Thursday, March 14, 2013

An Ill Wind at the CTA

On Wednesday the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Board unanimously approved the new Ventra Card system that will replace the current fare collection system on buses and trains starting this summer.  This decision came only two days after a heated exchange between a small but vocal group of 60 public transit riders and CTA leadership at their headquarters on 567 West Lake Street on Monday.

As usual, transit leadership ignored the concerns of its riders about the proposed changes to the fare card system.  System President Forest Claypool suggested that "savvy" users would find the new system easier and more cost effective than the current one.  

While this argument is certainly true for the CTA, the reality for system riders who pay with cash is much less rosy.  Even though the rail fare will not increase for single ride users, they will still be required to pay $3 to obtain a paper entry ticket.  The extra money presumably goes to the private vendor as a "processing fee."  Ventra cards will have a $5 fee associated with them, unless riders "register" their name and address with the private company.  They are also subject to a $5 dormancy fee if the card is not used within 18 months.  

Claypool continually dodged questions from reporters about the impact this change in fare structure will have on the city's poorest residents.  Apparently he believes that tourists are the main users of the CTA system and that they will be willing to abide by this new fare structure.  If he keeps going on with his plans like this, the CTA's leader might just get his wish.  

Due in large part to safety and reliability issues, many Chicagoans are choosing to drive (despite the parking costs).  Under the current CTA leadership, public transit in the city is slowly returning to the way it was in the 1980s, a last resort for the urban poor.  And since they are soon to be hit hardest by the new fare system, one can only wonder who we'll see on CTA buses and trains in the future (if anyone).  

I'm not a huge believer in conspiracy theories, but you can't help but wonder if there is a method to the CTA's slapstick approach to management.  Perhaps when they've broken the system down to the point of no-return, they can sell it to a private investor looking for a cheap addition to his/her portfolio.  After all, if you're going to privatize the fare collection why not the buses and trains themselves.