In the early part of the century, the 5 cent fare was standard on transit throughout the country. Chicago was no exception, with both the streetcars and the elevated trains. With few exceptions, Chicago has always had flat fare systems. In 1919, the Surface Lines fare went up to 7 cents, and that fare basically remained until 1942. The Rapid Transit fare went up to 6 cents in 1918 and to 7 cents in 1919, and to 10 cents in 1920, where it remained until 1946. The elevated companies' justification was that since 1913, when they were ordered to allow free transferring in the Loop, the distance of the average trip on one fare had increased.


Transit in Chicago traditionally has used a "flat fare" system throughout its history. On the rapid transit, once one uses a card to pass through a turnstile to enter the system, one is considered paid. And at certain transfer locations, passageways exist to enable one to remain in the paid fare area. And when one exits the system through a turnstile, no ticket or proof of payment is required to exit.

Throughout its history, there have been a few periods when higher "zone" fares have been used for certain rapid transit trains and buses, particularly express routes and certain routes serving suburbs. There have also been a few periods, when lower "shuttle" fares have existed to and from downtown Chicago commuter railroad stations.

After many years without any higher zone fares, that finally changed in early 2013 with the adoption of a new $5 fare for passengers boarding at O'Hare Airport.

CTA buses carried conventional fare boxes for many years. But after the 1981 fare increase to 90 cents, with transfers 10 cents additional, many riders were paying with dollar bills. In 1985, the CTA installed new electronic fare boxes on its buses, which handled and counted both coins and paper money. And over the years, the fare boxes were enhanced as the fare collection technology evolved.


In 1950, the CTA started selling tokens for use on the surface system, and tokens eventually became accepted on both buses and rapid transit trains. The original tokens said "CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY" on one side, and "SURFACE SYSTEM TOKEN" on the other side. Later tokens said "CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY" on both sides. Regular fare tokens were silver and slightly smaller than a dime, while reduced fare tokens were made of bronze and approximately the size of a nickel.

Tokens were discontinued in 1959, and revived in 1969, when the CTA adopted the exact fare system on buses.

In 1997, the new Transit Cards began replacing the tokens, and tokens were completely eliminated in 1999.


CTA rapid transit stations traditionally had agents to collect fares tokens or transfers, and allow passengers through the turnstiles. Many stations also had "automatic" turnstiles which took exact change or tokens, and some of them issued transfers.

Many rapid transit stations for many years were left unattended during slack periods, with fare collection by conductors on the trains. But with one person operation now implemented on the CTA, stations must now be staffed at all times a line is in service.

In 1997, the CTA automated its fare collection at rapid transit stations. The agents' job title was changed to "Customer Assistant", no longer handling money and no longer necessarily confined to the agents booths. All turnstiles were automated, requiring a prepaid card for entry to a station. The Transit Card was the CTA's first stored value card, subsequently replaced with the Chicago Card and the Ventra card. Passengers without a stored value card or an unlimited pass could buy at least a minimal stored value card from vending machines at the stations.


When the CTA took over in 1947, the fares were set at 10 cents for the Surface System and 12 cents for the Rapid Transit. The late 1940's was of course the beginning of the post World War II increase of automobile ownership, expressway construction, and declining support for public transportation. By 1952, the CTA fare was up to 20 cents for the entire system. In 1957 the fare went up to 25 cents, and in 1961 a 5 cent charge was adopted for a transfer. Between 1967 and 1970, three fare increases raised the fare to 45 cents, and 10 cents for a transfer.

The creation of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) in the 1970's helped keep fares relatively stable through that decade. Public transit would now be subsidized. But in the early 1980's, the state subsidy to the RTA was dropped, resulting in a funding crisis at the RTA. Transit fares skyrocketed, including the CTA fare going up to 90 cents in 1981. The state subsidy was restored in 1983, and the 1990's began with the fare at $1.00, with transfers at 25 cents. But state and federal transit subsidies often have not been adequate enough, and at the end of 1995, the fare became $1.50, with 30 cents for a transfer. This lasted until the beginning of 2004, when the fare became $1.75, with 25 cents for a transfer.

With its next fare increase at the beginning of 2006, the CTA took a few unusual and creative steps. The CTA had recognized, that there are certain expenses associated with the collection of cash fares. And the CTA had developed the Transit Card and Chicago Card, stored value cards described elsewhere. So this fare increase would most significantly affect riders paying cash on buses. By then, stored value cards or unlimited passes were the only way to enter rapid transit stations. With the Chicago Card, the fares deducted remained at $1.75, with 25 cents for a transfer within 2 hours. With the Transit Card, the only difference was that the rapid transit fare deduction would be $2.00. The cash fare on buses would increase to $2.00, with transfers no longer available.

The CTA increased fares in 2009 to $2.25 on trains and $2.00 on buses. The transfer charge remained at 25 cents, deducted from stored value cards. In 2013 and 2014, the Chicago Card was replaced with the new "Ventra" card. Fares were next increased in 2018, to $2.50 on trains and $2.25 on buses using the Ventra card. The cash fare on buses would increase to $2.50, with transfers not available. And in 2021, the 25 cent transfer charge was eliminated with the Ventra card.


Transfers traditionally would allow passengers to make a trip involving more than one vehicle while paying only one fare.


Introduced in 1997, the stored value "Transit Card" with a magnetic stripe completely automated the fare collection process, and completely replaced tokens. In 2004, the CTA began actively promoting the "Chicago Card", a durable plastic card containing an imbedded chip. And in 2013 and 2014, the Chicago Card was replaced with the new "Ventra" card.


Various passes and fare cards are available at "Currency Exchanges", and generally at Jewel supermarkets, and Walgreens and CVS stores. In Chicago, a Currency Exchange is a place which handles check cashing and utility bill payments for people without bank accounts, sells money orders, and also handles wiring of money for Western Union, and provides various other services. Various passes are also available for sale through the CTA Web site.