NBC 5 Responds

Venting About Ventra: Policy Blocks CTA Riders From Fare Refunds

Like most people, Lisa Squires’ work commute changed during the pandemic. But getting a refund of her Ventra card balance proved to be a difficult venture.

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A little-known Chicago Transit Authority refund policy stopped a former Chicago rider in her tracks when she stopped commuting during the pandemic, and she discovered her fare balance was nearly $500.

Lisa Squires turned to NBC 5 Responds as a last resort for help after she said she couldn’t understand why a simple refund request was so difficult for the CTA.

Squires said her repeated calls and emails were getting nowhere.

“For me, it felt like it was a full-time job,” she told NBC 5 Responds.

CTA’s Brown Line used to be a major part of Squires' life. Not only would she take it to and from work each morning, the tracks of the train literally went through her Lincoln Square backyard.

It was so ingrained in her routine that Squires said she had money coming out of every paycheck, going directly to her Ventra account.  

Then, COVID struck: upending everyone’s lives and Squires' commute.

Squires said in response to the pandemic, her employer, “downsized the office, so I technically do not have an office or desk to go to.”

Now working remotely, Squires said in 2020, her family decided to move to Harwood Heights. Leaving behind her city home, her city commute and her CTA/Ventra fare balance.

And to her own surprise, Squires had accumulated a big one: nearly $500.

“I was just paying X amount of dollars every week out of my paycheck,” Squires explained. “I didn’t want to wake up one morning and not have money on my card.”

Squires thought how hard could a refund request be? But when she called CTA’s Ventra division, her simple request took a detour.  

A long-standing CTA policy prevents refunds unless a rider moves out-of-state, a spokesperson told NBC 5 Responds.

Squires said a CTA representative told her over the phone, “‘Oh, no, you have to move out of state,’ and I kept saying, ‘I'm not moving out of state.’ ‘Well, we can't help you.’”

It is a fact that CTA does have a long-standing policy since the nineties on its books: No refunds of Ventra account balances unless the commuter moves out of state, a CTA spokesperson confirmed to NBC 5 Responds.

The spokesperson added that there are “case-by-case” exceptions for “extremely rare instances.”

At the start of the pandemic, a CTA spokesperson said the transit authority broadly offered travelers a one-time refund given the unprecedented situation and since many riders were forced to work remotely.

But CTA said not many riders took up the agency on the refund offer.

“There have been approximately 20 instances in which a request for a refund has been escalated… due to extraordinary circumstances,” a statement from CTA read. “That represents an extremely small percentage of the approximately 400 million CTA riders in 2020-2021.”

CTA also recommends that all riders should keep a close eye on Ventra autoload settings, in order to prevent accruing a large balance, and especially as commutes continue to evolve.

In Squires' case, after NBC 5 Responds explained the situation to CTA, her refund request proceeded forward.

“I got a phone call from someone at Ventra saying, ‘Oh, since you know someone, we are willing to make an exception,” she said.  

CTA told NBC 5 Responds, “During this time of uncertainty, we found [Squires' case] to be an extraordinary circumstance in which we could accommodate the request of returning the remaining balance.”

Squires said she’s thrilled, but she thinks CTA’s policy needs more flexibility.

“I think they need to be a little bit more compassionate and revise their system,” she said.

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