The CTA, which is hiking the price of fare passes by as much as 74 percent in 2013, is offering a New Year's Eve toast to riders by giving free rides for six hours starting late tonight.
MillerCoors is the first corporate sponsor of the annual CTA penny rides program, which is in effect from 10 p.m. New Year's Eve through 4 a.m. Jan. 1, to provide a safe holiday transportation alternative.
Although the CTA is required by statute to collect fares from passengers, bus drivers and rail station attendants frequently wave revelers aboard on New Year's Eve without paying the 1-cent fare.
Now that policy will be semiofficial under the $1.3 million sponsorship that MillerCoors is paying to the CTA under the three-year deal, CTA President Forrest Claypool said in announcing the sponsorship agreement in early December.
Claypool said every penny counts at the CTA -- which in 2013 will raise the price of one-day, three-day, seven-day and 30-day passes -- to help balance the agency's operating budget.
But collecting the penny fare on New Year's Eve has been more trouble than it is worth, saying that customers sometimes try to stick a penny into the wrong slot on bus fareboxes, jamming the machines, he said.
An average of 150,000 bus and train rides are taken on New Year's Eve, CTA officials said.