Get Your Ticket to Ride
In an unprecedented move, Groupon has linked up with the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) to offer a deal on a three-day public transit pass. You can get three days of unlimited bus and train rides for $9 instead of $14. That’s a huge bargain, and the CTA expects this Groupon offer to be enormously profitable. This made me wonder when public transit deals to increase ridership and build revenue first appeared.
Fullerton Avenue “L” station ticket booth
Lincoln Park, February 2, 1904
In August 1922, ninety years ago, though the CTA did not yet exist (that happened in 1945), a ride on the “L” cost 10 cents. Riders were encouraged to “bundle” their fares and save some money by buying three rides for 25 cents.
You could also get the first version of the weekly pass starting in 1922, which cost $1.25 for unlimited rides within the city. It cost more if you were commuting into Chicago from the suburbs: an unlimited pass for commuters from Evanston or Wilmette was $2—still a great rate. In a city as big as Chicago, the weekly pass was a groundbreaking experiment that clearly proved successful.
However, it should be noted that, while the prices mentioned above sound like the deal of the century, until 1918 the fare for a ride on the “L” was a nickel. Just 5 cents got you anywhere you wanted to go. And when the increases came, Chicagoans were outraged. They saw the fare for rapid transit double between 1918 and 1920, when it had stayed at a nickel for twenty-five years. That’s a big change to get used to. Can you remember when the fare to take the “L” was just half of what it is today?