A Brookfield parent who thinks transit agencies should resume giving homeschooled students fare discounts is pressing the issue in a class action lawsuit.
Ariel Elliott filed a complaint Dec. 13 in Cook County Circuit Court naming as defendants the Chicago Transit Authority, the Regional Transportation Authority’s suburban bus division Pace, and the vendors that operate the region’s Ventra electronic fare collection system, Cubic Corporation and Cubic Transportation Systems Chicago Inc.
According to the complaint, full-time elementary and high school students get fare discounts from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on school days on CTA trains and buses and Pace buses, but homeschooled students, such as Elliott’s children, must pay full price, “up to three times more.”
The RTA runs Pace business in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties. Cubic is based in San Diego — its registered agent in Illinois is Incorp Services, Inc., in Springfield — and operates the Ventra fare collection system for CTA and Pace. A student Ventra card is required to get the discounted fares, and Elliott said Cubic refuses to provide such cards to homeschooled students, “despite the absence of any public notice or other public indications that homeschooled children were excluded from the student discount benefits.”
The complaint said the class could include thousands of homeschool students between ages 7 and 20. The full fare for riders age 12 and older is $2.25 for a CTA train, $2 for a bus and 25 cents for a transfer. For ages 7 to 11, the fare is $1.10 for a train, $1 for a bus and 15 cents for a transfer. The student discount brings the fare to 75 cents for a train or a bus and 15 cents for a transfer. Pace fares are $1.75 for a local bus, 25 cents for a transfer and $2.50 for a transfer to a premium route. The student discount is 85 cents for a local, 15 cents for a transfer and $1.30 for a premium transfer.
Elliott said Cubic violated the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act in refusing to issue Student Ventra cards to homeschool students, and said Pace and CTA violated both fare ordinances and the equal protection clause of the state constitution.
The complaint said the problem surfaced starting in late 2013 when the Ventra Card rolled out, part of a contract with CTA and Pace worth more than $500 million. Prior to Ventra, “CTA and Pace primarily used floppy reusable plastic fare cards with magnetic stripes which could be obtained and value added at on-site vending machines and various retailers.” Under that system, on-site agents, CTA’s customer service office and the Pace website made student discounts available to homeschooled children.
The student Ventra cards can be used at any time and the discounts are applied automatically during the appointed hours. Ventra issues the “cards directly to Chicago Public Schools as well as certain listed private or parochial schools” to give to students. Those enrolled in other schools must apply for a card from Ventra. Identical applications are available on the CTA and Pace websites, which state: “Cards must be sent to the student’s school. They cannot be sent to the student’s residence.”
Elliott detailed the many ways in which homeschooled students need to travel for their education, such as to libraries or museums, to other homes for shared instruction or for private tutors, as well as to facilities for physical education.
In addition to class certification and a jury trial, Elliott seeks damages and legal fees, as well as an injunction forcing CTA and Pace to stop refusing student discounts to homeschooled children.
Representing Elliott in the matter, and seeking to serve as putative class attorneys, are lawyers from the Chicago firm of Krislov & Associates Ltd.