CTA Says new fare card will meet riders’ needs
By CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Chicago Transit Authority and Pace riders will have to adjust to a new transit fare payment system known as Ventra that is scheduled to begin over the summer, but they can avoid fees and price increases in most cases if they acquaint themselves with the rules governing the new fare cards.
The CTA Board approved a 12-year $508.9 million contract with Cubic Transportation Systems last year. The original $454 million contract that was approved in 2011 did not include the Pace bus system.
The CTA has been a Cubic customer since 1993, when the company was awarded a contract for the current fare collection system, known as Legacy.
The company will eliminate the current multiple magnetic-stripe cards and the Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus cards that are used to pay for transit rides by next year, and replace the payment system with options that will feature new reloadable prepaid cards, single-ride tickets and other options.
Once the new payment system is implemented, riders can purchase a Ventra Card for $5 that can be used as a “tap and go” card similar to the Chicago Card after it is registered online or by phone. Riders can choose to use the card as a debit card if they do not have a bank card, but that option features user fees.
Riders also can link the Ventra Card their bank accounts and use their debit or credit cards for no extra fees, according to CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis. The initial $5 Ventra Card fee will be refunded for transit use if the card is registered within 90 days.
Riders will be charged a dormancy fee of $5 per month if they do not use their card for more than 18 consecutive months. One ride on the system will reset the dormancy time frame, and riders will be notified after 15 months of inactivity, according to the CTA. A replacement card will cost $5.
Lukidis said that riders may use the Ventra Card to load values for 1-day, 3-day, 7-day and 30-day fares at current prices. Riders will be able to load value onto their cards at vending machines, and cash will still be accepted on buses.
Riders will be able to purchase single-ride Ventra tickets for $3 at rail stations. The price includes $2.25 for rail, 25 cents for two transfers and 50 cents for the limited-use fee. Cash can be used to purchase 1-day paper tickets for $10.
Lukidis said that the CTA currently prints 35 million magnetic-stripe cards per year and that people often throw away money on their fare cards. “We found that about 4 percent of the riders in the Loop load the card with $3 instead of the exact amount, and a lot of times people just throw those cards away and we have no way of notifying people that they might have $10 left on their card,” she said.
Riders who own personal contactless debit or credit cards can link their Ventra accounts to their cards and add transit value at rail stations, retail locations, online or by phone for no extra fees.
One controversial aspect of the Ventra Card is its prepaid debit card option. Riders can activate an account, add value, and use the card as a debit Master Card at retail locations.
Loading cash onto the debit cards at participating locations can cost up to $4.95, withdrawing funds from an automated teller machine will cost $1.50 domestically and $3 internationally, and bank teller withdrawals will cost $2. The CTA will not charge for direct deposit of payroll checks, tax refunds and child support or other payments sent to the debit account.
Other fees associated with the debit card option include a 2 percent foreign transaction conversion fee, a $2 transfer fund fee to a personal bank account, an international balance inquiry fee of $3, a $6 balance refund check fee, a $2 customer service and balance inquiry fee through a live operator, a $5 fee for a lost or stolen card, a $10 fee for expedited delivery of a lost or stolen card, and a fee of $2 per month if riders choose to get a paper statement of their account.
The Regional Transportation Authority will begin transitioning 550,000 ride free, reduced fare and ADA paratransit customers to the new system this summer. The agency will issue new permits that will enable seniors and people with disabilities to take advantage of the Ventra system by using a single card to travel.
Customers will be able to add transit value on the new cards or load a reduced fare 30-day pass onto their permits at stations, online and at more than 2,000 retail locations throughout the area, according to the RTA.
Until further notice, reduced fare customers riding on Metra will purchase tickets in advance from a ticket agent and present the ticket to a conductor. The reduced dare permit should be shown to the ticket agent at the time of purchase.
A $3 surcharge applies for purchasing one-way tickets on Metra trains when a ticket agent is available at the boarding station, according to a press release.
The RTA will mail information to customers this spring followed by the Ventra compatible replacement permits being mailed to the permit holder’s address this summer. The $5 purchase fee for Ventra cards will not apply to RTA permits, but the $5 dormancy fee after 18 months of non-use will apply.
“It’s a new form of paying for the transit system, and we will have to educate people about how it will be done,” Lukidis said. She said that the CTA will continue to work on marketing the new system.
“I think a lot of attention has been brought to the fees on the voluntary debit card option, but not to the fact that people who don’t opt in won’t get charged anything except the initial $5 and for not using the card in 18 months,” Lukidis said. She that the CTA will not actively market the debit card option but rather educate commuters about the new system.
However, in the Cubic Transit Open Payment team report from 2011 that is attached to the contract, there are several passages that suggest an aggressive and elaborate marketing campaign to get people to use the new system and to spin public relations.
In the report, Cubic officials lay out marketing strategies about the new system and say that after a brand is selected, which turned out to be Ventra, Facebook pages should be set up and journalists added as “friends,” press releases sent out, a “political primer” should be prepared, and stories should be pitched to the news media about the progress of the implementation of the system.
“The first visible indication to the customers that the new system is coming will be the installation of the new bus readers,” the Cubic report states. “There should be another progress story related to the readers. Good visuals with the brand prominent, and how fast and cool it will be to board a bus and use the new system.”
Another strategy that is suggested is holding photo opportunities with politicians, and the report states that “an endorsement by a high profile official at this juncture gives the program an imprimatur.”
The reports also states that the system will be subject to criticism and that contention points should be prepared and used over the course of the implementation of the program and beyond.
“Spin needs to be heavily positive,” the report states. “Also need to spin the transition away from the (old) Legacy cards, and the fact that there are dates certain for that to happen.”