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Coalition for Equitable Community Development, Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, and Coalition for a Lakeside CBA agreement team up to push
Metra Chicago Regional Rail to research and work with the RTA, CTA and PACE to implement a seamless direct-use card payment system for transfer among the transit providers.
Thanks to Roger Huff for analysis and links. Gary Ossewaarde
July 2015

Media coverage and the Metra meeting online posting

Meeting online:
http://metrarr.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=67

Linda's testimony starts at about 1:05:46 and runs ~10 minutes (including the remarks by one of the board Directors John ____? after many had left the room); link to the 'clip':

http://metrarr.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?clip_id=67&view_id=2&embed=1&player_width=720&player_height=480&entrytime=3946&stoptime=4607&auto_start=1

The staff Mobile app update was late on the agenda; that presentation and subsequent Q/A/comments, begin at 2:27:50 and runs ~20 min; link to the 'clip':

http://metrarr.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?clip_id=67&view_id=2&embed=1&player_width=720&player_height=480&entrytime=8870&stoptime=10070&auto_start=1

Coalition Testimony at Metra Board meeting July 22

Tribune article July 21 Richard Wronski (pdf copy). Metra's Ticket App Leaves Behind Low-income and Elderly Critics Say Tribune report July 23 Richard Wronski (pdf copy) Metra Defends Smartphone App That Will Serve as Virtual App.

Daily Herald report July 22 (updated) Marni Pyke. Critics say Metra's app no substitute for universal fare card.

Hyde Park Herald article August 5 (below)


Two of the organizations had worked with State legislators, particularly Barbara Currie, Will Burns, Kwame Raoul and a coalition of others in 2011 to secure legislation whose intent, they believed was to get the three service providers to develop a universal fare card. CTA and PACE did so, called the VENTRA card. Metra declined and said that smart phones and debit/credit card apps are sufficient. (All three are expected to introduce such late in 2015- Metra being nearly a year late in introducing any such universal transfer and payment medium. The three organizations do not believe this solution by Metra lives up to the spirit of the legislation or serves those who cannot afford to get the app (a high proportion of minority and elderly persons do not have smart phones to begin with, do not wish to get smart phones or find it worthwhile to do so just for this purpose, especially if they do not travel frequently across the service providers, or find that because of lack of local/close wireless service cannot even use the app. (See the testimony and the articles by Mr. Wronski of the Tribune for background.) The coalition acknowledges that the summary, but not the text of the law specifies a universal fare card.

The three organizations have issues with Metra on three grounds: 1. The method of compliance leaves many low income, senior, and minority groups, and neighborhoods along the lakefront excluded and disadvantaged- they are already left behind by the digital divide. 2. The method is an incomplete satisfaction of the mandate (by an agency that is behind the eight-ball on its whole ticketing system and on being media friendly). 3. Metra is ducking the law.
Both CECD and HPKCC have worked with others to make Metra Electric a more serviceable, CTA rapid transit-like service through various plans including Gray or Gold Line for universal fare transferability and frequent service.

So, the three organizations first went to Lakefront Representatives Currie and Christian Mitchell, who wrote an inquiry to Metra. They met with Metra representatives, who mainly described the features of the smart phone/debit and credit card app and said Metra could not go further because of cost and complications from Metra's fare system, including its being distance-based (zoned). The Representatives informed the coalition that they did not find Metra's response satisfactory.

The coalition then planned to go to Metra's next board meeting, prepared testimony and releases. Mr. Wronski of the Tribune wrote an excellent article that appeared the day before the board meeting.

Ten representatives of the coalition went to the July 22 2015 Metra board meeting at 547 W. Jackson and Linda Thisted read testimony prepared by Thisted and vetted by the representatives. Members held up their smart phones and Ventra cards on cue. Much media was present. By coincidence, Metra's online ticket distribution system had failed the night before with long delays boarding trains during rush hour.

Metra board president Marty Oberman responded that he believed there was much misunderstanding of Metra's approach to a card and universal fare system and that the smart phone/debit/credit app was only a the first step, and welcoming a collaboration to research and implement a full system, but that there are many obstacles, and that they believe they are following and intend to follow the law. A liaison was assigned. In addition, one member of the board commented that a universal medium that accommodates all classes and groups of residents is a "social justice issue."

Metra continues to insist it gives plenty of options, from paying cash at a counter or machine for a paper ticket that has to be visible for a conductor to punch to somehow using Ventra. But ability to use Ventra is very limited-- the commercial apps have to be activated. "NFC-capable smart phones" refers to the use of those phones on CTA & Pace card readers after a future phase of the Ventra Mobile App is released. With that release those NFC-capable smart phones would become virtual Ventra Cards on the CTA & Pace systems. But Metra is not currently planning to use the NFC capabilities on the Metra system. If Metra WERE to install NFC tapping posts at Metra stations and equip train crews with card readers to audit customers (as done by Caltrain in the SF Bay Area), then Ventra cards could become RTA universal fare cards - but then no phone would even be required, that would be an additional option, vs. the principal non-cash option that Metra says it is now implementing. Metra did not go into detail on backups for phone-based and internet-based purchases.

 

To the Testimony

Hyde Park Herald, August 5, 2015. By Sarah Pan

Metr is trying to modernize its paper ticket purchase system, but some Hyde Park organizations believe the company is going about it the wrong way.

On July 22, Metra held a board meeting to defend its idea for a free ticket app, where riders would download tickets onto their smartphones and pay with a credit or debit card. South Side organizations, including teh Coalition for Equitable Community Development and the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, went in front of the Metra board against the idea. They claimed that the app wasn't fair to the elderly and and those with a low income, who rely more on public transportation.

"Only 19 percent of seniors and fewer than half of households making less than $30,000 own smart phones," said Linda Thisted, spokeswoman for the Coalition for Equitable Community Development, in her testimony at the board meeting. "[Metra's] smart phone solution...discriminates against seniors and low income people."

Metra hoped for the app to launch this fall, as it has been in development for years with CTA and Pace. However, the Hyde Park organizations feel that the app does not allow for the unified transit system required by the Universal Fare Card legislation.

Enacted in 2011, the legislature "requires the Regional Transportation Authority to implement a universal fare card system for the CTA, Metra and Pace by 2015." According to a state government press release. "A universal fare card would ensure fast and easy access to all forms of public transportation in the region by allowing seamless transfers between transit systems."

Both CTA and Pace have a Ventra card (similar to a credit card, but only used for boarding the transit system) for ticketing and transfers among agencies, but Metra has not adopted Ventra and has no obvious plans to.