As the start date for the Chicago Transit Authority's new Ventra payment system nears, critics are questioning whether several of the plan's strategies disproportionately hurt low-income riders.
The CTA held a public hearing at its Loop headquarters Monday night to discuss a prosed price hike that would push the cost of a train ride up 75 cents, to $3 a trip for passengers who don't buy in to the new Ventra system.
Keith Smith of the city-wide group People Without a Voice said the agency should ditch the 75-cent cash fare hike should since it would hurt lower-income passengers, the Tribune reports.
CTA board Chairman Terry Peterson told the crowd, described as "angry" by the paper, the new plan is not meant to hurt the poor "or anyone else."
Under the proposed system, cash-paying rail riders would be hit with two automatic charges on top of the standing $2.25 rail fare: a 25-cent transfer fee (regardless of whether it gets used) and what's essentially a 50-cent convenience fee, according to DNAinfo Chicago.
"You can avoid this easily by getting a Ventra card," CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase told Crain's Chicago Business. "Or you can use countless credit cards or debit cards."
Critics argue many poor riders don't have debit or credit cards, nor can they afford to pay for the cost of weekly or monthly passes up front. Chase told Crain's the agency is planning "outreach" efforts to low-income customers as the Ventra system launch date nears.
Riders who use the popular weekly and monthly passes and the Chicago Card fare system will also have to switch. Crain's notes Ventra card users will have to fork out both an initial $5 setup fee -- which is essentially refunded via a $5 credit -- and will be charged a monthly $5 "dormancy fee" after the card is not used for 18 months.
While riders may feel the pinch of the system switch, CBS Chicago reports the agency expects to save $5 million each year as riders switch to Ventra cards from temporary cards.
The CTA board is expected to vote on the half-billion-dollar fare system Wednesday.