As the number of riders on Chicago-area public transit remains below pre-pandemic levels and transit agencies look to adjust to changing ridership habits, a planned new pass will allow some Metra customers unlimited rides on the CTA and Pace.
The new Regional Connect Pass would be available to Metra monthly pass holders for $30. It would replace Link-Up and PlusBus passes, and eliminate restrictions under those systems on the time and day riders could transfer to CTA.
Link-Up, which costs $55, allows Metra monthly pass holders to connect to Pace anytime and to CTA during weekday rush hour. The $30 PlusBus pass allows Metra monthly pass holders unlimited rides on Pace.
The introduction of the new pass follows a decision by Metra to test a cheaper monthly pass, which offers unlimited rides for $100, beginning in July.
“I’m pleased that we were able to reach this agreement to create this additional flexibility between our systems,” CTA President Dorval Carter said. “I think it’s critical towards the future growth of ridership on CTA, as well as on Metra and Pace.”
The new pass would come as ridership remains down across the three transit agencies. CTA ridership is slightly more than 50% of pre-pandemic levels, with an average weekday ridership of about 800,000, compared with 1.5 million before the pandemic, spokesman Brian Steele said.
It would also come as those traversing the region by car have faced high gas prices for months. The average price for regular gas in the Chicago area was nearly $5.90 Wednesday, more than $2.40 higher than a year ago, according to AAA.
A unified fare card for the region’s three transit agencies has long been a topic of conversation among riders. The Ventra app allows riders to purchase fares for CTA, Metra and Pace in one place, but, while CTA and Pace use the same Ventra card, Metra requires a separate ticket. Each agency also offers passes that allow unlimited rides over a period of time, including some joint passes, such as the planned Regional Connect.
The pass would be the latest in a series of changes as the transit agencies have sought to draw back riders. In 2021, CTA cut the prices of its daily, three-day, seven-day and monthly passes, and eliminated a $0.25 transfer fee. The service now allows two free transfers within a two-hour window.
Metra has been steadily tweaking pass offerings and schedules as ridership ticked up and the agency anticipated the return of more weekday office workers, who often have different work and commute patterns than pre-pandemic.
The Chicago Transit Board approved the Regional Connect pass Wednesday, and it is scheduled for a vote by the Pace board June 15. Once approved, it is expected to be available for purchase beginning June 20, for use beginning July 1.