How CTA fare hike affects different rider profiles

The Trib's Getting Around columnist, Jon Hilkevitch, in Monday's column told us: "Many riders have taken a second look at how they pay their way aboard
buses and trains since a fare hike this year and the elimination of
popular bonuses when value was added to CTA "smart cards" and the end
of discounts given when the cards were used on the rail system."

If only these riders had read CTA Tattler at the beginning of the year, when I laid out how the fare hike would affect different rider profiles. Depending on how you used the CTA, you may have seen increases increases from 13% to 61%.

In that post, I also noted that riders like me who take the train every day would save by buying the monthly pass -- a $4 savings based on 20 round trips at $2.25 per trip.

Hilkevitch's column did give us some info on usage of transit cards vs. the Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus. Generally, riders have increased use of the 30-day pass on both the transit card and the Chicago Card Plus. Meanwhile, pay-per-use ridership dropped 7.5% on both the Chicago Card and Card Plus.

And the latter drop makes sense, since the advantage of using the smart cards disappeared with the 10% loading bonus for every $20 card deposit. At that time I predicted that use of the Chicago Card Plus would stay steady, mainly because of the convenience of not having to load money on the card, and the protection against loss.

Now we await more comments from UCC. Meanwhile, check out the continuation for the January analysis of how the fare hike would affect different rider profiles.   

The CTA fare increase
that went into effect Jan. 1 now means holders of Transit Cards and
Chicago Card/Plus stored-value fare cards pay the same fare as cash
fare payers. Only bus riders paying cash will pay more more -- $2.25
versus $2 for Transit Card and CC/P card users.

CC/P users now
pay more percentage-wise than those who previously used Transit Cards
or cash. So depending on how you paid your fare, you may be paying up
to 41% more than last year. your seatmate.
(Much more if you park at a CTA-owned garage.) So let's review those
various rider scenarios to see how much more you're paying on a
percentage basis. (For our scenarios, we'll assume 20 work days per
month for 40 distinct monthly CTA trips.)

CCP Charlie -- 41% fare increase

Charlie has been a loyal Chicago Card Plus user since the stored value
card was first introduced. He always loved his 10% bonus for reloading
$20 on the card, plus the convenience of knowing if the card was ever
lost or stolen, he could get it replaced for $5 with the value still
saved on his card account.

Charlie rides the Blue Line from Logan
Square into his job in the Loop as an accountant. He sometimes uses the
card on weekends, so he usually puts $80 on his card every month. Last
year, that $80 got him $88, or 50.3 round trips -- $88 divided by the
$1.75 rail fare for CCP users. Effectively, he was paying $1.59 per
trip, so 40 trips to and from work cost him $63.64.

This year,
Charlie loses the 10% reloading bonus, and the rail fare is now $2.25.
So his $80 now buys just 35.6 round trips. And 40 total trips now cost
$90 instead of $63.64. So he's paying 41.4% more than last year. Yikes!

Transit Card Trina -- 13% increase

Card Trina didn't like the Big Brother aspect of the Chicago Card
program, where it could report everywhere you went. So she stuck with
Transit Cards, despite losing the 10% loading bonus in a fare hike in
2006. Like CCP Charlie, she paid just one train fare per day to get to
her non-profit job in Evanston -- the Red Line and then the Purple.

2008, she paid $2 per trip to ride the rails on her Transit Card. So
$80 exactly bought her the 40 trips to cover her 20 work days a month.
This year, she will pay 25 cents more per trip, a $10 increase per
month to $90. So that's 12.5% more for her 20 work days per month.
Trina should consider buying a monthly pass. Then her increase would be
just 7.5%, and she could take unlimited rides on the CTA.

CCP Monthly Pass Kevin -- 15% increase

me. I buy a monthly pass via the Chicago Card Plus. Last year it cost
me $75. This year I will pay $86 - a 15% increase. The CTA originally
wanted a 20% increase to $90, but the CTA board reduced the increase on all passes to about 15%.

in 2008, 20 round trips would cost $70 -- $5 short of paying for the
monthly pass. This year those 20 round trips cost $90, so I save $4
using the monthly pass over paying by the ride.

Cash-only Cary bus rider -- 13% increase

a 20-year-old who can't afford college, lives paycheck-to-paycheck on
her barely-minimum wage retail job on Michigan Avenue. She barely has
enough cash to get the #147 bus to work each day from Rogers Park, so
she doesn't buy a Transit Card nor Chicago Card. Like Transit Card
Trina, 40 trips cost her $80 in 2008. So she'll see a 12.5% increase as
well to $90. But she really should save her pennies to buy a monthly
pass. Then the fare hike would be 7.5%.

CC/P user, CTA parker Pauline -- 64% increase

drives to the Cumberland station on the Blue Line and takes it into the
Loop. She pays for her rail fare with her Chicago Card Plus. We already
know that -- like Charlie -- the fare increase is 41.4% for Pauline.
But Pauline also has to reach deeper into her pocket to park at the CTA
garage. Parking fees went up this year at CTA-owned lots. It now costs $4 to park up to 12 hours at most lots -- double the $2 it cost last year.

let's do the math to get Pauline's total percentage increase. She's now
paying $90 instead of $63.64 per month for 40 round trips on 20 work
days. Plus, she's paying $80 instead of $40 to park on those 20 days.
So that's $170 vs. $103.64 -- a whopping 64% increase in her monthly
commuting costs! Pauline, try car-pooling to the garage.


