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RTA officials raise questions about CTA’s new Ventra payment card

File Photo. | John H. White~Sun-Times

File Photo. | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 21, 2013 6:52AM

RTA officials Tuesday bombarded the CTA with questions about the agency’s new plastic Ventra card payment system, saying it had “concerns’’ about new fees — and who would get a slice of them.

RTA Executive Director Joseph Costello shot off a letter Tuesday to CTA President Forrest Claypool, who responded with a letter that Costello said still left some questions unanswered.

“It may take a little bit of back and forth to get all the information we’re looking for,’’ Costello told the Chicago Sun-Times. Ventra is “an awfully big undertaking and there’s quite a bit to it. We want to make sure we understand, as the financial oversight agency, how all this is going to work and what impact this is going to have on our budget and our riders.’’

Ventra, set to debut this summer, will allow CTA and suburban Pace riders to pay their fares with preloaded plastic Ventra cards.

But the system holds so many new wrinkles that even one CTA board member last week called it “rather complicated.’’

Costello’s letter questioned the need for a 50-cent “convenience fee” for riders who pay for a one-way rail ride in cash, rather than with plastic, and asked whether Pace would get a slice of that fee.

An accompanying analysis by the RTA Planning Department charged that the convenience fee wouldaffect “low-income riders” and “infrequent riders, such as tourists and business travelers.”

A $5-a-month Ventra “dormancy’’ fee after 18 months of inactivity could affect the same groups, as well as customers who suddenly cannot take public transit because of ill health or relocation, the RTA Planning Department concluded. Costello’s letter also asked whether Pace would get a cut of dormancy fees.

Claypool responded in writing that the “convenience fees” are intended to cover the costs of producing single-use paper tickets holding the same special chip as plastic Ventra cards.

The convenience fee, Claypool wrote, is “entirely avoidable to any and every customer by using the reloadable Ventra card” and making a “simple two-minute phone call’’ to register that card. Users also must pay $5 upfront to get Ventra cards, but upon registration, those fees are converted into $5 transit credits.

Pace won’t get a cut of convenience fees, but it will get a slice of dormancy fees, which have been used by other transit agencies, including in New York, Claypool wrote.

Contributing: Mitch Dudek

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