Hidden Fees Litter Ventra Card's Pre-Paid Debit Option

By Chuck Sudo in News on Mar 20, 2013 8:40PM

2013_3_14_ventra.jpg We already know about the transfer and “limited use media” fees in store for CTA and Pace riders who choose to pay for single-fare rides when the Ventra shared payment system goes into effect this summer. After reading about the hidden fees waiting for riders in their Ventra debit contract, paying $3 for a single train ride seems like a bargain.

The Tribune combed through the 1,000-page contract between CTA and Ventra and discovered some interesting awaiting riders who decide to use Ventra as a pre-paid debit Mastercard in addition to paying for their public transit fares.

Like a $2 fee if a customer requests a paper copy of their account.

Or an “account research fee” of $10 per hour.

Or a $2 fee to call Ventra’s customer service center, which is called an "Operator Assisted Telephone Inquiry.''

Financial experts told the Tribune these fees are standard across the debit card industry and Ventra’s are in the middle and, in some cases lower, compared to other debit cards. But why in the hell would CTA and Pace get into such a complicated business arrangement. That’s what Linda Sherry, director of national priorities for Consumer Action, asked.

"Why should public transit agencies be involved in making interchange fees off people? These are supposed to be public-serving agencies, and a fee-laden card isn't exactly a public service.''

Exactly. It should be in CTA’s and Pace’s best interest to get its riders from Point A to Point B at a reasonable cost. Using the same fare card to board a train and buy a large cappuccino should not be discussed.

Regional Transportation officials were concerned enough about the plan they decided Wednesday to remove the Ventra debit card option for senior citizens and riders with disabilities. Low-income riders using the state’s Circuit Breaker program will qualify for free-ride Ventra passes with no debit card option. But they, and we, will still be subject to the $5 “dormancy fee” if a Ventra card isn’t used in an 18-month period. (This won’t apply to the free-ride passes.) RTA spokeswoman Diane Palmer said they couldn’t do much more than that, as CTA is fully committed at this point to Ventra.

The debit card option was one of many concerns RTA’s board had about Ventra. They’re still looking for answers about the transfer and media fees being added to the single-ride fares. CTA President Forrest Claypool has repeatedly said obtaining a Ventra card isn’t as hard as it’s being portrayed in news stories; Streetsblog Chicago’s Steve Vance shows how easy it is to register for the program.

But the criticisms to the program are the fees and how they’ll affect riders, particularly low-income, who don’t know about programs like Circuit Breaker or will sign a contract for a card without reading the legalese.