CTA enlarges prepayment pilot program

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Mario Sierra (far right) helps passengers on and off the bus at the 69th Street Red Line station on Wednesday, July 5. | Rachel Hinton/ Sun-Times

It’s a familiar sight in Chicago — people crowded at bus stops during rush hour, boarding in long lines, a passenger still scrounging in a bag for a Ventra card, holding up the bus from going on its way.

Though there’s likely no way past the crowds during the morning and evening rush, CTA’s two new prepayment options — at the 69th Street Red Line station and Inner Drive/Belmont — aim to at least make things more efficient.

The CTA added the two additional stops on June 26 to try to curb delays. The new pilot program options join the service offered at the Belmont Blue Line stop, which started the program last year.

Allen Pace, 55, uses the CTA’s new prepayment option at the 69th Street Red Line, on Wednesday, July 5. The ability to prepay was added on June 26. | Rachel Hinton/Sun-Times

Allen Pace, 55, uses the CTA’s new prepayment option at the 69th Street Red Line, on Wednesday, July 5. The ability to prepay was added on June 26. | Rachel Hinton/Sun-Times

Prepayment is only available for select periods during peak hours, when boarding times can be high. At Inner Drive, the option is available from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and is only for southbound #135 and #146 buses. For the 69th Street Red Line Station, those who take the #29 or #69 buses can prepay from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Belmont offers the service from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m for #77 buses.

Tammy Chase, director of communications and media relations for the CTA, said the goal of the pilot is to get the buses, and the people who take them, moving more efficiently because the stops see a high volume of customers. The 69th Street stop gets about 410 average boarders a day.

“We want to board customers faster and get everyone to their destination more quickly,” Chase said. “We know some things, like traffic, are beyond our control, but there are some things that we can control, and we’re always trying to improve our service and increase bus speeds.”

The new pilot stations have staff members standing at bus stops to help bus riders get used to the system and pay during the set time frames. Bus riders pay at a Ventra card reader, similar to the ones seen at L stations and on buses, but these are affixed to a tiny white cart that is rolled out and rolled away when needed.

“People are still adjusting to the change but there’s definitely been an improvement,” said Mario Sierra, who helped passengers at the 69th Street stop. “We’re trying to help them get used to it, but we’re making it work.”

Over a week into the pilot, Sharon Blair, who usually takes the #69 bus from 69th Street, said that she can already see the difference in boarding times.

“I think it’s been working well,” Blair said. Before the system, “when there were a lot of people here, it could take a long time to get on the bus and pay, now you just get on, you get to your seat.”

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