Metra basically continued to use traditional ticketing methods until 2024. One would buy a ticket from an agent at a station before boarding a train, and a conductor would check and punch the ticket on the train. If a station had no agent on duty, a cash fare would be paid to the conductor on the train. If a fare was paid on the train when an agent was on duty, a penalty would be charged.

In 2024, Metra eliminated all ticket agents. By then, ticket agents were generally on duty throughout the day every day at the downtown Chicago stations. But at outlying stations over the years, ticket agents were gradually eliminated at most of those stations. By 1924, only the busiest outlying stations had an agent on duty. And that was only one weekday shift from early morning through early afternoon.

During the 1970's, the Illinois Central Railroad replaced the ticket agents at all outlying stations with vending machines, retaining ticket agents only at the two downtown stations on what now is the Metra Electric line. Metra also installed ticket vending machines at a few stations on other lines.

In 2010, Metra began accepting credit cards at stations. While fare collection by conductors on the trains remained cash only. In 2011, a law passed in Illinois required all Chicago area transit systems to adopt a universal fare system by 2015. CTA and Pace complied with the law in 2013 and 2014, by adopting the stored value Ventra Card with am imbedded chip. In 2015, Metra first made fares available through the Ventra smart phone app. An app had been available earlier for the South Shore Line, operated by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD). But making the Ventra Card work on Metra is more of a challenge because of Metra's zone fare system, unlike the flat fare systems used by CTA and Pace. But it can be done. London England has the "Oyster Card", which works with zone fares on the Underground and commuter rail lines there.

In 2021, Metra approved the purchase of 650 new ticket vending machines, to be installed at every Metra station. One goal is to eliminate cash fares on trains. The handling of cash on trains became an undesirable situation in 2020, as the covid-19 pandemic began affecting the world.


Prior to the RTA's creation, the individual commuter railroads all had separate fare structures. Most fares were station to station, although the Illinois Central adopted a simpler zone fare structure in 1971. The commuter railroads offered one way and monthly unlimited tickets, most offered weekly unlimited tickets, and some offered 10 or 25 ride tickets, or semi-monthly unlimited tickets. Discount round trip tickets were eliminated on all railroads by 1971. The 10 or 25 ride tickets during some periods were not discounted. Children ages 5 through 11 rode for half price on most railroads.

Effective October 1, 1976, one year after the RTA's creation, a uniform zone fare structure was adopted for most of Chicago's commuter railroads. Exceptions at that time were the Chicago & North Western and the Rock Island lines. There were delays in working out the Purchase of Service Contract with the C&NW, so the unified fares on those lines did not take effect until April 1, 1977. The unified fares were not implemented on the Rock Island line until November 1, 1979, after deliveries of new cars were completed. RTA had felt that Rock Island commuters had suffered enough with old equipment and poor track, that the fare increases were delayed until the line was brought up to a respectable condition.

The new uniform fare structure divided each commuter rail line into five mile zones. And for the first time, tickets were interchangeable within a given zone for all commuter lines. There was a total of 13 fare zones. This zone system remained in used until 2024, when Metra simplified its fare structure. Reducing the number of zones from 13 to 4.

The South Shore Line, mostly an Indiana operation, largely continues to have its own fare structure. Although for Hegewisch, the only South Shore station within Illinois, the fares into Chicago are what they would normally be for a Metra station at that distance. Except that unlike the rest of the Metra system, tickets are not interchangeable.

A modest fare increase was adopted effective November 1, 1979. The RTA funding crisis of 1981 resulted in major fare increases. With more secure funding, fares were rolled back effective February 1, 1984. Metra financing was relatively stable for a while, with modest fare increases adopted in 1986, 1989, and 1996.

After the terrorist attacks elsewhere in 2001, the need for heightened security was one reason for the need to increase fares again in 2002. Further fare increases were adopted in 2006, 2008, and 2010.

The 2010's was financially challenging decade, as Metra had fallen behind in the necessary expenditures to provide a modern and reliable commuter rail system. A large fare increase was adopted in 2012, followed by modest fare increases in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018.

Metra always offered one way and monthly unlimited tickets. Weekly unlimited tickets were available until 1996. Ten ride tickets were available until 2024, when they were replaced with the "Day Pass 5-Pack", available only through the Ventra smart phone app. This would consist of 5 virtual one day passes, which could be activated on a smart phone on any 5 of the days within the following 90 days.

In 1991 Metra introduced the Weekend Pass, valid for unlimited use on Metra on a Saturday and Sunday within one weekend. The Weekend Pass was $5 until fare increases began in 2010, in 2016 reaching $10. In 2020 during the covid-19 pandemic, additional unlimited passes were introduced. These included new weekday day passes, $10 for the entire system or $6 for three fare zones. Along with a Saturday or Sunday one day pass at $7. With the pandemic, it became more desirable to have more tickets which the conductor could merely look at, whether physical paper or on a smart phone. Instead of needing to handle and punch the ticket, or handle cash for a purchase. In 2024, the weekday day passes were restructured, available for each specific fare zone and priced at twice the one way fare for that zone.

Reduced fares (half price) would apply for children ages 7 to 11, high school students, senior citizens and people with disabilities with the RTA Reduced Fare Permit, and military personnel. Although in 2008, a new state law was passed in Illinois requiring all public transportation systems to allow senior citizens to ride for free. This is the same criteria for reduced fares on CTA and Pace. In addition, certain low income people with disabilities became entitled to a free fare. Although in 2011, the free fare for senior citizens would be rescinded, except with low incomes. This free fare was with controversy, as it was a condition under which then governor Rod Blagojevich would sign legislation allowing for a tax increase to support public transportation. In 2009, Blagojevich was removed from office amid various scandals, for which he was convicted in 2011 and sent to prison. In addition on weekends, Metra offers "family fares", where children under 12 ride free and people ages 12 to 17 ride at reduced fare.


Chart showing different fares and types of tickets for the five major commuter railroads prior to RTA, and the unified fares at various times throughout the RTA and Metra history.


Includes scanned images of tickets from Chicago's commuter railroads, before and after RTA and Metra unification.


In 1966, the Illinois Central Railroad introduced an innovative and revolutionary system of fare collection, using magnetic tickets and turnstiles. The system continued to be used on the Metra Electric District until 2003.