It sounds simple: get a Ventra Card, keep riding the ‘L’ for the same $2.25 you’re used to paying. Otherwise, a single-ride, disposable ticket’ll set you back $3, including a new 50-cent fee and a 25-cent transfer whether you want it or not.
As the Tribune’s Jon Hilkevitch reported this morning, why in the world wouldn’t you do everything you can to avoid that 75-cent per-ride premium?
On its Twitter account, Ventra keeps saying the 75-cent fee (or 50-cent fee, if you don’t count the automatic transfer) is “easily avoidable,” but it’s easy to envision scenarios in which it’ll be difficult to avoid:
Maybe you lost your Ventra Card
The primary benefit of registering your Ventra Card (beyond getting the $5 purchase price refunded) is that it protects the value of your card, CTA keeps saying. But if you lose it or it gets stolen, it might not be painless to get a new one:
It sounds from Ventra’s tweets that card users will have to wait for a replacement card to show up in the mail, just as current Chicago Card Plus users do (Ventra didn’t respond to my follow-up tweets, but if it does I’ll update this post). I had assumed a big advantage of the new Ventra machines at every station would be the ability to get an immediate replacement, but that might not be the case.
As it stands, it’s a pain to wait for a replacement Chicago Card Plus if you have a monthly unlimited pass that you can’t access without a new card. But at least it only costs $2.25 to get on the ‘L’ until a new one arrives.
Under the new system, even if it takes only five business days to receive a new Ventra Card via mail—and I know people who have had to wait even longer for a new Chicago Card Plus—you’re looking at an extra $7.50 if all you use CTA trains for is to get to work and back each day (that’s 75 cents extra per one-way ride). The only way to avoid that 75-cent premium is by using a contactless bank card, a technology that isn’t widespread enough to exist on my my newest, 1-year-old credit card.
Until this point, I had assumed that while the Ventra Card didn’t seem likely to make life more convenient for most current CC/CC+ users, at least it wouldn’t make our lives less convenient. I think I was wrong.
Maybe you’re a tourist
If you’re visiting Chicago only for a weekend, why would you go through the process of registering a transit pass? I don’t visit T.J. Maxx with enough frequency to sign up for a rewards card—or to attempt to understand the benefits of doing so. Won’t the same logic apply to visitors who don’t have CTA-savvy friends to fill them in on the savings of a Ventra Card over a Ventra single-use ticket, even for a single day?
Fleecing tourists is nothing new for the CTA. Remember the huge price jumps on 1-day and 3-day passes and on single-fare rides originating from O’Hare?
Maybe you can’t afford the Ventra Card
If you can’t pay the one-time, refundable $5 fee for a Ventra Card, you’ll be paying $3 per ride until you can do so. But the CTA makes a compelling case that the $5 upfront fee won’t be burdensome for anyone considering each round-trip rail ride already costs $4.50. And you don’t need a credit card to use a Ventra Card and avoid the 75-cent fee. You can reload the card with cash every morning just like you can now with the blue disposable passes.
Still, the the stakes are much higher for low-income riders if you happen to lose your Ventra Card or have it stolen. Not only will you have to pay $5 to get it replaced—which you obviously don’t have to do with the current blue passes—but you’ll also have to pay that inflated $3 per ride until your replacement card arrives. (It’s also worth noting that low-income riders will be less likely to register their cards and save the $5 purchase fee, according to a study.)
“The Ventra system is designed to save riders time and money,” CTA says in bold on its common misconceptions page. All I see are scenarios in which riders end up paying more.