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Ravenswood Man Starts Petition Against CTA's Ventra System

By Alex Parker | March 31, 2013 8:25am | Updated on March 31, 2013 10:53pm
 The CTA's new fare payment system has drawn criticism after a number of fees associated with its debit card function were disclosed.
The CTA's new fare payment system has drawn criticism after a number of fees associated with its debit card function were disclosed.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CHICAGO — The CTA’s new Ventra fare card has ruffled the feathers of Chicagoans irked by charges related to its debit card function, and at least one rider is taking action.

Ankit Patel, a 33-year-old Ravenswood resident, has started an online petition in the hopes CTA chairman Forrest Claypool will reverse course on the new payment system, set to be introduced this summer.

Patel, who has been riding the “L” for the last 10 years, said he was at first intrigued by the new payment system. But his curiosity soon turned to disappointment.

“The way I look at things, if they were to introduce a new system there should be sufficient benefits to the users, otherwise, don't introduce it because there is nothing that is broken,” Patel said. “Here, the benefit of using a more advanced system is far outweighed by the little fees and charges that users are going to run into.”

The CTA is moving to the Ventra payment system starting this summer. Eventually, the Ventra card will replace the existing Chicago Card and paper tickets. CTA spokesman Brian Steele said the technology that is used to make those cards is outdated.

“Basically, we have a nearly two-decade old fare payment system that is approaching obsolescence,” he said. The CTA also predicts $50 million in savings over the next decade by switching to the new system, Steele said, because the agency will not be responsible for producing the cards and handling the money associated with them.

The agency has endured criticism of the move, which will change how 'L' riders pay for single-use fares. While a train fare will remain at $2.25, those purchasing a single-ride disposable fare card will pay $3, which includes $.50 to cover the cost card, which has an embedded microchip, and a $.25 transfer, as well as a free transfer.

The Ventra card can also be used as a debit card, an optional function. Consumers who choose to use it as a debit card would face a slew of extra fees, ranging from a $5-a-month “dormancy” fee, for cards that are not used for 18 months, to a $6 fee tied to refunds of an existing balance.

Last week, it was revealed a $10 customer service fee related to charge disputes and $2.95 charge for adding funds to an account with a credit card will not be part of the CTA deal.

State legislators have called for a hearing over the new payment system.

Steele said some of the fees that sparked Patel’s petition aren’t new. A dormancy fee, for example, already exists; when a card is inactive for 15 months, it is deactivated, he said.

He said the CTA is planning extensive outreach to educate riders about the new system, including gutted CTA buses housing Ventra kiosks so people can get a feel for it. Other meetings with community groups are planned leading up to this summer’s rollout, he said.

Still, Patel and the nearly 1,000 people who have signed his petition aren’t convinced Ventra will benefit riders as the CTA hopes.

“I don’t think dropping those fees is going to make a vast difference in the opinion that people will have about the fare,” he said. “I predict it will continue to remain unpopular.”

Unpopular or not, it’s going to happen, Steele said. The open-fare system was approved in 2011 and the first Ventra cards will be available this summer.