Next week, the payment systems for the CTA, Pace and Metra will all be unified under Ventra's new "universal payment app." The free app will launch on Thursday, November 19 and will allow users to reload their Ventra cards via their smartphones for rides on Pace and CTA. It will also allow Metra riders' phones to act as tickets.
The app is one of the biggest innovations that Ventra has made since it first launched in 2013 (if the rollout of the app is anything like that launch, expect a lot of problems). In 2011, a law passed by the state of Illinois mandated that all three transportation organizations must have a "universal fare card" by the end of 2015. The new app is in compliance with such, but just barely, as it leaves out riders who don't have smartphones.
While mobile ticketing is a godsend to Metra riders who are sick of coughing up an extra $3 to buy tickets from train conductors instead of stations, nothing will change for those riders who can't afford an expensive iPhone or Android—which is pretty much backwards. That fee will rise to $5 with the launch of mobile ticketing, according to Metra.
In a press release, the CTA said it's exploring several updates to the app, including enabling ticketing through near field communication–compatible devices that would allow riders to pay for rides on CTA and Pace trains and buses by tapping their phones to the Ventra reader. But don't expect that advancement to come any time soon. A report from the Chicago Tribune in September said Ventra's readers do not currently have a way to read near field communication phones.
So while the app is a big step in making transit system payments in the Chicago area less painful, the CTA, Pace and Metra still have a long way to go before they have a payment system that actually makes sense.