Poor people criticize CTA's fee for single-use transit card

At a public hearing Monday, advocates for the poor complained that the CTA was “putting the profits of its corporate partners ahead of the needs of poor people” with the new Ventra fare-payment system debuting this summer, the Tribune reports.

Under the Ventra payment system, passengers will buy for $5 a new contactless fare card to replace the current Chicago Card. Today, if they don’t have a Chicago Card, passengers can buy a magnetic strip fare card from a station vending machine for the same price as the $2.25 rail fare. They also can add value to it.

When Ventra use starts this summer, riders will have to pay a 50-cent premium for a single-use card, plus 25 cents for a transfer – whether they need it or not. That doesn’t sit well with advocates for the poor:

Keith Smith, who represents a citywide group called People Without a Voice, said the 75-cent cash fare hike should be scrapped because it would hurt low-income riders. The CTA should focus instead on “putting a Ventra card in everybody’s hands,” Smith said.

The thing is, that’s what the CTA is trying to do – put a Ventra card in everybody’s hands. It will cost $5 to get the Ventra card initially, but it’s worth it. When a passenger registers the card, it will be replaced when lost with its stored value intact. Plus, upon registration, the $5 fee will be reimbursed to the rider and added to the value of the card.

So it’s well worth the $5 initial fee.

Now, the CTA must do a better marketing job the Ventra card to both the poor and all passengers. The $3 single-use fee was only recently revealed, so greater transparency about all Ventra matters certainly is needed.

And frankly, I think the advocates for the poor would do well to educate the poor that their best move is to buy a Ventra card.


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  • As for "greater transparency," go back to what I said about the omnibus agenda and this being scheduled to be rammed through at Wednesday's meeting.

  • Sigh. I am wondering just how a homeless person might "register" their venta card? Just head home and hop on their computer and use their broadband? What address do you suggest they use? Or maybe they could use their "specially equipped" credit cards and just swipe them instead. It is wonderful that the CTA's position seems to be "it is just going to be poor or dysfunctional people who pay more, or even better we can rip off tourists, because preying on people is a fine and noble business model. You middle and upper class people will be fine."

    We can raise the one day pass to 10$ because it is only poor people and tourists who buy them. If poor people can't come up with 30$ for a longer pass, great, we have cleverly exploited a group with no voice or power base.

  • In reply to labhraidh:

    And your solution is...?

  • In reply to darkwing:

    It was a "problem" that did not need fixing or outsourcing. The current payment system is adequate. Especially to a company with a dreadful record of handling consumer complaints, which is rated "F" by the better business bureau.

  • In reply to labhraidh:

    Labhraidh: I was specifically talking about the working poor, not homeless people. I think getting a Ventra card would be a big step up for the working poor. As for the homeless, I don't have a solution. Maybe homeless coalitions could work with the CTA on that.

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    In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Plenty of the working poor don't have credit cards or Internet access. Having these things should not be a requirement to use public utilities like public transit. Are there details anywhere as to what is involved in registration?

  • In reply to Eli Naeher:

    The last I heard, most public libraries had computers for Internet access.

  • In reply to labhraidh:

    Life sucks as a homeless person, so I guess you could add this to the list.

    That being said, for the paying customers, many might enjoy the fact that their train doesn't smell as bad and doesn't have bums taking up 2 seats.

  • In reply to chris:

    Your last sentence essentially reinforces the point I was going to make to Kevin. If the CT Board doesn't have the incentive to listen to paying customers, it sure won't listen to the homeless. The only issue is whether it can deter turnstile jumpers. I doubt that the homeless now are buying transit cards to turn the hobo corner into a cheap hotel.

    BTW, I'll be waiting for about 11:30 p,m. for the announcement that this was pushed through, and I guess with quotations from Claypool who reportedly didn't even attend the hearing. I guess Terry Peterson gets paid $25,000 a year to show up when required and ignore the public input.

