Six high schools pilot special Ventra card

Student ID card will double as transit pass for kids at six of city’s public high schools.

August 29, 2013

(WBEZ/Linda Lutton)
All CPS students will use a single, plastic Ventra card to get to and from school. The “smart” card will charge students the same reduced fares during school days and hours.

Riding public transportation could get a bit easier for some Chicago Public School students.

At six of the city’s public high schools, students are getting a single card that serves as both a student ID and a transit card. The pilot schools are Alcott College Prep, Al Raby School for Community and Environment, Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, Lincoln Park High School, Morgan Park High School and Southside Occupational Academy.

Micheala Sharp is a junior at Lincoln Park High School, but lives in the Austin neighborhood on the West Side of the city. She takes two buses for a total of about an hour and 15 minutes to get to school every day. As she explained how she got to and from school every day, she encouraged me to get a piece of paper. It’s complicated.

That’s because in the past, students have had to use a variety of different paper cards in order to get on buses or trains with reduced rates. Many students rely on the Chicago Transit Authority to get to and from school because CPS does not provide busing to all students.

Since the beginning of 2013, students used a “student fare card” and paid 75 cents per ride between 5:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. Outside of school hours, students between age 7 and 11 could carry a separate card to pay the “reduced fare” rates offered to senior citizens and people with disabilities ($1 for the bus, $1.10 for the train). Students between age 12 and 20 had to pay full fare and carry a separate, regular fare CTA card.

Under the new Ventra system, all students will get a single hard plastic card, which will know what rate to charge them based on the date, time of day and age of the person registered to the account. All CPS students will get this type of “smart” card.

On the second day of school, when students started using the cards, the Chicago Tribune reported glitches parents were having with student accounts. According to the Tribune, parents said the online balance appeared to be zero after having loaded money on the card.

CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said they are working through glitches and if anyone has issues, they should alert the CTA.

Chase told WBEZ that the goal is to move all high school students in CPS to a combination ID card, like those being piloted at six high schools this year.

Members of the Mikva Challenge Youth Commission had advocated for a more streamlined student fare card system. In 2010, students recommended a combination ID card similar to the one being piloted this year, but one that would also link a Chicago Public Library account.

Free fares for students?

Last year, Mikva also worked with the Mayor Rahm Emanuel on another privately-funded pilot program that gave 100 students at five high schools free fare cards last school year. Data collected from the program showed a five percent increase in attendance.

The future of that program is unclear. A spokeswoman in the Mayor’s office said they’re exploring ways to continue that program with the help of private donors.

For the past couple of years, all CPS students, and accompanying adults, have been able to ride for free on the first day of school. CTA officials say they plan to continue this plan going forward.

CPS also provides free transportation, either a yellow school bus or a CTA pass, to homeless students, according to Rene Heybach, director of the Law Project at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. On Tuesday, she said it remained unclear how homeless children and their parents would be transitioned to the new Ventra system.

CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis said homeless students will remain covered under the new Ventra system.

“The Chicago Transit Authority has been working with CPS on ways to administer the program which are the most efficient,” Lukidis said in an email statement. “Until the STLS program transitions to the new fare system, students in the program can continue to use the magnetic stripe cards which are issued by their schools.”

Lukidis also said any “free” rides, like those offered on the first day of school and on New Year’s Eve, are actually funded by private donations.

Becky Vevea is a producer for WBEZ. Follow her @WBEZeducation.