Woodstock, Partners Secure Improvements to CTA’s Ventra Prepaid Card

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) recently announced positive changes to the general purpose reloadable (GPR) feature of the CTA’s new Ventra transit card after receiving pressure from consumer advocacy groups

These changes, including slashing fees in half, were the result of a focused campaign by Woodstock Institute and colleague organizations to eliminate some of the Ventra card’s most harmful features for consumers. 

When word of the Ventra card—and its optional GPR  feature (often called prepaid)—first emerged, Woodstock Institute and our partners at Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights, the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, and the Center for Economic Progress quickly reached out to CTA staff and the Mayor’s office to discuss our concerns.

When first unveiled, the prepaid feature of the Ventra card included a long list of high-cost fees, including: $1.50 for every ATM withdrawal (in addition ATM owner fees), $2 for every live-person customer service call; up to $4.95 for every cash reload to the card, and $2 for a paper monthly statement, among others. In public hearings, CTA leadership touted the GPR feature as a potential solution for underbanked and unbanked residents of Chicago despite the fact that nerdwallet.com estimated that the Ventra GPR feature could cost consumers as much as $188 or more in fees each year.

Consumer advocates spent a month working with CTA to make as many changes as possible before the Ventra card is rolled out this summer. We highlighted our concerns around the high cost of loading cash or non-direct deposit checks onto the card, as well as the high ATM fees. In addition, we emphasized the clear need for free customer service calls given that users of the new product are bound to have questions related to bills, usage, card features and more.  

In response, the CTA worked with its Ventra contractor, Cubic, as well as sub-contractors Metabank and First Data, to reduce or eliminate certain fees. Now, customer service calls to live agents will be free; paper bills will cost $1 as opposed to $2; and the fee for a balance refund check will be $5 rather than $6. In addition, the CTA secured a contract with the Allpoint ATM network to provide access to nearly 1,000 ATMs in which customers can withdraw cash in-network at no charge. The $1.50 charge will still apply to ATMs out of network, but now customers will have the ability to withdraw cash for free if they use approved ATMs throughout the City of Chicago and Cook County.With these changes, NerdWallet now estimates that Ventra GPR users would pay about $95 per year in fees.  In addition, CTA will no longer share in revenue generated by the GPR feature.

We appreciate the changes that CTA has made and we are continuing to work with the CTA  to secure additional improvements regarding the Ventra card GPR features and fees. For example, consumer advocates have concerns about the cost of loading money onto the card (currently up to $4.95 per load)for persons without direct deposit. As the Ventra card is rolled out, we encourage transit riders to use the Ventra transit features and caution consumers to comparison shop among available low-cost bank accounts and GPR cards before deciding whether to activate the optional Ventra GPR feature. The NerdWallet website has a useful comparison feature.