CTA OKs price hikes for passes for college students, fees geared toward tourists
By ROSALIND ROSSI Transportation Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org March 13, 2013 8:19PM
Updated: April 15, 2013 11:26AM
CTA board members Wednesday signed off on two price hikes of more than 30 percent — one affecting college students; the other expected to impact tourists and infrequent L riders.
As of this fall, the board agreed to raise the cost of U-Passes used by full-time college students from 81-cents to $1.07 a day — a 32 percent price increase.
It also approved a $3 fare for L passengers who choose to buy one-way tickets with cash once the plastic-card-dominant Ventra payment system starts this summer. That’s 33 percent more than the $2.25 fare the same one-ride passenger would pay now — or in the future if using a plastic Ventra card with a special chip.
The U-Pass price change could affect up to 130,000 full-time students at 52 colleges who now can use the deeply-discounted transit cards for unlimited daily rides. Usually, CTA officials said, universities embed the cost of U-Passes in student fees but do not have to do so.
The price change translates into a $15 increase per U-Pass per semester, and is intended to offset “higher operational expenses,’’ but still reflects a great value, CTA officials said. U-Pass rates have not increased in three years, they noted.
At the University of Illinois-Chicago, for example, all undergraduate and graduate students currently pay $109 a semester per U-Pass — whether they use it or not — and vote annually on whether to renew the program.
UIC has never subsidized U-Passes, but they represent “a tremendous bargain and it also encourages students to explore the city and to use public transportation,’’ said UIC spokesman Bill Burton. “We think both of those things are valuable — and so does the CTA.’’
Starting this fall, new U-Passes will be in the form of new plastic Ventra payment cards which will also feature student photos and names.
A new five-year contract agreement approved Wednesday also requires schools to pay a $5 fee per Ventra card up front, but it’s up to schools to decide if they want to pass that cost on to students, CTA officials said.
CTA President Forrest Claypool told reporters the U-Pass hike was tied to the expiration of the U-Pass contract, rather than the new Ventra system.
The new contract is for five years and, for the first time, will give students access to not only the CTA but also Pace. Plus, some certificate-granting post-secondary schools may be offering U-Passes.
Meanwhile Wednesday, CTA Board members agreed to charge riders who choose to buy a one-way rail ride with cash $3 once Ventra launches this summer. The amount reflects the cost of a $2.25 one-way rail ride, a 25-cent transfer — whether used or not, and a 50-cent “convenience fee’’ for producing a disposable paper ticket with the same special chip contained in new plastic Ventra cards.
CTA officials said they expected tourists and infrequent riders to use one-ride cash L tickets and regular riders to opt for payment by Ventra cards.
Any low-income rider can avoid the “convenience fee” by buying a Ventra card with $5 in cash at a rail station or retail outlet, and registering it online or with a phone call, officials said. By supplying a name, phone number and address, the user’s $5 fee will be converted into a $5 fare credit and any card balance will be protected if a card is lost.
Without registration, riders will lose the $5 fee.
CTA rider Akema Lewis told board members that Chicago is “one of the most expensive cities” in the nation and “$5 dollars, 5 cents, even a penny” can affect impoverished transit riders.
However, Claypool insisted the new Ventra payment system will not penalize the poor.
“This is a cost-free transition.’’ Claypool said. “It costs you nothing to transfer from the magnetic stripe cards to Ventra, except two minutes of your time.’’
CTA board members also verbally probed the many wrinkles in the new Ventra payment system.
Board member Jackie Grimshaw called it “rather complicated” and questioned how the CTA was going to make sure customers understood it.
Extensive outreach is planned, CTA officials said.