Comments for CTA public hearing on Ventra fare policy

Last night CTA heald a public hearing explaining the proposed fare policy for the new Ventra system.  Here are the comments Riders for Better Transit made to the CTA board:

We believe, on behalf of the riders we represent, that the proposed Ventra policy offers great convenience to CTA riders by allowing us the option of using credit cards or a Ventra card. This will make it easier for occasional riders and tourists to navigate our system and offer similar conveniences to regular CTA users that the Chicago Card currently provides.

The largest convenience of a new fare collection system, however, will not be realized until CTA, Pace and Metra use the same system and transfers can be made easily across the entire Chicago region. We support anything that can be done to speed up the implementation of a truly universal fare system.

Additionally, we recognize that CTA has gone to great lengths to make Ventra as accessible as possible for unbanked riders by preserving the option of a single-use ticket and by making Ventra cards widely available. Our biggest concern is for any low income riders who may struggle to meet the initial $5 cost of purchasing a reusable Ventra card. For those who may struggle to make that up-front cost, purchasing a single use card for $3 subjects them unjustly to a higher fare.

We encourage the CTA to be transparent about the impact they expect the single ride fare to have on unbanked and low income populations. We also encourage the CTA to work to accommodate low income populations who will struggle with this up front cost. For example, the Chicago Card policy is that the card is free for first time users but a $5 replacement fee is charged for subsequent cards. Perhaps lower income riders can be accommodated through a similar enrollment or card give-away program.

Active Transportation Alliance would be happy to help make sure the new Ventra cards get into the hands of this vulnerable population.

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CTA Ventra and the unbanked

Brenna, did you have a chance to look at my master's thesis where I talk about the CTA's new system and the unbanked? See specifically pp. 106-111, but the general discussion of fare media begins on p. 80.

I think what has not been discussed in the recent disclosures are the potentially dangerous promotions and incentives that the banks will offer for having these cards. The CTA's and Cubic's early plans were to allow banks to promote their debit cards with, for example, $10 loaded onto them, or to pay all of the upfront costs of the card.

They sound like great deals, until we look at overdraft fee regulation and of course the new fees that are being implemented. An unbanked person will feel a very short-term advantage of having this card, such as $10. Soon, they will begin to be nickeled-and-dimed with perhaps hundreds of dollars over the ensuing months in overdraft fees, reloading fees, and other fees as they learn the harsh realities of using plastic money. These charges, of course, do not exist with cash, though the CTA is using Ventra to phase out cash almost completely. The CTA, Cubic, and the banks are all going to be depending on the added revenue for these mechanisms, and if you'll read the thesis you'll find that as with ChicagoCard and ChicagoCard Plus, the burdens are falling on the underprivileged since the disappearance of the paper transfer and the problems with smartcards. The fine print is difficult even for us sophisticated users to decipher.

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