The Ventra card system is “inefficient and inconvenient”, costing social service providers nearly a quarter of a million dollars in service fees, claims a report by the Chicago Jobs Council, a local nonprofit that helps connect people with jobs.

In the report, “The Hidden Cost of Ventra,” social service agencies in Chicago reported spending over $1 million in Ventra cards and single ride tickets each month. The CJC reached out to 345 agencies affiliated with the Department of Family and Supportive Services, the Chicago Housing Authority, and the Chicago-Cook Workforce Partnership. Only 53 agencies reported back, about a 15.3% response rate. 

This was the second CJC survey of social service providers since the city contracted out the ticket service to the company operated by Cubic Transportation Systems in 2013. The transition wasn’t seamless

The Chicago Jobs Council argues in their findings that “nothing has changed.” Social service agencies are still left with buying bulk orders with “outdated paper order forms and checks.” They report wait times of two months for a shipment of tickets, according to 63% of respondents. Because of these delays, the report notes, “some providers have resorted to purchasing large quantities of tickets from regular Ventra vending machines, which is inefficient and burdensome.” And due to the 50-cent surcharge on paper tickets purchased through Ventra machines, fees cost providers $280,000 a year, the equivalent of 112,000 El rides.

The report makes the following recommendations:

  • Eliminate the $0.50 fee on paper tickets for social service providers who receive funding from city and county agencies.

  • Modernize the bulk order process with online credit card payment options and delivery tracking.

  • Ensure delivery of bulk orders within 2 weeks of order.

  • Designate high capacity Ventra vending machines that are accessible to providers across the city, allowing providers to fill immediate bulk transit needs.

  • Allow providers to disable negative balance function of cards.

  • Extend ticket expiration times.

  • Offer bulk registration of cards online, and number products sequentially to simplify the bulk registration process.

  • Allow more than one opportunity for providers to return expired tickets. 

In an emailed statement, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) said it already has been working to address the issues raised in the CJC report. “In fact, some of the changes we’re addressing are an outgrowth of the dialogues we’ve had with various providers since 2013, and include more than 400 social service agencies,” the transit agency said. “While we recognize and appreciate the important mission social service agencies serve, CTA also has a duty to consider its overall agency mission. In this strained and uncertain fiscal climate, any changes to CTA fare or fare-media policies pose challenges, and must be considered in the overall context of CTA operations.” 

CTA said it already provides over $100 million free and discounted rides annually through various state-mandates programs. But due to state budget cuts, the agency lost $28 million it depends on to subsidize those rides. “CTA relies on all fare revenue to keep our budget balanced and continue to provide the cost-effective service we provide to all Chicagoans,” the statement read. “We are committed to continuing the dialogue we have been having with social service providers to fully explore the issue and discuss options.”