By approving a $70 million contract to buy and service new ticket vending machines at every station, the Metra Board of Directors on Friday did more than just make buying Metra tickets easier and more convenient – they also laid the foundation for a possible revolution in the way the agency sells and collects fares.
“These machines will allow Metra to meet a longstanding goal of eliminating cash sales of tickets onboard trains, and all the accounting hassles and safety issues that go with onboard cash sales,” said Metra Executive Director/CEO Jim Derwinski. “But they also will do much, much more, such as make tickets easier and more convenient to purchase, reduce person-to-person contact, speed up fare validation, reduce missed sales, reduce fare evasion, reduce printing costs, and allow for more flexible and promotional ticketing.”
“And, although other changes also would be needed, these vending machines can facilitate a best practices ‘proof of payment” fare system – in which a ticket is required to board a train, with fines for those found without a valid ticket – and fare integration with CTA and Pace.”
The Metra Board approved a two-phase contract with VenTek International, of Petaluma, Calif., for a total of 650 machines. The total cost, including acquisition and five years of support and maintenance, is not to exceed $70 million.
The first phase will consist of 225 machines to replace the 45 existing ticket vending machines (at downtown stations and the busiest Metra Electric Line stations) and existing point-of-sale credit card readers at 58 manned stations, and 75 machines to pilot a proof-of-payment system. The second phase will add 350 more machines so that all 242 Metra stations would have at least one vending machine.
The weather-hardened, fully ADA-accessible vending machines will accept cash or credit and could eventually accept Ventra cards. They will sell any Metra ticket, printing them at the time of purchase to save on costs, and will be available 24 hours a day. Currently, most stations do not have agents, and most of the staffed stations have agents only in the morning hours.
Metra expects the first-phase machines to be installed starting in the middle of 2022 and finishing about a year later. Phase Two deployment will depend on when the option is exercised.
In October, 14.3 percent of all ticket sales were through a conductor, 14.3 percent were through a ticket agent, 2 percent were through a vending machine, less than 1 percent were through a transit benefits program and the remainder – 68.6 percent – were through the Ventra app. The app, a popular ticket sales channel for Metra customers since its introduction in 2015, will remain a sales option.