Claypool said the $50 million in savings is a conservative estimate. But more important, it would likely cost the CTA more than $454 million to build a new system from scratch, instead of contracting with low-bidder Cubic, he said.
The current CTA fare-card technology is becoming outmoded, Claypool said. Even though the Chicago Card functions well for many CTA riders, many need to replace their cards more than once because they fail. And next year, the manufacturer of the Chicago Card computer chip will stop producing the chips, Claypool said.
"We essentially would have to invest massive amounts of money to upgrade or rebuild the current system," Claypool said. "The savings is on build versus buy."
But the CTA faces the monumental burden of selling the public on the new fare-payment system because many riders can avoid Ventra entirely by using personal credit or debit cards outfitted with contactless radio-frequency technology.
Officials said no convenience fees or other charges would be incurred if a credit or debit card is used to pay transit fares or to load money or multiday transit passes onto a Ventra account.
Your Getting Around reporter has heard complaints about Ventra from just about every possible transit constituency. In the few months before the Ventra card goes on sale for $5 (with the $5 applied to transit fares if the card owner registers the card within 90 days), the CTA must build confidence and acceptance.
Senior citizens and disabled riders enrolled in the RTA's reduced-fare program won't have the option of adding a MasterCard debit account to their Ventra card, and that rubs some the wrong way.
Senior Eugene Wildman objects to the policy, regardless of whether he would want a debit account.
"On the face of it, not offering the prepaid debit card sounds discriminatory, even punitive," Wildman said in an email.
Contact Getting Around at firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o the Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611; on Twitter @jhilkevitch; and at facebook.com/jhilkevitch. Read recent columns at chicagotribune.com/gettingaround.