hope that never pans out!

"Rail fares are higher than bus fares due to price elasticity. Remember this from economics class? Rail riders are willing to pay higher fares for what they usually consider to be a premium product. And if we train riders are willing to pay, then CTA will make us pay."

Ding, ding, ding. No, apparently many people on this thread do not remember economics class. I find it truly sad that it took more than a day and over 40 posts for anyone to mention this. You have people here, such as Chris, thinking that the cost to provide and maintain rail service somehow should be a factor in its price vs. the bus. Unbelievable. The cost of something does not affect the price passed on to the consumer unless it affects the amount of goods or services provided or demand. Some of the people here may not ever have even taken an economics class at all. As far as I know, it is usually not even required in high school and college (I know it wasn't when I went through school). And we can see with the current situation in our country that a lack of basic knowledge about economics has major problemetic effects and causes a disconnect between our elected representatives and goverment officials (who generally have knowledge about economic principles) and the voters.

Although that is obviously the logical reason for rail service to have a higher fare, I wouldn't be so sure that the CTA actually did it for that reason. Huberman, of course, made a statement about Chicago Card customers that showed he apparently didn't know what "elasticity" meant. And it probably would be nice if they would actually make a statement about their reasons for the fare differential. I am not neccessarally for it (I really don't have a strong opinion one way or the other). There are some good reasons to argue against it (I don't believe any have been mentioned here).

By the way, I'm not sure why Jake seems to think that the plans for a credit card fare system has anything to do with the elimanation of the incentives to use the Chicago Card. If something like that occurs, it is way in the future. The CTA still needs to plan its current fare system based on what makes sense. I know the Tribune article about that was a bit bizarre and misleading, but it is not as if that is a done deal. There needs to be some experiments and other things done before the CTA completely converts its fare system. Nobody can know for sure how riders will respond to whatever they are planning to do (which that Tribune article gives contradictory information about). In the meantime, as I've stated on earlier threads, the CTA has made a horrific and bizarre decision with regard to no longer encouraging people to use its most efficiant fare cards.

Thank you, paytonc. I agree with everything you wrote, especially that last paragraph. A little sarcasm goes a long way.

MK, the CTA claims it'll roll out the combination debit/fare cards within the next year. Is that pie in the sky?

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