Perspective: Enhancing Chicago’s Public Transit with Flexible, Convenient Payments

First Data has partnered with Cubic and MasterCard to provide the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and suburban bus operator Pace with Ventra, North America’s largest Open Standards Fare System (OSFS). The rollout begins this August with existing transit card holders getting their new Ventra card in the mail.

This partnership will make Chicago the first U.S. city to adopt an open payment system for transit and will enable millions of CTA and Pace riders to have more payment options than any other transit riders in the country.

The program provides yet another example of today’s realization of Universal Commerce where increased technology sophistication and access are transforming commerce. Consumers expect a more integrated buying experience that is quick, consistent, secure, and smart—and First Data’s partnership to help create Ventra will meet the demands of today’s connected consumers.

The Ventra Card will be a dual-purpose card, including a Transit Account and an optional Money Network Prepaid Debit Account, once activated, will enable customers to use the same card to pay for train and bus rides as they do to shop online, buy groceries, pay bills and get cash at ATMs.

As a community-endorsed financial solution for local consumers, the Ventra Card flexibly provides users:

  • A Transit Ticket – Riders no longer will need to carry multiple cards and will not have to worry about having cash on hand or exact change. Customers will simply “tap” their contactless payment card to quickly board trains and buses. First Data’s TASQ group is deploying and supporting the contactless terminals.
  • A Payment Card – Acting as a contactless transit and reloadable prepaid card, Ventra enables secure payments for transit and everyday purchases that can be used anywhere a branded debit card is accepted. Customers can manage accounts and balance at Ventra vending machines in CTA stations, online or over the phone, and at numerous retail locations.

First Data is supporting the availability and service support for the new general purpose transit card, making it convenient for riders to integrate the card’s financial benefits with other everyday activities. Our team will lead recruiting efforts to install transit card terminals in more than 2,000 retail locations—many of which will be conveniently located within blocks of CTA rail stations and CTA and Pace bus stops—as part of a community-focused approach supporting local shopping.

The new system is expected to result in a savings of more than $50 million for the CTA over the life of the 12-year contract. Additionally, it resolves the need for CTA and Pace to upgrade and maintain existing fare collection equipment that is nearing the end of its useful life.

Beyond the Ventra Card, the new system allows transit riders to pay for fares using:

  • A Bankcard Customers can pay for transit fares by using their existing bankcard by registering a personal bank-issued contactless credit or debit card, adding transit passes and value or paying as they go for rides.
  • A Mobile Phone – Marked for a later rollout, customers will be able to pay for rides with compatible mobile phones. When boarding the transit system, riders will wave or tap their smartphone at the payment gate. An embedded NFC chip exchanges data between smart tags and the payment terminal, charging the customers’ account.

Mark Putman is senior vice president of prepaid solutions at First Data.

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