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Chicago Transit Smartphone Ticket Draws Critics

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

Chicago rail agency Metra is close to releasing a pay-by-smartphone app for public transit riders, and the pending fall launch has some worried about equitable transportation access.

Metra officials say the tech approach won’t axe traditional paper tickets, but critics worry the app marginalizes lower-income and elderly passengers who don’t use smartphones.

The Chicago Tribune reports that three South Side community organizations raised concerns to Metra’s board yesterday, citing a 2011 law that requires passengers be able to use credit cards, debit cards, and prepaid cards to pay for service on a universal “Ventra” card that works across all regional transit authorities’ systems. Linda Thisted, a spokeswoman for the Coalition for Equitable Community Development, said the app doesn’t comply.

“The smartphone app is contrary to the legislation because it discriminates against seniors and low-income people,” she said, according to the Tribune.

Metra officials, however, said many critics are misinterpreting how the app will be implemented into the system. Rather than replacing the current Ventra card, they say, it will be used as an alternative for those willing and able to use it.

“The phone app and Ventra are not mutually exclusive,” said Metra Chairman Martin Oberman.

Based on one recent DePaul University survey, smartphone usage on Chicago public transit has been rising. Portland, Oregon, which rolled out the TriMet app for virtual ticketing in 2013, saw over 60,000 downloads in its first five months. But while smartphone ownership across the U.S. has increased sharply in recent years, an April Pew study reported that “nearly half of smartphone-dependent Americans have had to cancel or shut off their cell phone service for a period of time because the cost of maintaining that service was a financial hardship.”

Marielle Mondon is an editor and freelance journalist in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in Philadelphia City Paper, Wild Magazine, and PolicyMic. She previously reported on communities in Northern Manhattan while earning an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University.

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Tags: public transportationchicagotechnologytransit agencies