Wednesday , September 19, 2018

Chicago Commuter-Rail Agency Will End Online Ticket Sales in Part To Avoid PCI Costs

Metra, the commuter-rail agency in the Chicago area, will cease selling tickets on its Web site in late June, partly to avoid payment card security expenses. Riders, however, will still have a mobile-ticketing option through the Chicago Transit Authority’s Ventra fare system.

Metra, which operates 11 transit lines and carries 300,000 passengers each weekday, began selling monthly passes and 10-ride tickets online in September 2009. Riders could set up recurring purchases or make one-time purchases.

“Ending the program will allow Metra to save about $144,000 in annual Web-site hosting and maintenance costs, as well as interface support costs,” Metra said in a news release this week. “In addition, it will allow Metra to avoid $70,000 in required credit card security upgrades this year (and any required upgrades in future years), as well as at least $240,000 in costs that would be associated with converting the Web-site sales channel to Metra’s new revenue-accounting system.”

In an email to Digital Transactions News, a Metra spokesperson says the security upgrades are “a reference to our estimated cost to upgrade to meet new PCI DSS [Payment Card Industry data-security standard] requirements.” The spokesperson did not say exactly what those new requirements are. He added, however, that Metra’s agent locations for face-to-face ticket sales meet PCI requirements.

Metra said online sales of 10-rides peaked in 2011, when an average of 4,875 tickets were sold per month. Online sales of monthly passes peaked in 2014, when an average of 5,162 were sold per month.

“Those numbers have been declining since then, especially after the introduction of the Ventra app for mobile tickets in late 2015,” Metra said. Last year, Metra sold on its Web site an average of 2,654 monthlies per month, about 3% of the overall total, and an average of 1,201 10-rides representing less than 1% of the total, the agency said.

Ventra is the electronic fare system for Chicago-area public transit that is provided by San Diego-based Cubic Transportation Systems with payment processor First Data Corp. as a subcontractor. The service offers a mobile app and a variety of contactless fare cards. Ventra is mainly used on the CTA, Chicago’s biggest transit agency by ridership, but it can be used on Pace suburban buses as well as for mobile tickets on Metra.

The three transit agencies operate independently, but a public body that oversees their budgets, the Regional Transportation Authority, as well as state legislators have been encouraging them to fully unify their fare systems. That goal has proved elusive because the CTA and Pace charge a single price for rides while Metra uses a distance-based system.

Citing low sales, the CTA in late 2017 said it will discontinue its Mastercard-branded open-loop Ventra fare card.

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