IL: CTA's Disposable, Unlimited-Ride Passes Still Around

Sept. 03--Riders who miss using those disposable 3- and 7-day unlimited ride passes on the CTA, take note. A loophole in the Ventra system allows riders to buy the tickets--as long as they purchase them in bulk.

As part of the transition to the Ventra payment system, which was completed in July, the CTA stopped selling the individual 3-, 7- and 30-day disposable unlimited passes.

But 3- and 7-day disposable passes still are being sold in bulk through Ventra, mostly to social-service agencies that hand the cards out to their clients. The CTA said these disposable passes are available as a convenience to organizations.

Individual riders also can purchase them--though the CTA doesn't advertise that. To get these passes, riders have to fill out a form and buy at least 10 tickets at a time.

The catch is, they have to pay a 50-cent processing fee for each 3- and 7-day ticket they buy--a fee that goes to Ventra vendor Cubic Transportation Systems for manufacturing the tickets.

"Very rarely have individuals purchased their passes in bulk," CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski said. "The use of the Ventra hard card continues to be the best option for our customers in terms of cost and convenience."

The CTA has said that riders who want to use a 3- or 7-day unlimited ride pass have to load the pass onto a Ventra hard, plastic card meant for long-term use. They also could take advantage of the passes by using a personal bank card or phone that is compatible with Ventra readers.

One-day disposable passes still are available at Ventra vending machines; 30-day disposable passes have been discontinued.

Unlimited ride passes loaded onto a Ventra plastic card are not subject to processing fees, as they are in bulk ticket purchases.

The CTA largely has promoted the long-term Ventra plastic cards. It costs $5 to buy those cards and if a rider registers the card through Ventra, the $5 is put back onto the card as transit credit. There were 2.3 million active Ventra accounts last month.

But registering Ventra cards is not a popular choice. About 43 percent of Ventra cards were registered, as of May. The CTA could not provide up-to-date registration numbers.

Riders have said they won't register their cards because they don't want to give their personal information to Ventra. Others have said they found the registration process, which is performed online or by phone, to be a hassle. The $5 those riders spent on the card is then lost.

Before Ventra, about 75 percent of riders used disposable fare cards.

For those who prefer the old method of using a pass and then throwing it out, buying in bulk may be a better option, though it will cost more and take longer to get the passes.

Take the three-day unlimited-ride pass, for example. It costs $205 for a bulk order of 10--$200 for the base fee plus the 50-cent processing fee per ticket or $5 for 10 tickets.

That works out to $20.50 per ticket. With a registered Ventra card, you can buy one pass at a time--or in bulk--online or at station vending machine. Buy 10 and the cost is $200 or $20 per unlimited ride pass.

Here are the rules for ordering disposable tickets:

--Go to ventrachicago.com/assets/1/7/Ventra_Group_Sales_Order_Form.pdf to print out the mail-in form.

--Riders must order at least 10 of the disposable tickets at one time. The purchase can be a mix of one-, three- or seven-day unlimited ride tickets or the $3 single-ride ticket.

--The three- and seven-day disposable tickets are subject to a 50-cent processing fee that Ventra hard plastic cards are not. The one-day unlimited pass and single-ride tickets costs the same whether you buy them in bulk or at a Ventra vending machine.

--Orders are delivered within 7-10 days after the mail-in order and payment is received and there is no shipping charge.

--Tickets expire between 50 and 250 days after they're issued.

About 93 percent of bulk purchases are of the single-ride and one-day tickets, both of which are offered at rail stations and retail spots, Hosinski said.

Three-day passes make up 1 percent of bulk sales while seven-day passes make up 6 percent, Hosinski said. Neither product is offered at rail stations or retail outlets.

The Ventra hard cards are good for five years but if a Ventra card is not used for transit or reloaded for 18 continuous months, a dormancy fee of $5 per month is charged against the account until the balance is reduced to zero.

The CTA said there are other benefits to having the Ventra hard card.

Hard cards can be reloaded with passes, tickets cannot. If a ticket is lost, it cannot be replaced, but the balance can be replaced on lost registered Ventra cards.

"You're better off getting the hard Ventra card," Hosinski said.

Copyright 2014 - RedEye, Chicago

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