A little-known Chicago Transit Authority refund policy stopped a former Chicago rider in her tracks when she stopped riding during the pandemic, and she discovered her fare balance was nearly $500.
Lisa Squires turned to NBC 5 Responds as a last resort for help after saying she couldn’t understand why a simple refund request was so difficult for the CTA.
Squires said his repeated calls and emails went nowhere.
“For me, it felt like a full-time job,” she told NBC’s 5 Responds.
CTA’s Brown Line was once an important part of Squires’ life. Not only did she take him to work every morning, but the train tracks literally ran through her Lincoln Square backyard.
It was so entrenched in her routine that Squires said she had money flowing out of every paycheck, going straight into her Ventra account.
Then COVID hit: upending everyone’s lives and Squires’ travels.
Squires said that in response to the pandemic, her employer, “has downsized the office, so I technically don’t have a desk or office to go to.”
Now working remotely, Squires said in 2020, her family decided to move to Harwood Heights. Leaving behind her home in town, her commute in town and her CTA/Ventra fare balance.
And to his own surprise, Squires had racked up a big one: nearly $500.
“I was just paying X dollars every week out of my paycheck,” Squires explained. “I didn’t want to wake up one morning and have no money on my card.”
Squires thought how difficult a refund request could be? But when she called CTA’s Ventra Division, her simple request took a detour.
Squires said a CTA rep told him on the phone, “‘Oh, no, you have to leave the state,’ and I kept saying, ‘I’m not leaving the state.'” Well, we can’t help you.”
It’s a fact that CTA has had a long-standing policy on its books since the ’90s: no refunds of Ventra account balances unless the commuter leaves the state, a CTA spokesperson confirmed to NBC. 5 Respond.
The spokesperson added that there are “case-by-case” exceptions for “extremely rare cases”.
At the start of the pandemic, a CTA spokesperson said the transport authority was widely offering travelers a one-time refund given the unprecedented situation and since many passengers were forced to work remotely.
But the CTA said few runners accepted the agency on the refund offer.
“There have been approximately 20 instances in which a refund request has been escalated…due to extraordinary circumstances,” read a statement from the CTA. “This is an extremely small percentage of the approximately 400 million CTA passengers in 2020-21.”
The CTA also recommends that all riders closely monitor the Ventra Autoload settings, to avoid building up a large balance, especially as rides continue to evolve.
In the case of Squires, after NBC 5 Responds explained the situation to the CTA, his refund request was pursued.
“I got a phone call from someone in Ventra saying, ‘Oh, since you know someone, we’re willing to make an exception,'” she said.
CTA told NBC 5 Responds: “During this time of uncertainty, we have found [Squires’ case] be an extraordinary circumstance in which we may respond to the request for the return of the remaining balance.
Squires said she was delighted, but she thinks the CTA policy needs more flexibility.
“I think they need to be a little more compassionate and rethink their system,” she said.