Chicagoist – April 2, 2013
CTA President Forrest Claypool faced questions from Illinois state representatives at a public hearing Monday centered on Ventra, the shared fare system CTA and Pace are set to debut this summer that’s become a public relations nightmare for Claypool thanks to the series of hidden fees awaiting riders who decide to use it as a debit card as well as a means to pay for bus and train fares.
According to Tribune transportation reporter John Hilkevitch, Claypool vacillated between being an impartial bureaucrat and marketing Ventra to the committee and at one point argued that no other U.S. transit agency has offered a debit card to its customers. (We ask again why it’s necessary for a transit agency to offer its riders anything beyond safe and efficient passage.) Claypool was joined by Pace executive director T.J. Ross, who called Ventra “a doorway into the future.”
But the hearing focused mainly on the litany of fees awaiting riders who use Ventra as a debit card, in addition to a fare card. The Tribune reported last week the litany of hidden fees in CTA’s contract with Ventra could cost riders an average of $188 a year in fees, a number Claypool called “wildly speculative” and “simply not accurate.” State Rep. Deb Mell (D – Chicago) said she “kind of hope(d) (Claypool) would just get rid of the debit feature,” especially after RTA decided to remove the option for senior citizens and riders with disabilities. State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie told Claypool if he has any paperwork to back his claim, “we’d like to look at it.”
Claypool has consistently argued that Ventra will cost riders nothing extra if they simply don’t opt to use it as a debit card, while saving the transit agency $5 million annually in fare collection. Opponents have argued Ventra’s debit card option unfairly targets seniors, young riders and the poor who may fail to read the details of the contract and activate the debit card option.
Also feeling the heat at the hearing was Metra, which hasn’t agreed to participate in Ventra and has been exploring its own smart fare payment options. Executive Director Alex Clifford said Metra would like to explore all its options before committing to Ventra with CTA and Pace, prompting state Sen. Al Riley (D – Olympia Fields) to say, “we’d like to see Metra participate in the process.”
The three transit agencies in RTA’s system are required to offer a shared fare system by 2015.