Throughout its history, there have been a few periods when higher "zone" fares have been used for certain rapid transit trains and buses, particularly express routes and certain routes serving suburbs. There have also been a few periods, when lower "shuttle" fares have existed to and from downtown Chicago commuter railroad stations.
After many years without any higher zone fares, that finally changed in early 2013 with the adoption of a new $5 fare for passengers boarding at O'Hare Airport.
CTA buses carried conventional fare boxes for many years. But after the 1981 fare increase to 90 cents, with transfers 10 cents additional, many riders were paying with dollar bills. In 1985, the CTA installed new electronic fare boxes on its buses, which handled and counted both coins and paper money. And over the years, the fare boxes were enhanced as the fare collection technology evolved.
In 1950, the CTA started selling tokens for use on the surface system, and tokens eventually became accepted on both buses and rapid transit trains. The original tokens said "CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY" on one side, and "SURFACE SYSTEM TOKEN" on the other side. Later tokens said "CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY" on both sides. Regular fare tokens were silver and slightly smaller than a dime, while reduced fare tokens were made of bronze and approximately the size of a nickel.
Tokens were discontinued in 1959, and revived in 1969, when the CTA adopted the exact fare system on buses.
In 1997, the new Transit Cards began replacing the tokens, and tokens were completely eliminated in 1999.
Many rapid transit stations for many years were left unattended during slack periods, with fare collection by conductors on the trains. But with one person operation now implemented on the CTA, stations must now be staffed at all times a line is in service.
In 1997, the CTA automated its fare collection at rapid transit stations. The agents' job title was changed to "Customer Assistant", no longer handling money and no longer necessarily confined to the agents booths. All turnstiles were automated, requiring a prepaid card for entry to a station. The Transit Card was the CTA's first stored value card, subsequently replaced with the Chicago Card and the Ventra card. Passengers without a stored value card or an unlimited pass could buy at least a minimal stored value card from vending machines at the stations.
The creation of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) in the 1970's helped keep fares relatively stable through that decade. Public transit would now be subsidized. But in the early 1980's, the state subsidy to the RTA was dropped, resulting in a funding crisis at the RTA. Transit fares skyrocketed, including the CTA fare going up to 90 cents in 1981. The state subsidy was restored in 1983, and the 1990's began with the fare at $1.00, with transfers at 25 cents. But state and federal transit subsidies often have not been adequate enough, and at the end of 1995, the fare became $1.50, with 30 cents for a transfer. This lasted until the beginning of 2004, when the fare became $1.75, with 25 cents for a transfer.
With its next fare increase at the beginning of 2006, the CTA took a few unusual and creative steps. The CTA had recognized, that there are certain expenses associated with the collection of cash fares. And the CTA had developed the Transit Card and Chicago Card, stored value cards described elsewhere. So this fare increase would most significantly affect riders paying cash on buses. By then, stored value cards or unlimited passes were the only way to enter rapid transit stations. With the Chicago Card, the fares deducted remained at $1.75, with 25 cents for a transfer within 2 hours. With the Transit Card, the only difference was that the rapid transit fare deduction would be $2.00. The cash fare on buses would increase to $2.00, with transfers no longer available.
The CTA increased fares in 2009 to $2.25 on trains and $2.00 on buses. The transfer charge remained at 25 cents, deducted from stored value cards. Fares were next increased in 2018, to $2.50 on trains and $2.25 on buses. And in 2021, the 25 cent transfer charge was eliminated.