January 25, 2005

In an effort to attract local employers to enroll in the RTA/CTA Transit Benefit program and to encourage current program members to switch to the Chicago Card Plus farecard, the Chicago Transit Authority is waiving the card's $5 registration fee through March 31, 2005.

The Transit Benefit program provides a tax benefit to both employers and employees by enabling them to purchase fares on CTA, Metra and Pace with pre-tax earnings.

The introduction of the Chicago Card Plus with its web-based account management feature made it possible for the CTA to offer an electronic touch-and-go farecard to companies participating in the Transit Benefit program. Prior to Chicago Card Plus, the only farecard option available through Transit Benefit was the magnetic strip transit card.

CTA officials introduced the Chicago Card Plus to CTA customers in January of last year. As an incentive, the $5 fee was waived for both the Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus for the first three months of the year. Nearly 6,000 employees participating in the Transit Benefit program took advantage of the $5 fee waiver on Chicago Card Plus in 2004. The fee waiver period in 2005 is designed to further extend the incentive to companies currently enrolled in the program and attract additional companies to enroll.

?The Chicago Card Plus has become very popular with those participating in the Transit Benefit program," said CTA President Frank Kruesi. ?Currently, about 25 percent of all program participants use the Chicago Card Plus."

Transit Benefit participants can pay for their commuting costs through monthly payroll deductions of up to $105. Depending on the amount they deduct, employees can reduce their taxes by $200 to $487 annually. Employers benefit by getting an annual payroll tax savings of approximately 10 percent of what their employees set aside due to decreased payroll costs.

There are currently 2,800 local employers enrolled in the Transit Benefit program with 65,000 employees participating. Of those, 773 employers with 18,000 employee participants have opted for Chicago Card Plus in their programs.

For employers, Chicago Card Plus reduces administrative duties. Employees? pre-tax payroll deductions can quickly and easily be posted to an online account. Employees can choose between Pay-Per-Use or a 30-Day Pass and have the convenience of automatically adding value to their accounts with their pre-tax dollars. Without the Chicago Card Plus, employers must distribute fare media to their employees each month.

?Waiving the fee for three months will help encourage employees in the program to switch to the ease and convenience of Chicago Card Plus," added Chicago Transit Board Chairman Carole Brown. ?And it will help to attract companies that have considered enrolling in the program. Using Chicago Card Plus will result in easier payments, faster boarding and better service for CTA customers."

CTA is conducting seven informational sessions for human resource administrators this month and in February to promote the Transit Benefit program and fee waiver. Companies interested in attending one of these sessions can contact the CTA at 312-829-4160 for meeting dates and locations.

Both the Chicago Card, the agency's first electronic farecard introduced in 2002, and Chicago Card Plus offer touch-and-go boarding, a $1 bonus for every $10 of added value and fare protection.

Employees enrolled in the Transit Benefit program who want to switch to Chicago Card Plus must sign up. Companies that have not previously participated in the Transit Benefit program, but are presently interested in participating, may now opt for Chicago Card Plus. To enroll or to find out more about the program, employers may call the Transit Benefit Hotline at 312-681-3093 or visit www.transitchicago.com.

The Chicago Card became available to CTA customers in November 2002. At the close of 2003, there were just over 26,000 Chicago Cards in circulation. At the end of December 2004, there were 63,000 Chicago Cards in circulation. Chicago Card Plus became available to the general public on January 19, 2004. Through 2004, circulation was 79,000.

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