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RTA Fare Programs-Your Guide to Travel Independence

By Felisha Barbee, Manager, Mobility Education

RTA History

The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) was established in 1974 to provide financial oversight for the three transit agencies (The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra, and Pace) in northeastern Illinois, as well as secure funding and conduct planning for CTA, Metra, and Pace. In addition, the RTA oversees the ADA Paratransit Eligibility process, Ride Free, Reduced Fare, and the newly developed Access reduced fare pilot.

Throughout the years, the RTA has been working with transit agencies and government officials throughout the RTA six-county region (Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will County) and Springfield on ways to make transit more affordable. As we are all aware, the COVID-19 pandemic created many deficits and financial drain on the economy nationwide. Many people lost their jobs and homes, experienced food insecurity, and much more. Furthermore, it caused a drain on transit systems nationwide. Early on during COVID-19, ridership was low or non-existent in some areas. Transit agencies had to scale back their fleets/operations by suspending some routes temporarily or permanently.

As the economy recovers, the RTA has been working with Metra, Pace, CTA, and other organizations to give more people access to transit and make it more convenient and affordable. For example, at the end of 2023 and the beginning of 2024, the RTA provided 25,000 transit passes loaded with $20 each to The Network (, an organization that advocates against domestic violence. The Network has distributed the cards to over 50 service providers throughout the six-county region so they could give them to survivors who need access to transportation.

RTA Fare Programs

Next, the RTA partnered with Metra and Cook County to pilot the Access program. The Access program launched on January 16, 2024, and runs through July 31, 2025. Access extends reduced fares to Metra riders who experience low income. Individuals within the RTA six-county region (Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will County) who live in a household enrolled in the Illinois Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can apply for a Metra Reduced Fare Access permit. To apply for the Access permit, applicants must be between the ages of 12 and 64 and have a valid government-issued ID (State of Illinois ID, Driver's license, or Chicago CityKey card) with the same address that is on the SNAP decision letter. If an applicant is 65 or older, they will receive a Senior Reduced Fare permit that provides access to Pace, Metra, and CTA buses and trains. 

Lastly, in early 2024, the RTA simplified the RTA Ride Free program application process. The Ride Free program is income-based and provides eligible riders free access to Metra, Pace, and CTA buses and trains. Illinois residents who enrolled in the Illinois Department on Aging Benefits Program (BAP) can receive an RTA Ride Free permit. Before 2024, the Ride Free card was valid for two (2) years, and customers had to renew their BAP benefits before they received a new permit. Now, the Ride Free permit is valid for five (5) years, and customers who need to renew their permits no longer need to reapply for BAP. New customers and customers whose last permit was a Reduced Fare permit must be approved for BAP and complete the RTA ride-free application to receive a ride-free permit.


Overall, the RTA continues to work with transit agencies, government officials, and other stakeholders to provide more accessible, affordable, and convenient public transit.


To learn more about RTA projects and services, visit


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