U-Pass

U-Pass

The Graduate School and CTA provide the CTA University Pass (U-Pass) to graduate students enrolled full-time in The Graduate School. 

The CTA U-Pass program is changing fare cards to a new system (called Ventra, a contactless payment system that will serve as a U-Pass). Benefits of this system include:

  • One-time distribution: no need to get a new card every quarter
  • Can be used 365 days a year
  • Can be used on CTA buses and trains
  • Can be used on Pace busses as a fare card
  • Can be changed to a full-fare card once you are no longer enrolled full-time
  • Personalization with your photo and name                

If you cannot find your answer on our TGS website please e-mail tgs-u-pass@northwestern.edu for details.


What is a U-Pass?

CTA University Pass (U-Pass) is a discounted fare card that replaces cash/other transit cards for all CTA fares and does not require a transfer or surcharge for unlimited rides all day, every day. It is offered as part of the Activity Fee charged to full-time enrolled students.

What funds the U-Pass?

Studetns enrolled full-time pay the Activity Fee, which helps fund the U-Pass.

Am I eligible for a U-Pass?

All full-time students enrolled in The Graduate School (TGS) are eligible for a U-Pass, with the exception of those enrolled in TGS 512 (continuous registration), 513, 514, 510 (Co-op internship), 410, 411, 412, and 412.

I’m not eligible for a U-Pass. Can I buy the U-Pass?

No, students cannot pay the TGS Student Activity Fee if it hasn’t been charged to their account.

Where can I pick up my U-Pass?

Can I use my U-Pass on Pace suburban buses and Metra commuter train lines?

U-Passes may be used as fare cards on Pace buses: students may load money onto their U-Pass and use it to ride Pace. Pace fares are not included as part of the U-Pass program. Metra commuter train lines do not accept U-Passes.

What is the difference between activating and registering the U-Pass?

Registering your U-Pass and activating your U-Pass are not the same thing.  Registering your U-Pass protects purchased passes and transit values.  This is optional.  Activating your U-Pass is not optional and you must activate it by calling 1-877-450-5328 once you receive it. 

If you used the U-Pass before it was activated, your U-Pass will have a negative balance, which will need to be paid in order to use your U-Pass. You can do this online or by using the kiosks available at the CTA train station.  Once the balance is paid in full, then the semester’s unlimited balance will be transferred to your card.  If you have any additional questions about your U-Pass or paying your balance online please check the CTA website or call the CTA at 1-888-YOUR-CTA. 

What if my credit card or debit card is erroneously charged for a fare?

Some students have discovered that their credit or debit card with Blink technology has been charged after tapping their wallet on the Ventra card portal. To avoid this issue, remove your U-Pass from your wallet or separate it from other credit/debit cards when tapping it on the Ventra portal. If your credit or debit card is charged by the CTA, you have several options to address the situation:

  • Contest the charges with your bank.
  • Send an email to mailto:customerservice@ventrachicago.com and attach a statement with all your personal information blacked out.  Request that the funds be returned to your U-Pass’s Ventra account. In order for your funds to be returned, they must show as “pending” and not posted to your credit/debit account.  These funds can be used when you are no longer enrolled full-time at TGS. Include your contact information in the message.
  • Contact the CTA at 1-888-YOUR-CTA

What if my U-Pass is lost or stolen?

If your U-Pass is lost or stolen:

  • Go to Depository Services (Evanston: 619 Clark Street; Chicago: Abbott Hall)
  • Bring $50 for the replacement fee – personal cash, check or cashier’s check only!
  • Bring your WildCARD
  • Fill out an affidavit for your lost or stolen card
  • Depository Services will send the request to CTA and you will be contacted when it has arrived with pick-up location information.

What if my U-Pass is captured in CTA fare equipment?

The U-Pass is a contactless card – tap it to the Ventra reader to pay your fare. (DO NOT insert it into fare equipment – you will lose it and need to pay a replacement fee for your lost card.)

What if my U-Pass is damaged or defective?

If your U-Pass is not working contact tgs-u-pass@northwestern.edu so that a TGS representative can verify that the card is not malfunctioning due to a computer related error.  If this is not the case, your U-Pass may be damaged or defective.  When cards are damaged or defective you will be required to follow the directions below to obtain a replacement U-Pass.    

