Reporting Bob Roberts
CHICAGO (CBS) — The CTA’s management insists that its new “Ventra” fare system won’t cost riders anything extra. But even some of its board members sounded unconvinced despite approving it unanimously Wednesday at their monthly board meeting.
The board’s vice chair, veteran transit activist Jackie Grimshaw, said she found it complicated and said she feared it would frustrate and confuse riders.
Rider Akema Lewis accused CTA of trying to soak its poorest riders.
“You can’t honestly understand what it means sometimes to not have that nickel or dime to ride the ‘L’ or a bus,” she said.
“This has nothing to do with fare increases,” said CTA Chairman Terry Peterson, and CTA President Forrest Claypool agreed.
“It’s just false. This is a cost-free transition. It is a free transition. It costs you nothing to transfer from the old magnetic stripe cards to the new Ventra system except a two-minute phone call,” Claypool said.
He said repeatedly that the $5 charge for a Ventra card will be rebated immediately as fares if the holder registers the card within 90 days.
CTA spokesman Brian Steele said the anxiety over the changes in fare collection, which will take place over the coming year, beginning in July, are not unlike those riders experienced when the current magnetic strip cards and the soon-to-be-phased out Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus were introduced.
Claypool explained the 50-cent surcharge and 25-cent transfer fee that will be tacked onto the Ventra one-use paper tickets as a “convenience” fee that will primarily target out-of-towners and infrequent transit riders.
Ventra cardholders also will face a $5 monthly penalty if the card is not used for 18 months, but Steele said that by registering, a cardholder would get warnings in advance. If a card that is registered is lost or stolen, the card holder will be able to get it replaced fully loaded, minus a $5 processing fee.
Board members Kevin Irvine and John Bouman said it appeared that social service agencies that purchase single-ride tickets from CTA to distribute to their clients will end up paying more under the Ventra system.
Claypool said that would not happen, but CTA chief planning officer Rebekah Scheinfeld said only that the agency would work with the agencies.
CTA has begun to promote the new system, and Claypool said it will exist side-by-side with existing are-collection equipment for a number of months. CTA and Pace will begin accepting Ventra this summer, while Metra is expected to begin accepting it by 2015, to comply with a state statute mandating a universal fare card.
CTA’s goal, in part, is to get out of the business of collecting and counting fare receipts. Steele said the savings could surpass $5 million a year for the cash-strapped agency.