By Jon Hilkevitch, Chicago Tribune

Smartphones would work like “virtual Ventra cards” under a $2.5 million plan presented Wednesday to quickly knit together a regionwide mobile transit fare-payment system.

The proposed Ventra smartphone app is far from the simple, universal fare plan envisioned for Chicago and the suburbs by transportation experts 15 years ago. But officials at the CTA, Metra and Pace said it’s a first step.

Perhaps most significant, the three-agency agreement brings Metra into the Ventra fold, a little more than a year after the CTA and Pace introduced the Ventra fare card to riders as a replacement for transit smart cards and plastic and paper transit cards with old magnetic-stripe technology.

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