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Federal lawsuit against CTA alleges unauthorized charges on Ventra accounts

Rider seeks class-action status; transit agency contends all charges legitimate

By Ellen Jean Hirst

Tribune reporter

9:06 PM CDT, October 11, 2013

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A transit user who alleges he was overcharged under the new Ventra fare pass system has filed a federal lawsuit against the Chicago Transit Authority and the company hired to implement Ventra.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Chicago, asks that plaintiff James Kenger be joined in a class action on behalf of "all persons who have a Ventra card that is linked to an asset account, i.e. not a prepaid Ventra card."

According to the suit, on Sept. 24 Kenger was charged twice for a single fare under the new Ventra system. Two days later, Kenger was charged $8.50 within 1 minute and 10 seconds, the suit states. The charges were labeled "CTA Customer Call Center."

"He basically got a bunch of charges that did not appear to be authorized and did not represent actual use by him," Kenger's attorney, Daniel Edelman, said.

The CTA said the charges to Kenger's account are legitimate.

"Based on a preliminary review, we believe all of the transactions in this customer's account are transit rides and reloading his account," CTA spokesman Brian Steele wrote in an email.

Steele said customers are not charged for calling customer service. But Cubic Transportation Systems Inc. made the mistake of mislabeling as customer service phone calls what actually were transit ride fares paid for with Chicago Cards, the CTA said last week when the Tribune inquired about the situation.

The CTA and Cubic originally planned to charge a $2 fee for calls placed to customer service in connection with an optional prepaid debit MasterCard account offered to Ventra customers. The plan was dropped this year when Cubic also reduced or eliminated other customer service charges related to the prepaid debit account.

"We believe that subsequent to activating his Ventra card, he used his Chicago Card Plus for some transit rides," Steele said in the email. "Chicago Card Plus still works, even if your Ventra card is activated. The charges you incur on your Chicago Card Plus will simply post against your Ventra account, as customers are informed in email materials."

But Edelman said his client "cut up" his Chicago Card Plus after he activated his Ventra card. He said Ventra users should keep close tabs on their accounts.

"The system is set up in such a manner that a person is unlikely to know unless you're regularly checking your account records," Edelman said. "If you're not careful, it's entirely possible that you will not notice the actual activity."

ehirst@tribune.com

jhilkevitch@tribune.com