Chicago’s route to a cardless transit payment system, $500m!


In 2013, it launched the Ventra card, a digital account-based contactless card for subways and buses. Customers could tap a Ventra card to pay for purchases and use it as a debit card.

In November 2015, the city launched the Ventra app, which allowed riders to buy passes or add credit for bus or subway rides, and purchase mobile tickets for commuter rail. Single-fare trips can currently be paid for through mobile wallets such as Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay, and customers may also use contactless credit and debit cards of their own.

While the Ventra card value can be added from within the app, the physical card is still currently needed to access transit. The city is now working on a virtual Ventra card that would operate within an NFC-capable smartphone — a shift that would allow transit riders to tap their phones before getting on trains and buses.

The commuter of the future will hold out a smartphone to get on a train or bus without worrying about losing a transit card or lining up to reload.

You can get the big systems integrators interested in Chicago, but they may not be interested in a smaller city — it wouldn’t be commercially viable for them.

Key Stats of Ventra

as of June 2018

  • Over 1 billion transactions processed on Ventra
  • Over 5 million active Ventra accounts
  • 6.7 million Ventra cards issued  
  • App sales at 22% of all Ventra sales, including Metra
  • $76 million; 3.2 million transactions in Ventra mobile app sales


The Chicago Transit Authority faced a dilemma with its 20-year-old fare payment system. Not only did obsolescence issues make it difficult and costly to maintain. The city is planning to move toward an account-based open payment system in addition to a mobile-based system.

Why the authority wants to invest a large amount of money and to giveaway the profitable and growing fare collection business to Visa, Master Card, Apple Pay,…?

Why not spend the money to develop its own account-based payment, mobile-based payment or to develop the most profitable local vertical market like retail, event ticketing for Chicago city?

The latest mobile technology for automatic fare collection can be the answer for Chicago, to learn more please visit

Author: Keith Lau

The writer has over 19 years of experience in the related industry. To learn more about the financial model of an automatic fare collection system

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