  • In reply to jack:


  • In reply to jack:

    I was wrong; it took until about 12:20 p.m., according to the Tribune.

    And while Hilkevitch says that the board "sparred" over the issue, it still passed it unanimously.

    The article also indicated that Peterson engaged in his usual dissembling.

  • Kevin, last I checked, everyone has a right to voice their opinion, including advocates for the poor (working class or homeless). I don't think that we should just roll over and accept what the CTA and their new upstanding business associates tell us. I agree with labhraidh, this is a system that didn't need fixing, other than to add to the City's list private partnerships. Maybe instead of educating the poor, as you say, we should educate our elected and appointed officials.

  • In reply to andyk:

    Who elected the unDemocrat that Emanuel has become? Maybe the voters ought to be educated first.

  • That's 2 people now that don't think the CTA payment system needs fixing. It does need fixing! The amount of cash fares is ridiculous and slows down transit on buses big time. This is a push to get away from that.

    Now, if you want to debate on HOW to fix it, that's a different story.

  • In reply to chris:

    I'm with you on this one.

    Reports are that cash fares are down, but the current insistence that one must use CTA issued media to avoid them (and in all events on the rapid transit) means that CTA is discouraging discretionary riders. While I noted that some currency exchanges sold fare cards, accepting any Blink card is a far easier way of solving the problem. Nobody has to purchase a Ventra card, and the question becomes whether what Walmart or some bank charges for a prepaid debit card is better of worse than the deal one gets with Ventra, of course depending on what the bank behind the debit option (which one doesn't have to take) imposes as hidden charges (as alleged in the press).

  • Can we just refuse to use this thing?

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    As I mentioned above, get some other kind of RFID card or one of those smart phones they say will eventually be accepted.

    Or pay $2.25 cash fare on the bus and not get a transfer, or jump a turnstile (the last not being a legal option).

    But since state law mandates some sort of open standards fare system for all service boards in the RTA area, otherwise not if you want to ride transit.

  • I believe I read that the MTA is adding a surcharge to their disposable magnetic media soon. The thinking was that it would be less disposable and they would not only save on printing them, but also gain some money in revenue, while also eliminating a lot of trash around subway entrances.

  • What about the $2 fee to speak to a customer service rep? And the appalling, unconscionable $10 per hour to resolve a fee issue? So if Ventra overcharges you and you need to speak to them about *their* mistake (and it will happen, given the lousy ratings of the firm that owns Ventra), YOU get the privilege of paying MORE for resolving the issue. In addition to which, if they send you a refund, you are charged a fee of $6. So: "sorry, our mistake, YOU will pay for our mistake." This is usury, pure and simple. The entire system is really merely a way for this company to obtain more customers, and for the CTA and Ventra to share the profit. And, with more busses cutting routes, we will be forced to use the rails more--therefore incurring more fees. This is a scam on working people, seniors, the disabled, who have to schlep to work every day. Notice the timing of the FEW posters about the March 11 meeting on this issue: the day after the Wells St. bridge closing. That was a well-planned meeting. People's minds were on Wells Street bridge. This is an affront to the working poor who have to use the CTA and I suggest we form protests, both online and in front of the CTA. We all know that banks want to increase fees as a revenue stream. Voila: that is what we have here. It has nothing to do with conveniences: it has to do with profits, pure and simple. Naturally, the CTA board is fine with this--they're splitting the profits.

  • In reply to Smithster:

    1. You don't have to activate the debit card. Rinse and repeat. You don't have to activate the debit card.

    2. The hearing was only about the $3.00 minimum on the Ventra ticket, the $5.00 deposit, and the dormancy fee. Federal law requires a hearing on a fare increase, not on debit cards. Your recourse is to write Congress about somehow debit cards were left out of the Dodd-Frank bill.

    Flailing around at irrelevancies is not going to help, given that this contract was approved by the CT Board in Nov. 2011.

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