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  • There's also the convenience factor. I have both a Chicago Card and a Chicago Card Plus. I bought a Chicago Card for those times when my CCP breaks and I have to pay for a couple of days until I can pick up my new one (I'm on CCP # 9 and have volunteered to have them just implant the chip in my arm if they ever want to beta test that idea). I hate the cardboard fare cards--it takes too long to board and I can put money on the Chicago Card via the internet instead of having to go to a station to do it.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    I don't know about that. I've seen plenty of instances where someone has trouble getting their Chicago Card to read. The magnetic strip cards seem to just work every time. What really takes a long time are the people who pay with cash.

  • In reply to eBob:

    What bus do you ride where people don't dump in ten different magnetic strip cards that don't work? Apparently not the 6 and 55. I mean, granted, some of them are probably legitimately expired, but I've seen more than a fair share of non-functional (demagnetized?) vending machine cards/paper passes.

  • In reply to rhoticity:

    "What bus do you ride where people don't dump in ten different magnetic strip cards that don't work? Apparently not the 6 and 55."

    I've NEVER seen this behavior. I take the 136, 146, 147, 92, and 151 most often. Perhaps this is a South Side phenomenon based on the bus routes you mentioned.

    I have however seen people (usually a kid) try to scam a ride by putting in a pass that won't work and then see if the bus driver makes him pay or get off. But that's been rare.

  • In reply to chris:

    I've seen it and I live on the North Side.

  • In reply to chris:

    I worked up a pattern: with the CC or CCP in the middle slot of my wallet, I can swipe my wallet and it'll mostly work. Not reliable, and this is probably more superstition then anything else, but it works.

  • In reply to eBob:

    I switched to the 30-day at the end of December in anticipation of the fare hike/loss of reload bonus. I should'nt be surprised that I've succumbed to the something-for-nothing mentality and now ride with impunity. Maybe I'm training for when I'm 65? I've never failed to register at least $100 worth of rides per 30-day cycle. The last 30 days was the best (worst for CTA) with $155.25 worth of rides taken.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    Sorry MK. My addled brain obviously is confusing my abbreviated commenters. So, what do you have to say? Or have you already said it all?

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    Good post, Kevin, I love this stuff.

    If Mr. Hilkevitch has read your January post he would have seen that Transit Card Trina (13%) had a lower increase than Monthly Pass Kevin (15%). And if he looked closer at the chart of data he provided (why doesn't the Trib post the graphics online?), he would have seen that there are more Transit Card Trinas out there than the CCP Charlies, and then he'd realize that the whole premise of his article is backwards.

    So basically, Transit Card Trina has less of an incentive this year to move to a 30-day pass. In other words, CTA raised the fare on the more loyal, heavier riders like Monthly Pass Kevin. If Hilkevitch hadn't viewed the question through the viewpoint of probably his own situation--a Chicago Card user--then he may have seen this.

    But, of course, if you frame the question as a Chicago Card user, then, yes, it would make sense for those customers to move to the passes, and it looks like they have, particularly within the CC Plus program, which seems like generally a good thing all around, and this probably explains where most of the 30-Day Pass increase is coming from. This was not the majority of CTA's customers, however.

    Another impact may be the decision by Pace to stop accepting the 1 and 7-Day Passes, and, I think, U-Pass. I have no idea what that all means, but it may very well be another complicating effect on why 30-Days are increasing (30-Days are still accepted on Pace).

    And I'd like to reiterate something I've said before (and Hilk completely missed-out on): if Chicago Card fares increased anywhere from 15% to 41% as we all agree, and ridership on all those cards are still going up as the data shows, then that means CTA has increased its revenue in this market alone potentially by 15-41%, let's say 25%! That's amazing if true and it belies all the talk on this blog that Huberman was so wrong-headed about eliminating all the CC discounts. Shame on previous CTA execs for giving away so much revenue for so many years, in my mind.

    And shame on Hilkevitch for once again completely misunderstanding the subject he's paid to report on.

    If CTA has to raise fares again, hopefully they'll first focus on the pay-per-use rates and keep passes flat, or at least escalate passes at a slightly slower rate. Maybe they should look at the cost of a transfer this time?

    If they get around to doing the new open-source fare payments, and there are

      documentable cost savings


      documentable market elasticities

    , then possibly they should revist implementing some incentives, but until then, no more discounts based on techno-fetishes. Discounts only to those who save you more and ride you more, is my motto.

  • I think the point of his article was rather narrow in claiming that the fare system is complicated and that you should analyze your usage to determine the best plan for yourself. The problem was that he didn't explain why the CTA has the specific plans they have. He made it seem like they just made these things ups with no rhyme or reason. The CTA has motivations for their fare structure just like the riders have motivations for choosing their particular plan. He failed to note that.

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