CHICAGO
03/14/2013 11:21 am ET

CTA Ventra Payment System Fees OKed By Board Amid Ongoing Confusion About How They'll Work

Despite some board members having lingering questions about how exactly it will work, the Chicago Transit Authority on Wednesday unanimously approved the complicated new payment structure that is part of the new Ventra fare payment system.

The new payment system means that, beginning this summer, CTA rail passengers avoiding the Ventra system and buying disposable single-ride paper tickets will pay $3, rather than $2.25 -- a price hike of 33 percent. At the first and only public hearing on the matter, held Monday, critics argued the new system will disproportionately hurt low-income riders.

Those who currently use weekly and monthly passes or Chicago Cards will be forced to switch to the new system. Ventra card users will also have to fork out both an initial $5 setup fee -- which is essentially refunded via a $5 credit so long as the card is registered within 90 days -- and will be charged a monthly $5 "dormancy fee" after the card is not used for 18 months.

Confused? So were some CTA board members. The Chicago Tribune reports Jackie Grimshaw, the board's vice chairman, described the Ventra system as very complicated and was concerned it would frustrate riders. Two other board members expressed concern that social service agencies who purchase the disposable single-ride tickets would also be penalized by the new system.

CTA President Forrest Claypool insisted that the agency would work with impacted social-service agencies and hold outreach events, according to CBS Chicago, and generally doesn't seem to see what all the fuss is about.

This is a cost-free transition," Claypool said Wednesday, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “It costs you nothing to transfer from the magnetic strip cards to Ventra, except two minutes of your time.’’

The extra 75 cents one-way fare for some riders -- the CTA has argued -- covers the cost of the disposable cards and is targeted toward tourists and infrequent rail riders, NBC Chicago reports -- the same group the agency targeted with its new $5 one-way rail fare from O'Hare Airport on the Blue Line.

Under the plan, cash will continue to be accepted on CTA buses and Chicago Card Plus users can transfer their balance to a Ventra card. According to the RedEye's Tracy Swartz, Chicago Card users will not be able to transfer their balance and will apparently need to use it or lose it before the cards are nixed entirely come 2014.

"You can’t honestly understand what it means sometimes to not have that nickel or dime to ride the ‘L’ or a bus," rider Akema Lewis said Wednesday of the agency's swift approval of the new system, according to CBS.

The Ventra system will allow riders on the CTA and Pace to use the MasterCard-stamped cards both to pay for transit and, via a prepaid debit account also stored on the card, they can also be used as payment where MasterCards are accepted. Bank-issued debit and credit cards could also be used to pay for transit through Ventra after they are registered with the CTA.

While some CTA riders will be digging deeper in their pockets as a result of the agency's "cost-free" transition -- unless they "make that choice" to drive instead -- the agency expects to save $5 million each year as riders switch to Ventra cards from temporary cards.

The CTA board on Wednesday also moved to hike the price of its U-Passes, which allow unlimited rides for area college students at a drastically reduced price, and also expanded the pool of eligible students to include those attending certificate, non-degree post secondary institutions. According to DNAinfo Chicago, the cards will be increased $15 in price per semester, while current prices vary from school to school.

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