Phantom expiration dates for CTA cards


I just learned that certain types of fare cards for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) expire after roughly four years. This is annoying for three reasons: first, the type of cards I’m referring to are designed to automatically refill from a credit card or debit card when the balance runs low. Second, there is no expiration date printed anywhere on the card itself. Yep, you have to check online or swipe the card into a special CTA reader at certain train stations to see when your card will bite the dust. Third, you have to manually request a new card before the old one expires, even if you’re actively using it.

Taken together, I bet CTA runs into a lot of customer attrition when these fare cards expire. People have to take a specific and unintuitive action to keep their account active, and many simply won’t take the time or initiative to do so. Those folks probably end up pissed off and switch to more basic fare payment options.

I think the takeaway is this: even if a card has to be replaced eventually due to technological limitations, you should at least print the expiration date right on the card, and automatically send the customer a new card in the mail before the old one stops working. Come to think of it, this is exactly how credit and debit cards work. It’s a proven renewal and retention model, and trying to reinvent the wheel here will only lead to confusion and frustration for customers.