CTA Should Take Cue from London With Automatic Day Passes

Calling at all stops to London King's Cross. | London's Calling for Flickr Friday | Explored
The Oyster card caps daily fares on all Greater London Area transit, without the need to purchase a daily pass beforehand. Photo: Paul Kitchener

Transport for London, that city’s regional transit operator and planning agency, has had a “daily cap” on bus, tram, and train fares since 2005. The fare system stops charging pay-as-you-go riders for trips once they spend a certain amount, which depends on which services you use and zones you visit. This means that you’ll never spend more on transit in one day than a daily pass would have cost (sometimes even less), which gives everyone the value of a day pass without making people buy those passes in advance.

The Ventra card and Transport for London’s Oyster card were both created and installed by Cubic Transportation Systems, so it’s possible that daily capping can be implemented in Chicago.

One-day transit passes encourage more transit use, since they lower the cost of each additional ride, and give the pass holder the freedom to travel as much they want in a day. They’re especially good at encouraging people to ride off-peak, like midday or in the evening, since these additional trips are “free.” By making the purchase of a daily pass automatic, a daily cap benefits riders — both residents and tourists — who either are used to paying for transit as they go, aren’t sure if the one-day pass is a good buy, or who want to budget their travel costs.

For Chicago tourists, a $10 day pass is an excellent value for a busy day of sightseeing — say, getting from a bed & breakfast in Logan Square to downtown, ferrying themselves among museums up and down Michigan Avenue, stopping in Chinatown for dinner, and then taking the Blue Line back home. For locals, a day pass is a great buy if one needs to hit up several shops across the city on their day off, take the bus for lunchtime errands, or have an evening out that traverses several neighborhoods. But instead of making customers choose beforehand whether a daily pass or pay-as-you-go would make sense for the day, a daily cap automatically chooses the best value for the rider.

Daily capping could even work on Metra trains and CTA + Metra journeys: Oyster works on buses, the Underground rapid transit, the Overground regional rail service, and local commuter trains. At the end of the day, the fare software sums your journeys’ costs, applies the cap if you reached it, and distributes revenues among the various transit systems you used. CTA could still sell one-day passes, for people who don’t want to load more than $10 at a time onto their Ventra card.

Once CTA and Pace finish rollout on July 1 this year, by no longer accepting fare media that aren’t Ventra, they should begin a conversation with Cubic to start a daily capping pilot project.

  • This would be particularly useful for late nights out. There have been days when I ended up taking a bunch of trips in the evening, and having every trip after the 4th/5th be free would be a great bonus.

  • Michael Gorman

    Does London allow you to use the same Oyster for multiple people to board at the same time? I could see that being an impediment in Chicago. I certainly wouldn’t want to lose that feature to gain this one, but I’d love to have both.

  • Fbfree

    You would still be able to board multiple people, you’d just need the owner of the card to be present when paying. The only problem I see would be for paying for a fare where you’re not the one boarding the bus (i.e. for a beggar requesting a fare or to send someone off to the airport).

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    This is good for singles. However when I have a group of people visiting, once you have 4 or more people in a group taking CTA can be pricier than paying for parking.

  • david vartanoff

    To reinforce the idea that Cubic can easily do this, note that AC Transit in the Bay Area is implementing a similar cap/pass fare system on Clipper (Cubic trade name in the SF Bay Area) starting in July

  • Pete

    Since Cubic has been in the farecard business for quite some time, I’d assume they have some expertise in it. Why then did they throw out everything they know when they created Ventra? Such glaring incompetence can’t be explained any other way. The Chicago Card, which Cubic created, worked almost perfectly. Why is Ventra such a clusterfail?

  • I didn’t know this – thanks for the information. Here’re the details:
    http://www.clippercard.com/ClipperWeb/vta/fares.do (look under Day Passes)

  • Totally, and since daily capping is basically the same as a day pass, this doesn’t help. Now let’s say they made a group pass…that would be interesting.

  • Pete

    Oh wow, they sure do! Naturally Chicago would pick the vendor that has a history of failure in many other places.

  • mloar

    Also Melbourne, Australia has the same with its myki card: http://ptv.vic.gov.au/tickets/myki/myki-money/

  • Yes, but this is Chicago — NOT London!

    I’ve never been to London, but it seems from afar that their Transit Systems are set-up to provide efficient Transit Services to their riding Public.

    In Chicago E V E R Y B O D Y ‘ S Elected Goal is to #@$% the Public out of anything that falls out of their pockets while you’re shaking them upside-down…..

    And to take that fine Pirate’s Booty, and lay it at the Altar of your very bestest Campaign Contributors!


You Might Already Be Ready to Use Ventra

Ventra, you may have heard, is the new fare payment system for Chicago Transit Authority and Pace. (Metra will not be joining the Ventra system, and is currently testing other fare payment methods.) CTA is switching to Ventra to save $5 million per year on maintaining outdated fare collection technology, according to spokesperson Lambrini Lukidis. […]