Remember to Check Expiration Dates on CTA Transit Cards--Really


By Jon Hilkevitch

Column: Getting Around
Date of Publication: October 12, 1998
Source: Chicago Tribune


Let's try this one more time:

Two columns ago, Getting Around cautioned commuters who use the Chicago Transit Authority's transit card to check the expiration date stamped on the back side, because once the card goes belly-up, it won't work in rail turnstiles or on bus-fare machines and the CTA will keep any and all moola remaining.

This may look, feel and smell like a ripoff, but it has been CTA policy since the current fare-collection system was introduced in mid-1997. The no-refund rule is clearly stated on the reverse of each card.

After the Sept. 28 column reminding commuters, hordes of readers wrote or phoned to thank (sort of) Getting Around for the warning, but they really wanted to know what the heck we were talking about. After the column, all these folks trekked to CTA headquarters at the Merchandise Mart and were cheerfully given new transit cards containing the remaining value from their expired cards.

It was then Getting Around's turn to ask the CTA: What the heck is going on?

After doing some checking, CTA officials explained that a kind-hearted but uninformed manager and his immediate underlings were doling out the replacement cards--counter to the aforementioned policy.

But no more.

Thanks, I guess, to Getting Around.

"No, it's not your fault. We are entirely to blame for the confusion," said CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney. "Unfortunately, it had probably been going on for some time on a smaller scale, but the refunds have now been stopped."

So, if you own a transit card, check the expiration date. If it is due to terminate within 60 days, the transit card vending machines at all rail stations are programmed to swap out the card for a new one--valid for another whole year--when you add value, even if only 5 cents, to the card. But don't trust the technology. Verify. And if it doesn't work and you end up losing money and your temper, send the card, or the AVM card stock number recorded on the back of the card, back to the CTA. And let us know, too.

At the request of the Tribune, Craig Lang, the CTA's transit card guru, on Friday ran a complete test of every transit card vending machine in the system, and Lang said no problems were found. But that doesn't rule out that gremlins might be hiding in the magnetic strip on the plastic fare card, for which the CTA pays all of 7 cents.

The lesson is clear: Rider beware! (And on Metra, too. Metra's one-way and 10-ride tickets are valid for one year from the date of issue.)

Coming clean: Power-washing of the CTA's Red Line subway on Sunday mornings has ended for the season, meaning that the Howard-Dan Ryan subway trains will no longer be detoured along the elevated tracks. Now it's the Blue Line's turn. From 11:30 p.m. Saturdays until 6:30 a.m. Sundays, the Dearborn subway will undergo scrubbings until early December. While cleaning takes place on one side of the right-of-way, trains will operate on the same track in each direction between the Grand/Milwaukee and LaSalle/Congress stations. CTA officials say riders should plan for minor delays.

Write to Getting Around, c/o Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611-4041. E-mail