  • Go to CTA headquarters at 165 Jefferson Street in Chicago
  • They will determine if your U-Pass is damaged or defective
  • If your U-Pass is determined to be damaged bring a $50 replacement fee (personal cash, check or cashier’s check only) to Depository Services (Evanston: 619 Clark Street; Chicago: Abbott Hall)
  • If your U-Pass is determined to be defective the Ventra representative will provide you with a voucher and a 7 day pass.  Bring both to Depository Services (Evanston: 619 Clark Street; Chicago: Abbott Hall)
  • Bring your WildCARD
  • Fill out an affidavit for your damaged or defective card
  • Depository Services will send the request to CTA and you will be contacted when it has arrived with pick-up location information.

If your U-Pass is defective the first replacement card is free, and subsequent replacements are $5.

What if my name changes?

  • Go to Depository Services (Evanston: 619 Clark Street; Chicago: Abbott Hall)
  • Bring your Wild Card and the U-Pass
  • Fill out a form for your name change
  • The first replacement for a name change is free. Subsequent replacements will be $5.00 (personal cash, check or cashier’s check only!)
  • Depository Services will send the request to CTA and you will be contacted when it has arrived with pick-up location information.

I’ve requested a replacement U-Pass – how long will it take to arrive?

About a week.

What are the activation and termination dates of the U-Pass?

Check our U-Pass distribution information for current activation dates. U-Passes are valid for 5 years, as long as you are enrolled full-time and eligible to receive a U-Pass.

When are U-Passes deactivated?

If you have not registered as a full time student, your U-Pass will be deactivated after the Change of Registration deadline.

How often can I use my U-Pass per day?

As often as desired (students can't reuse their card at the same station or on the same bus line for 10-15 minutes).

Can I share my U-Pass with my friends?

No. The U-Pass is not transferable and will be confiscated if the CTA suspects misuse of the U-Pass. CTA maintains the right to inspect the U-Pass used by a student and to ask the student for another form of identification to ensure that the pass is being used by the person to whom it is issued.   Further, CTA maintains the right to deny a student access to the CTA system at the U-Pass reduced fee if the student does not possess both the U-Pass and a current School I.D.

I rarely use the U-Pass. Can I opt out?

No. The activity fee is mandatory for all full-time eligible students. The CTA contract requires that all full-time students participate in the U-Pass program.

How much is the activity fee?

$110 per quarter for full-time eligible students.

What does the activity fee cover?

It funds the U-Pass and goes towards providing an attorney to assist students with legal issues such as landlord, traffic, credit or debt problems and to support the community building grant activities and TGS Night/Day Out.

I drive to school and pay to park. Can I get my activity fee waived?

No, the only students who are eligible for an activity fee waiver are students who are studying abroad or students who will be off-campus and away from the Chicago area this quarter.  Once the fee is waived, students will not be eligible for its attendant services.

How do I pay my activity fee?

Students can access their bills and bill history via CAESAR, > For Students > Financial Services > View My E-Bill & E-Payment. Payments may be made online or by check (U.S. bank accounts only). Students may also go to Student Financial Services at 555 Clark St on the Evanston campus.

Is the activity fee included in my stipend?

No, it must be paid separately.

I am going to be enrolled and studying abroad or off-campus during the quarter. Do I have to pay the activity fee?

No. If students are studying abroad or will be off-campus and away from the Chicago area this quarter, students are eligible for an activity fee waiver.  Once the fee is waived, students will not be eligible for the services it provides, including the U-Pass.

How do I request a waiver of the fee (if I won’t be on campus)?

Send an email to tgs-u-pass@northwestern.edu with information about the requested absence. TGS will contact students should the waiver be approved.

I will not be enrolled this quarter. Will I be charged for the activity fee?

If students are not enrolled, they will not be charged the activity fee and they will not be eligible for the services it provides, including the U-Pass.

How can I voice my views on the U-Pass and the other activity fee-related services?

While we welcome your feedback at any time, we encourage you to participate in the annual Graduate Leadership Council survey (conducted during summer quarter) if you have strong feelings about the U-Pass program or the other Activity Fee-related services.  The GLC provides TGS with data from the survey each year and advises administrators to continue or discontinue these programs based on program usage and survey feedback.