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Paying cash for L ride will cost more under new high-tech system



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Updated: April 12, 2013 6:24AM

CTA officials want to raise the cost of a one-way rail ride purchased with cash to $3 as they encourage riders to use the agency’s new Ventra plastic payment card that can be loaded with credits and tapped on fare readers.

The current cash fare for a rail ride is $2.25, but under the new fare system, the $3 cash fare would also include a 25-cent transfer fee — whether the rider uses the transfer or not — and a 50-cent charge that the CTA calls a convenience fee.

One transit activist says that the fee would amount to a tax on the poor.

Kevin Peterson of Citizens Taking Action for Transit Dependent Riders said the proposed single-ride cash convenience fee penalizes poor people who may not have bank accounts or credit cards and who may live in “food deserts’’ without ready access to stores where they can load the cards with credits.

“This is basically a tax on poor people,’’ Peterson said. “I love the way they call it a convenience fee. They keep nickel and diming everybody.’’

The latest twist in the CTA’s march toward a summer debut of its new Ventra payment system will be the subject of a 6 p.m. public hearing Monday at CTA headquarters, 567 W. Lake.

CTA officials say the convenience fee is meant to offset production costs for creating special one-ride disposable tickets with a special chip inside that can be read without having to be swiped and only have to be held near a special fare reader.

“The whole point is for us to stop printing disposable tickets,’’ CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis said.

The convenience fee would not apply to bus riders who could still drop cash in bus fare collection boxes or to single-ride tickets out of O’Hare Airport, she said.

Riders would also be able to use their credit cards to pay their fares if their cards had a special chip inside that allows them to pay for other items by waving them across a reader. Most people, though, don’t have those cards yet, as credit card companies roll them out across the United States.

People will be able to load their Ventra cards with credits at 600 retail locations, such as Jewel and Walgreens, but the number of such outlets should grow to 2,500 by next year, Lukidis said.

Riders ultimately may prefer Ventra cards, Lukidis said, which they will be able to use in some stores, even buying a cup of coffee on the way to the train.

CTA rider Dan Buchanan, a 25-year-old web developer, said he’d buy a Ventra card for the convenience of being able to tap his wallet on a card reader, rather than having to fish a preloaded paper fare card out of his wallet.

“I would go to the trouble to buy a [Ventra] card,’’ Buchanan said. “I have so many of these paper cards, it’s hard to keep track of how much money is on them. Having one card would be worth it.’’

Many riders have complained that current paper payment cards with magnetic stripes get wet, become wrinkled and jam in machines, Lukidis said.

“These [Ventra] cards are meant to be durable. They are loadable, and you don’t have to worry about carrying multiple cards in your wallet.”

The new payment system will start as a pilot program this spring with CTA employees and Chicago Card Plus users, and expand across the system by summer, Lukidis said. However, existing Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus cards will be accepted until winter or early 2014, she said.

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