Lack of transparency on fees hurts CTA on Ventra deal

The CTA just keeps shooting itself in the foot on the whole Ventra deal.

Chicago Tribune chart

Chicago Tribune chart

First, we learned that there will be a 50-cent fee for a one-time use fare card on CTA trains when Ventra is rolled out.

Then we find out about a slew of fees to be charged for those who decide to use the Ventra as a debit card.

And it wasn't the CTA who told us about these extra fees. It was the media.

It would have been so easy and so much smarter for the CTA to just lay out all these fees when it first announced the whole Ventra venture. Instead, it finds itself embroiled in a PR nightmare. The CTA definitely needs more transparency on this whole deal.

Here are some of the fees riders face if they want to use the Ventra card as a debit card, according to the Tribune story:

  • A $2.95 "Reload on Internet'' fee every time a Ventra card holder adds money to the debit card using a personal credit card.
  • A $1.50 fee to withdraw cash from an ATM.
  • A $6 "Balance Refund Fee'' to close your Ventra account and get a check in the mail for any remaining money on your account.

See the Tribune graphic for more details on fees.


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  • "Lack of transparency" ..."Instead, it finds itself embroiled in a PR nightmare. The CTA definitely needs more transparency on this whole deal."

    There is nothing new about this; the only thing different is that Claypool has no compunction about compounding it.

    My only reaction now is when Claypool comes up on an embedded video autoplaying on the Tribune site, I hit the stop button. If Hilkevitch can't get anything out of him, no one else will.

    Maybe there will be enough of a stink that, as in the case of Kruesi, someone with political influence (i.e. Madigan) will convince Emanuel to get rid of Claypool.

  • ". . . fee every time a Ventra cold hold adds money. . . ."

    Is "cold hold" a typo? Or am I -- yet again -- the last person to learn about some aspect of the modern world?

  • In reply to emglatstein:

    I think they meant "choke hold". So i haven't a clue. But the large print gifeth and the small print taketh away is for sure.

  • In reply to emglatstein:

    "cold hold" --> "cardholder"

  • In reply to VernaB:

    Verna is correct - it should read "card holder."

  • In reply to emglatstein:

    Sorry Eric. And I wasn't even drinking before I posted this. It should read "card holder."

  • Just what is it about the CTA that takes people who had been somewhat successful in politics in some way & once they run the CTA, they turn into blithering idiots?
    Is it something poisonous in the air at 567 Lake St?
    Are the plants on the roof giving off fumes that the HVAC is sucking into the building?
    Do they fall for the bullshit the civil service managers tell them?
    Everyone there seems to suffer from a severe case of cognitive dissonance, which may be contagious.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    There are two fallacies to your question.

    1) As I pointed out numerous times, the statutory qualification for being CTA Executive Director is having transportation experience, but Daley and Emanuel ignored that. Not being "somewhat successful in politics/"

    2) The standard to which Claypool and Preckwinkle were compared was Stroger and Beavers. Claypool wasn't that successful--the Tribune backed a "good government" campaign by him against Berrios, and Berrios won. Whatever ethical lapses Berrios commits, at least the assessment notice I got from him was comprehensible.

    And let's add a third for Claypool:

    Once the CTA announcement said he ran Rise Health, and one looked at the Rise Health website, one could see that the only product it produced was corporate speak. So, Claypool is consistent. Emanuel should have done his research first instead of appointing his buddy.

  • Woah woah woah.... slow down here guys... there's a lot wrong with the Ventra card, but this isn't it. You're acting like this is the next Watergate scandal when really these fees are pretty typical for pre-paid debit cards. Nobody is going to force you to use your cta card as a pre-paid debit card... you obviously see the draw backs, so simply don't use it as a debit card. This is an OPTIONAL service here.

  • In reply to Rob M:

    Yeah, seriously. What percentage of riders will opt for the pre-paid debit card? I'm guessing it will be less than 1%. Most people who need a debit card already have one, so why get another? Talk about making a mountain out of a mole hill.

  • In reply to Rob M:

    To this point I agree. I had said earlier the question is how the fees stack up against other cards, such as from Walmart. But it appears that most of us have bank accounts, and the rest who believe that they need a prepaid debit card are going to get screwed by whatever issuer.

