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Quinn signs universal transit bill, connecting PACE, Metra and CTA systems

Chicago-area commuters soon will be able to transfer seamlessly between CTA, Metra, and PACE through a universal fare card. 

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill into law Thursday that will connect the transit systems through a universal card by 2015.

The move had long been advocated by regional transporation planners, but logistical, political and operational challenges have prevented such coordination until now.

It is unclear exactly how the systems will be combined under the bill, which was sponsored by Alderman Will Burns and Senator Kwame Raoul; the Metra charges based on distance traveled, but the CTA has a flat fee and charges for transfers.

Chicago Transit Authority president Forrest Claypool says that the project will be funded by a public-private partnership with vendors yet to be named.

Claypool says that once the technology is in place, “you could even use your VISA card to tap at any location in any part of the transit system and conveniently access our system and have the fares calculated accordingly,” a step beyond the current Chicago Plus Card used on the CTA.

The Governor emphasized the importance of the bill as part of his job creation initiative, as well as an alternative to those feeling the crunch from high gas prices. “I really see a partnership of city and suburb,” Quinn said. “I really see us as a one regional entity that’s going to work together for jobs especially, economic development and jobs.”

Southside resident and member of Southsiders Organizing for Unity and Liberation (SOUL) Lamar Scrugg agrees.

“There aren’t enough jobs on the southside, so I work on the northside, at DePaul University,” Scruggs said. “Everyday it takes me more than an hour to catch a bus on 55th to the red line, and then a train to the northside. I live right by the Metra electric train, which would get me into work much faster, but I have to take the bus, because if I took the Metra and then transferred to the CTA train, I’d have to pay two fares.”

Claypool says the CTA hopes the card will encourage more people to use transit, which will make up fora  loss in revenues from people no longer paying full fare for each leg of their trip.

The bill also requires research be done into the potential for wireless internet and defibrillators on all fixed route transit.

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