Before some Chicago Marathon runners make it to the start line, they'll have to navigate the CTA line.
Long lines for fare cards greeted travelers to O'Hare Friday morning as the CTA continued its transition to Ventra, its new fare payment system. Two days before the Chicago Marathon, which attracted 45,000 runners and an estimated 1.7 million spectators last year, is typically one of the O'Hare Blue Line station's busiest days of the year.
At one point Friday morning, RedEye counted 106 people in line for seven fare card machines at O'Hare International Airport. There was a separate table if riders wanted unlimited passes and had cash.
"We have extra staff out there today and through Sunday," CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said. "We're handling everybody as quickly as possible."
Chase said the CTA is also selling one- and three-day unlimited passes at the marathon expo at McCormick Place.
The CTA anticipated a busy day, Chase said. The O'Hare station saw 10,557 riders on an average weekday in July, the latest ridership data available.
Oct. 5, 2012, two days before last year's Chicago Marathon, saw the most O'Hare Blue Line entries, 16,175 riders, in 12 years, according to CTA data posted in the city data portal. Two days before the 2011 Chicago Marathon posted the third-highest number of single-day entries: 14,957.
But this year, the CTA has made changes to its fare card system and fares from O'Hare, potentially leading to confusion.
On Monday, the CTA eliminated the ability for Chicago Card riders to add money to their cards and rail stations to sell disposable cards, a popular fare media for tourists. On Wednesday, the CTA brought these options back amid backlash about poor customer service in its transition to Ventra.
Meanwhile, in January the CTA upped the charge to $5 from $2.25 for riders with disposable cards who didn't have an unlimited pass. In July, this charge was expanded to Chicago Card users. O'Hare was the only station to see an increased charge.
Ambyr Hinton, a four-time marathoner from Pittsburgh, said it was her first time in Chicago. She said she didn't mind her wait of more than 15 minutes to get a fare card.
"With 45,000 runners, you're going to wait in line for a lot of stuff," said Hinton, 31.