In conjunction with Illinois Central's installation of the Automatic Revenue Collection System, ticket agents were eliminated during the 1970's at all but the two downtown stations, and ticket vending machines were installed at stations. Also installed during the 1970's was the Passenger Assistance Link (PAL) system, consisting of TV cameras and courtesy phones linked to a control center, improving security and communication. One example of use is that in the event of a ticket malfunction in a turnstile, a passenger could use the phone to contact a PAL operator, who if necessary could unlock the turnstile by remote control, allowing the passenger to pass through without a ticket.
Certain lightly used stations never received any turnstiles or vending machines, and fares continued to be paid to the conductor on the train. And the conductor would normally issue a special magnetic "exit ticket". But sometimes because of confusion, the passenger might be left without a ticket to exit the destination station, and would need to resolve things there by contacting the PAL operator. Also, at stations served by South Shore Line trains, passengers would need the PAL operator to unlock the turnstiles, because the South Shore Line did not issue magnetic tickets.
This fare collection system was originally designed to eliminate the need for conductors to check tickets on trains at most stations. Starting in 1971, Illinois Central charged a single fare to all passengers 8 years old and above. But the RTA fare unification of 1976 resulted in the restoration of children's fares, and it also became fashionable to charge reduced fares for senior citizens and people with disabilities. These are a few of the reasons why conductors resumed checking tickets on trains in 1981.
Also, Metra began allowing tickets to be accepted up to a designated zone on all Metra lines. Including the acceptance of conventional tickets from other Metra lines on the Metra Electric line, requiring checking by the conductor. Passengers with such tickets would need to use the PAL phones at stations to get past the turnstiles. Or at downtown stations, the tickets would need to be shown to an attendant to bypass the turnstiles.
The Automatic Revenue Collection System was revolutionary, one of the first such systems in the world, and an inspiration for the development of similar ticket systems elsewhere throughout the world. The system was well suited for its original intention, for just one commuter railroad in the Chicago area. But Metra unification made the system incompatible with the rest of the Metra network. And also, Metra Electric riders felt discriminated against and not trusted enough, for being required to produce their tickets at two stations and to the train conductor, a total of three times per trip. So Metra finally decided to eliminate the system in 2003.
Typical Metra Electric ticket vending machines, at Randolph Street Station.