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RTA to roll out Ventra cards for reduced fare customers

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The Regional Transportation Authority board entered into an agreement with the Chicago Transit Authority today to mail new reduced fare cards for seniors and people with disabilities when CTA rolls out its Ventra fare card system. CTA has said that riders will begin to use the Ventra cards this summer

The regional transit agency must give CTA $1.72 per fare card for the about 550,000 Chicago area residents who participate in the reduced fare program. RTA estimates an additional cost of almost one dollar per rider for adding personal information to the new fare cards, including a photo ID that will be transferred from the current reduced fare smart cards.

Mark Minor, principal analyst for the RTA, told the RTA board today that the agency has budgeted around $2 million to cover the costs of the reduced fare card transition.

RTA is the parent agency of CTA and runs a reduced fare program that also includes the Pace suburban bus and Metra commuter rail systems. However, it is the Chicago Transit Authority, not RTA, in charge of the new Ventra cards.

The reduced fare Ventra cards will differ from the planned CTA Ventra cards in a couple of critical ways. Unlike that Ventra card, the reduced fare card cannot be used as a debit card for non-transit purchases. The reduced fare card will also not include the $5 purchasing fee that those buying the CTA Ventra card will have to pay.

However, the reduced fare card will – like the normal Ventra card – include a $5 per month “dormancy fee” if the card goes unused for 18 months. Asked if the dormancy fee is appropriate for elderly and disabled passengers who may go long periods without using transit, RTA spokeswoman Diane Palmer replied that the agency would be in “frequent communication” with card recipients and “communicate up front that the dormancy fee applies.”

Toward this end, RTA also entered into an agreement today with Chicago-based Caldwell Letter Service, Inc. for direct mail communications with  reduced fare card customers. The mailings would be first-class, Minor pointed out, so that any mail to outdated addresses would be returned.

RTA has waged a bureaucratic battle with CTA over Ventra, but these big picture issues were mostly skipped over at the board meeting. “This agreement is separate from other conversations we need to have,” Minor told the board.

Also at today’s meeting:

  • A board committee tabled a resolution to endorse a congestion pricing scheme that would add express lanes to the Addams Tollway, Stevenson Expressway, and Eisenhower Expressways. As proposed by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, commuters would pay a modest fee depending on the time of day they use the newly constructed express lanes. RTA board members stated that they need assurance that any congestion pricing plan would not reduce public transit ridership.