CTA Efforts Result In Big Drop In Fraudulent Use of Free, Reduced-Fare Cards

July 1, 2015

Agency Effort Helps Stem Unauthorized, Excessive Use; Helps Preserve Program for Seniors and Persons With Disabilities

The Chicago Transit Authority today announced that its efforts to curtail the fraudulent use of free- and reduced-fare cards has led to a significant drop in unauthorized rides – an important step toward ensuring the program continues to serve qualified senior citizens and persons with disabilities.

CTA has seen a decline in both excessive use of cards and use by unauthorized individuals since November 2014, when the CTA announced a first-ever effort to ensure proper participation in the program.

Through card-verification efforts at rail stations throughout the city and suburbs, CTA teams have been verifying that individuals using any type of free or reduced-fare card are the authorized user. Regulations for these programs stipulate that the cards can only be used by the individual identified on the card, and can’t be transferred.

Verification efforts across the system, combined with increased oversight and customer communications, have led to a 48 percent drop in card confiscations from unauthorized users.

As part of the effort announced last fall, CTA has continued to review the use of the roughly 600,000 RTA-issued free, reduced-fare and paratransit cards—looking in particular for cards being used at a frequency far above the typical average: 10 or more times a day, at least twice in a 7-day period.

Since the November announcement, there has been a 21 percent drop in cards meeting that excessive-use threshold.

“It’s clear that our efforts to curtail the improper use of these cards have been successful,” said CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. “We are working to ensure that free and reduced-fare rides are being used by the seniors and persons with disabilities for whom this important program is intended, while protecting all other fare-paying customers from having to subsidize illegal use of these programs.”

Carter added, “And while we’re pleased with the progress thus far, it is clear that there’s more work to do.”

For both card confiscations and cards with excessive use, CTA sends letters to the authorized cardholders asking them to verify that the cards are in their possession and being used properly.

If unable to confirm that the continued excessive use is proper, the CTA will proactively suspend a customer’s card in case the card is lost or stolen.  Customers only need to contact CTA and verify their proper usage to get their free or reduced fare riding privileges restored.

The CTA provides more than $100 million annually of state-mandated free rides and federally mandated reduced-fare rides, and receives only a small percentage of reimbursement from the state; in 2014 the total was around $28 million. The remainder is paid for from the CTA’s annual operating budget.


November 2014

May 2015


Card confiscations

262/week average

137/week average

48 percent

Excessive use

(7-week period)

(7-week period)

21 percent


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