In 1976, the newly formed Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) unified what had been a variety of different fare structures for Chicago area buses. A standard fare of 50 cents, 10 cents for a transfer, was adopted for CTA and nearly all of the suburban bus routes, still privately operated then. And for the first time ever, transfers were accepted between CTA and the suburban buses. CTA transfers would be honored on suburban buses, while the "RTA Transfer" issued on suburban buses could be exchanged on CTA for a CTA transfer. The original RTA Transfer was valid for at least two hours of unlimited use. And CTA transfers, valid for one hour within the CTA, would be valid for a longer period in the suburbs.

Prior to that time, there were many suburban bus routes which operated directly into downtown Chicago. Those routes generally have since been changed to instead feed into CTA rapid transit terminals, where a one fare ride would now be available. And all of those older suburban routes no longer serve downtown Chicago. Only a few newer routes operate into downtown Chicago, primarily from the southwest suburbs. Higher fares apply on these buses. In addition, those higher fares apply on special Pace express bus routes primarily to and from sporting events.

This unified CTA and RTA suburban fare structure applied through 1986, although fares increased during that time period. The RTA funding crisis of the early 1980's resulted in increases of the basic fare to 90 cents, 10 cents for a transfer, by 1981. That fare structure applied until 1986.


The 1984 reorganization of the RTA resulted in the establishment of Pace and Metra, along with CTA, as the three agencies actually responsible for transit in the Chicago area. Each agency now has its own board responsible for establishing policy, approval of budgets, and setting fares. Pace and CTA are thus free to set their own fares independently, based on their financial situations. Transit subsidies are distributed to the three agencies according to a formula based in part on tax revenues. The result is that in most years, Pace has been financially healthier than CTA, and has been able to keep its fares lower. Pace and CTA fares first became different in 1986, when Pace raised its basic fare to $1.00, with a 10 cent transfer. And CTA raised its transfer cost to 25 cents, in addition to the 90 cent base fare.

Over the next 15 years, Pace and CTA fares gradually went up, with Pace fares generally remaining lower. By 2001 the basic Pace fare was $1.25, with a transfer still costing 10 cents. But in that year, Pace increased its basic fares to match the CTA fares of $1.50, with 30 cents for a transfer. Pace fares became lower once again in 2004, when CTA fares were raised to $1.75, with 25 cents for a transfer. And to simplify things for passengers transferring between Pace and CTA, Pace lowered its transfer cost to 25 cents, while retaining a $1.50 base fare. In 2009, Pace raised the base fare to $1.75, with a transfer still 25 cents. And Pace express bus routes cost $4. In 2016, Pace raised the base cash fare to $2, but riders using the Ventra card would still be charged only $1.75. And in 2018, the base cash fare was increased to $2.25, with the Ventra card deduction going up to $2, and the Ventra transfer deduction going up to 30 cents. And the Pace express bus fare was increased to $4.50. In 2023, the 30 cent transfer cost was eliminated.

Until 2009, Pace had a fare for "local" routes which was lower than the regular fare. These local routes consisted of those in the "satellite" cities of Aurora, Elgin, Joliet, and Waukegan, as well as most commuter rail "feeder" bus routes.


Transfers had always existed between Pace and CTA, ever since Pace had existed. Although Pace and CTA have exercised independence in setting their fare structures, their transfer regulations have remained virtually identical. Fares first became different in 1986, but at the same time, both agencies made identical changes in their transfer regulations. Transfers would be valid for a second and third segment two hours, and not valid on route of issue. In 1997, both agencies dropped the rule against using on route of issue.

Unlike with the original RTA Transfer, the new Pace transfers would not be exchanged for CTA transfers on CTA, but punched and returned if a ride remained.

Below are Pace paper transfers issued during the 1990's. In 1995, Pace and CTA adopted new transfers with a magnetic stripe, which were not compatible with the older fare boxes still in use by the contract operators. The transfer form to the right would continue to be issued by the contract operators.

For Pace "local" routes, a free transfer would be available for one additional ride on another route within a local system. The rule against using on the same route would still apply for local transfers. Until 2009, the basic fare on these local routes was lower than than on regular routes. Although Pace eliminated the lower local fares in 2009, the free local transfers were retained.

In 2006, CTA abolished the issuing of transfers with cash fares, and stopped accepting Pace transfers. Riders would be encouraged to use CTA's stored value cards, as the most economical ways to transfer between systems. Transfer rules would remain the same, using these cards. In 2014, after both CTA and Pace adopted the Ventra stored value card, Pace abolished transfers.


A 30 day pass for $60 is accepted only on Pace, while the higher priced CTA 30 day pass is valid on both CTA and Pace. As with CTA, Pace has replaced its calendar monthly passes with 30 day passes, electronically validated upon first use and expiring 30 days from the time of first use. Originally, the CTA Visitor Passes, the 1 day pass, and the "U-Pass" for college students were not accepted on Pace. The 7 day pass was accepted by both CTA and Pace until 2001, when Pace stopped accepting the pass as a budget balancing move more desirable than a larger increase of the single cash fares. But in 2004, after approval by the RTA, CTA and Pace boards, an RTA funding mechanism was adopted whereby Pace would begin accepting all CTA passes. But in 2009, Pace again found a need to balance its budget by no longer accepting these other CTA passes, except the 30 day pass. Although a 7 day pass valid on both CTA and Pace was later adopted, costing a little more than the CTA only 7 day pass. In 2023, Pace began accepting all CTA passes, and the surcharged 7 day pass was eliminated as unnecessary.


RTA introduced electronic fare boxes on the suburban buses several years before they were adopted by CTA. Although the buses assigned to contract operators generally received new fare boxes in later years. As CTA fare collection technology evolved, the fare boxes on Pace operated buses were updated accordingly to conform with the evolving technology. In 1995, CTA introduced new "Transfer Cards", with a magnetic stripe. Pace also adopted the same Transfer Cards which originally only said "CTA", but later would say both "CTA" and "Pace".

CTA eliminated the use of Transfer Cards in 2006, encouraging its riders to instead use the available stored value cards. Pace continued to use Transfer Cards, which by then were only labeled for Pace.

The Pace fare boxes also evolved with CTA's stored value card technology. Although the stored value cards initially could not be used on the contract route buses without the newer fare boxes. The first CTA stored value card was the "Transit Card" with a magnetic stripe, introduced in 1997. In 2004, CTA replaced the Transit Card with the "Chicago Card", a durable plastic card with an imbedded chip. In 2013 and 2014, both CTA and Pace adopted the Ventra card, with an imbedded chip but using newer computer technology. In 2014 Pace abolished transfers, encouraging passengers to use Ventra cards to benefit from transfer rates.