What can you do to avoid CTA's new hidden fees

Ventra is the new payment system for Chicago transit that will eventually allow customers to use a single fare card for regional transit throughout the Chicago area.    It comes with the option of registering the card as a prepaid debit card.  But you need to be careful if you choose to do so – this prepaid debit card that can leave you on the hook for hidden fees and unpredictable charges.  

The CTA shouldn’t be in the business of promoting pre-paid debit cards and should not allow such a product be linked to the Ventra card.  Unfortunately, the CTA signed a 12 year contract with the private company making a profit off of these cards, so it could be a while until they're gone. 

Until then, here are a few things you should do to avoid getting gouged if you register for the prepaid debit card:

Read the Fine Print, often – Unlike conventional debit and credit cards, prepaid cards like this one have no fee disclosure requirements, meaning they can change their fees at any time without notice.  Make sure to keep up to date on what they’re charging you.

Do everything online – upload money online, look at your statements online, look online for help.  This will save you from the $2 fee for paper monthly statements, the $2 fee for customer service, and the up to $4.95 fee for loading the card with cash at reload locations.

Make sure you only load money on the card if you want to spend it using that card - You’ll be charged $2 to move money online from the prepaid debit account to another account.  You’ll also have to avoid using the card at an ATM or getting cash from a teller, as that will cost you $1.50 and $2.00, respectively.  If you ask for your money back, that will cost $6.

Don’t let the card sit idle – After 18 months of non-activity you’ll be charged $2 a month for not using the card (separately from the $5 a month you’ll be charged for not using the transit card).

Don’t lose the card – You’ll be charged $5 for replacing the Ventra Card and if you try to buy a single fare ride while you’re waiting for your new card you’ll  pay a $.75 premium above the usual $2.25 one way ride rate.

Of course, the best thing you can do to avoid paying these outrageous fees is to avoid getting the prepaid debit card in the first place.   If that’s not possible, be sure to shop around for the best deal and pay attention to the fees associated with each card - keeping in mind that they can change at any time without notice. 

For a full list of fees, and to find out more about the Ventra system, click here.