    I also agree with your first two phrases--I'm still getting 503 errors.

  • In reply to Rob M:

    Amen, Rob, amen.

  • So, it sounds to me like people thought that they were going to get a fee-free debit card out of the deal. The naïveté is stunning. Before anyone would sign up for one of these accounts, this information would have been made available as part of a contract. No one has one of these accounts as of yet. In fact, according to what I have read, no one needs to get a Ventra card at all to use transit. If you don't like the fees, then don't sign up for the service.

  • It turns out that Oakland, California offers a city ID card that's also a Mastercard debit card & they're freaking out about the fees.

  • For me the bottom line is that make sure I put cash on a magnetic stripped card at L stations on those big honking machines and spend it as I go, getting transfers and costing usually $4.50 to $4.75 a day. It is unclear to me if this will effect my happy Pay Go transportation or if I will need to fall into a web of fees when and if that option disappears. Everything I have read is unclear if I will have that option of paying cash (aka legal tender) without paying the plastic scalper fee to someone. Is the plan to scrap those big cash gobbling cardboard magnetic stripped fare cards spiting machines thereby taking that option away from me or not. If I could get a yes or no I would appreciate it. Does anybody know?

  • In reply to symes4u:

    As you seem to realize, the rapid transit does not accept cash directly, but you have to put it on a card (at least a mag stripe one). Apparently, you can continue your current course by paying the $5 deposit on a Ventra card, registering it and getting the $5 back as a credit, and continually feeding cash into a new style vending machine and tapping the dot, sort of similar to what someone can now do with a Chicago Card. Then the only risk of a fee is if it goes dormant.

    But, as pointed out, you don't have to activate the debit card feature, and, in most cases, you don't have to have a Ventra card at all. Just get a real bank card with an RFID chip (as denoted by the radiating wave logo), and hit your checking account for $4.75 a day.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to jack:

    Again, there is no evidence that in "most cases" you won't need a Ventra card. If you have information that deployment of RFID debit/credit cards has reached the point where most people have them, I would be very interested to see it. I personally have never seen such a card in the wild. None of the Chicago-area banks I have had accounts with recently have offered them. (Probably big national banks are more likely to do so.)

  • In reply to Eli Naeher:

    Kevin Z at posted a list of brands. Ask your bank. If your bank doesn't have one, take your money to one that does. As I mentioned, I already have a qualifying bank card. It is your choice what you want to do.

  • In reply to jack:

    Thanks. So to sum up the disposable cardboard magnetic card is going away in all forms. I have to put plastic Vulture (sp intentional) in my pocket with $5 deposit that goes to fare and I can reload with cash at new machines but no other fees if I don't use it as a debit card?

    I hope I understood but I am skeptical they they will not try to weevil there way further into my wallet with fees. Now where is my tin foil hat :-)

  • In reply to symes4u:

    Yes, syeme4u. Just ignore all the nonsense about debit and credit cards. Make a $5 down payment to get a Ventra card and then just use it like you would use a Chicago Card today.

    They say you can reload your Ventra card with cash (or a credit/debit card) at every train station like you do today. In fact, you can see the Ventra card machines are already in most train stations. They claim that in addition to the train stations that there will be 2000 other places around the city where you can also reload your Ventra card.

    Don't activate the debit feature. Just ignore it. As long as you use your Ventra card at least once every 18 months there will be no fees. (As you know, the current magnetic cards expire 15 months after they are issued and you lose the entire remaining balance at 15 months plus 1 day. With the Ventra card, you don't start losing anything until your card has been inactive for 18 months.)

  • Those pre-paid debit cards really gouge like that? I mean I know they have to make money somehow, but all of those fees seem extreme.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Cheryl:

    The claim that these fees are "middle of the pack" is dubious to me. I have purchased many pre-paid debit cards and I don't recall any fees like these.

  • In reply to Eli Naeher:

    As I suggested earlier, look up the terms of a Walmart prepaid card, or a Chase Liquid card that says it only charges you "$4.95 a month." If you have leads to cards with better deals, list them.

