Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Are cash-less cards unfair for regular users of mass transit programs?

I remember the days when one actually got a reward at a gas station for using cash INSTEAD OF a credit card to pay for their motor fuel, I also recall the day when one dumped a token into the fare box on board the bus in order to get a ride.

So perhaps it is a sign of my advancing age that I see the new way in which the Chicago Transit Authority wants people to pay their fares for a bus or elevated train ride and can’t help but be repulsed by the change.

FOR IT SEEMS that the CTA is joining the ranks of entities that wants to view cash as a problem – largely because it requires real live employees to handle properly.

Having some sort of card that one scans, or perhaps even just swipes, may soon become the preferred way of paying one’s fare – to the point that the CTA may start penalizing people who pay for their individual rides with cash.

The Chicago Tribune has reported in recent days about the new Ventra system that the CTA wants to implement this year. It would entail purchasing special cards that would have credit pre-loaded onto them. Then, you just swipe your card each time you use the CTA for your transit needs.

You’d have to update your card periodically for more credit. But I’m sure the CTA likes the idea of you just giving them large sums of money – without thinking specifically about how much you’re actually spending.

THE FINANCIAL INCENTIVE to sway people to use this new system (rather than just reject it as some hokey, new-fangled gadget)? CTA officials are considering a plan by which the basic fare for a single bus or el train ride would rise to $3 – up from the $2.25 they currently charge.

Heck, I can remember when bus rides were 90 cents, with an extra dime for the transfer. And I know there is the older generation that can remember when CTA rides were even significantly cheaper than that.

I realize that costs increase with time. Inflation, after all. So I’m not necessarily complaining about the rise in price. Although it makes me thankful that I don’t use mass transit as often these days as I used to. I think I’d be perpetually broke if I were a daily user.

But I can sympathize with those activists who are taking up the cause of lower-income mass transit riders who aren’t going to want to have to shell out so much money at once and are more likely to pay for rides individually.

THEY’RE THE ONES who will wind up having to pay more money so that the rest of us will be able to have a “contactless fare card” with which to pay for those rides we take on those occasions when we’d rather not be bothered with having to park an automobile.

Considering the cost of legal parking in Chicago, they may argue that even a higher-costing CTA ride is still a financial bargain!

But it still is cheesy to hit certain people with a higher fare for not using the new device – whose main purpose like I wrote earlier is to reduce the amount of human staff necessary to process all that cash that would otherwise need to be counted out.

I don’t expect CTA officials to be swayed by any of this.

THE CTA’S BOARD is scheduled to meet Wednesday, and likely will vote on the matter at that time. I expect it will be regarded as a vote for technological progress, and all those activists who bother to show up to complain will be dismissed as somehow wanting to live in the past.

Yet there were some things about the past that were preserving – such as the idea of a bus ride and transfer that one could pay for with just a dollar bill (and not having to worry about juggling all kinds of extra change).


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