Ventra's transit benefits program also a problem

The RTA transit benefit program has about 2,000 employers and about 50,000 employees enrolled. Third-party administrators in the RTA program are subject to paying the $1.50 CTA Ventra load fee.

The transit benefit program began in 1999 in the Chicago area. The CTA participated in the RTA program until last year. About 1,100 employers representing 55,000 employees are enrolled in the CTA Ventra transit benefit program, Mayberry said.

Pace accepts companies that participate in either the RTA or CTA Ventra programs, Pace spokesman Patrick Wilmot said.

RTA spokeswoman Susan Massel charged that the CTA Ventra load fees are "purely a penalty to allow Cubic and CTA to collect more money."

"It is not CTA's role to punish private corporations if they don't increase their business,'' she said.

Massel said the CTA instead should focus on fixing Ventra's many problems and providing quality service that promotes ridership growth.

A new wrinkle to the RTA transit benefit program offers participants the option to load their pretax paycheck deductions onto an RTA prepaid MasterCard. The card can be used to purchase transit fares on the CTA, Metra, Pace, South Shore Line, Amtrak and Chicago Water Taxis.

The RTA MasterCard can be used at Ventra fare readers to ride CTA and Pace and to purchase fares at sales windows, ticket vending machines and online transit purchases. It cannot be used for general retail purchases.

A CTA Ventra prepaid debit MasterCard that the CTA is offering as a separate account on its Ventra transit card can be used for any kind of retail purchases. Users of the optional CTA Ventra MasterCard are subject to various customer service charges and convenience fees.

Under Internal Revenue Service rules, transit riders can set aside up to $245 per month in pretax income in the transit benefit program. But the maximum limit will be reduced to $130 per month in 2014 unless Congress passes new legislation before Dec. 31.

The monthly pretax spending limit for parking will increase from $245 to $250 a month in 2014. The parking rules are not subject to congressional action.

Contact Getting Around at jhilkevitch@tribune.com 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.

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