  • In reply to jack:

    Check out the Bluebird Card from Walmart and American Express:
    No monthly fees, no inactivity fees, no fees for calling customer service, no fees for reloading. No ATM fees if you have direct deposit and use a Money Network ATM. No fees for withdrawals at Walmart.

    It includes free online billpay service. It works just like billpay service at all the large banks, you can have a check or electronic payment sent to anyone, even if they don't accept American Express.

    Lots of other convenience features. It works almost like a checking account, but without checks and without tellers.

  • In reply to VernaB:

    I was using the Walmart branded card issued by GE Capital as an example, but anyway, as you can note from my other responses, I have no interest in any prepaid debit card.

  • In reply to Eli Naeher:

    The fee structure for reloadable debit cards (like the debit option of the Ventra card) is different than the fee structure for the non-reloadable cards (also known as "gift cards"). For example, at Jewel you can purchase a generic $100 Visa gift card for a $4.95 one-time fee. But if you want one of the reloadable cards, then you get stuck with all of the pile-on fees like monthly fees, reload fees, etc.

    The market for the reloadable cards is people who can't get (or don't want) a regular checking account. They are competition for currency exchanges, not banks. People use them just like a checking account without checks: they have their paychecks direct-deposited and their tax refunds direct-deposited. Then they use them to pay their bills and get money from ATMs. Some of the reloadable cards are even getting more sophisticated checking account style features like online billpay.

    In contrast, with the non-reloadable cards (gift cards), all you can do is use them to make purchases (no ATM withdrawals, no additional deposits) and then throw them away when you use up the balance.

  • What in the world is the $2 "opt-out customer service transaction"?

    Does that mean you have to pay them $2 if you DON'T want your Ventra card to be a debit card?

    Or perhaps it means you have to pay them $2 if you get a debit card and don't want to be spammed and telemarketed on top of all the other hassles?

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    Doesn't matter. Hilkevitch says today that someone is mounting an online petition campaign that "At the end of the day, this deal, like every other Chicago deal, will go through. But the least we can do is express our disappointment."

    And, of course, there is a senior rider who said "On the face of it, not offering the prepaid debit card sounds discriminatory, even punitive."

    So, you can't please everyone. As F. Gump says, don't activate the debit card. Then CTA doesn't get a commission on the fees and transactions.

  • In reply to jack:

    Course it matters.

    If the mysterious $2 "opt out customer service transaction" fee turns out to be for not activating the debit card, then I'm being gouged for nothing. If it's not for opting out of that then exactly what is it for opting out of? Can you perhaps opt out of the fee, and is there a fee for that? If there's a fee to ask someone what the bleep is that fee, then they'll get you no matter what.

    You don't think the public deserves an explanation of that fee? I read the Breaking News version of Hilkevitch's story and the fee in question wasn't mentioned as either having changes made to it or explained, though it is still listed in the graphic

    Hey Forrest, what is that fee?

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    Sure, there should be an explanation, but unless CTA is engaged in the Best Buy/Microsoft fraud,* if you don't opt in, you don't have a contractual relationship with MetaBank, and hence MetaBank may not legally charge you. Isn't that a MetaBank charge?

    *They asked if you wanted a free MSN subscription, but didn't tell you, even if you didn't sign on, that you had to cancel it.

  • In reply to jack:

    What worries me is that the fee description is not about opting in, it's about opting out. This could very well be that kind of scam. Maybe a double one: If you get the transit card you have to opt out of debit, and then they charge you a fee for opting out. But if you don't realize you have to opt out they can hit you with lots of other debit account fees! And they do word the fee description so mysteriously that no one will tumble to their damned-if-you-do-or-don't setup. OK, maybe this is a stretch, but knowing what we now know about that bank I sure wouldn't put it past them, nor do I have much confidence that our CTA would not sell us out in that way.

    At any rate, Kevin told me on another thread that he he will try to find out what that fee is.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    My Google search indicated that it might have to do with opting out of the bank exercising its rights under the privacy notice.

    But, as I noted in the other thread, it was a part of a university debit card agreement, too.

    But since Kevin said he would find out....

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