Looks like CTA's move to get people to pay with the CTA card instead of cash is working. Whenever this is proposed in DC, people say it would hurt the poor and they won't get the smart cards.. well CTA eliminated the fee for th card istelf (for a limited time) purchase one and with the fare increase stores can't keep them in stock.
CTA card a good buy, but just try to find one
It's the hottest ticket since fares went up
By Virginia Groark
Tribune staff reporter
January 6, 2006
Scores of grocery stores and currency exchanges around Chicago have temporarily run out of the prepaid fare cards widely promoted by the Chicago Transit Authority as a way for bus and train riders to avoid paying the Jan. 1 cash fare increase.
Many of the 37 Dominick's Finer Food stores that typically carry the card ran out this week as CTA customers snatched them up to avoid paying the 25-cent increase, a corporate spokeswoman said.
Some Jewel stores and currency exchanges in Chicago, Evanston, Summit and Oak Park also have sold out, store employees and managers said Thursday. Though orders for more have been placed, some stores have been told the new cards won't arrive for several days.
"This is just unbelievable," said Hyde Park resident Earl Hopewell, who went to seven locations Wednesday and Thursday and found all sold out. "This is either operating and financial ignorance, or it's a calculated financial windfall. In either case, it's wrong."
CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney said the agency relies on vendors to tell them when they need more cards. She said it has been warning vendors for several weeks that they could see a surge in demand and should request cards before they run out.
The CTA, which has 42,000 cards in stock and expects another 30,000 to arrive in the next few days, is replenishing the orders as soon as it receives them, she said. Another 50,000 cards are expected by the end of the month and 96,000 next month.
The cards may still be purchased online, by mail at CTA headquarters and at some stores listed on the agency's Web site.
The demand for the cards was sparked by Sunday's fare increase. Cash fares jumped to $2 from $1.75, and 25-cent cash transfers were eliminated.
But people with an unlimited-ride pass or a Chicago Card, which is a stored value card that deducts a fare when it is tapped on a sensor, do not have to pay more and can still transfer for 25 cents. Fare remains $1.75 for transit cardholders on buses, but jumps to $2.00 on trains.
To encourage people to obtain Chicago Cards, the CTA waived its $5 fee from Dec. 1 through March. Since then Chicago Card sales have soared. Last month, 26,682 cards were sold, said Gaffney. About 18,000 were ordered over the Internet, she said. Anticipating the surge, the CTA looked at how many cards it sold when the $5 fee was waived in the past and ordered more, Gaffney said. It also hired temporary workers to process them as quickly as possible, she said.
And to help distribute the cards fairly, some outlets won't be able to get their entire order filled, she said.
"Some people might be requesting a much larger inventory than they might sell immediately or distribute immediately," she said. "What we are trying to do is not stockpile but make sure that no one gets caught without any."
Dominick's ran into that issue this week when its stores ran out of the cards. When the company ordered more, the CTA said it would not be able to fulfill the entire order, Dominick's spokeswoman Wynona Redmond said. She would not say how many cards the company requested.
"It sounds like a supply and demand issue," she said. "We've got an order in, and we are waiting for it to be fulfilled."
Gaffney said Dominick's placed the order Wednesday and the CTA shipped it 500 cards Thursday. Another 500 cards will be shipped by Monday, she said.
Gaffney cautioned that not every store that sells CTA fare media also sells the Chicago Card. A list of the outlets can be found on the "Fares" section of the CTA's Web site at www.transitchicago.com. She advised people to call ahead to make sure the cards are in stock.
That's what Rogers Park resident Margaret Sampson has been doing since she visited a currency exchange in her neighborhood and was told there were no cards left. But she still hasn't located a nearby vendor that has them in stock and is reluctant to order a card online because she doesn't want to share personal information with the CTA.
"It's just really aggravating," she said. "It's like you're making a product necessary but you're not providing it."
Some outlets like the Jewel store at 3531 N. Broadway anticipated the rush and ordered hundreds of the cards, enabling them to meet the demand, an employee said.
But other stores said the cards previously have been slow to sell so they didn't bother asking for more.
"I ordered one [in the past] and it took me six months to sell that one card, so I wasn't that quick to order them again," said Dwanna King, manager of the 83rd & Prairie Currency Exchange.
That meant the business wasn't carrying any cards this week when people began asking for them, even though it is on the CTA's list of Chicago Card vendors.
"I just ordered some yesterday because everyone was calling for them," King said.
Steven Kaleel, president of Certified Foods at 1906 W. 69th St., said he returned a batch of Chicago Cards in early December because they weren't selling. Now he regrets that decision. "They are coming in and asking for them like crazy," he said. "If I had had them, I would have sold out."
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune