CTA to test smart card for students

The Chicago Transit Authority today unveiled a pilot program that will let teens attending public high schools use their student identification cards to board buses and trains.

The program, launched in cooperation with the Chicago Public Schools, would also allow the school district to track the whereabouts of students.

The new smart card, which combines a school I.D. with a reduced fare transit card, will be tested as a pilot program at two high schools from May 1 through June 20. The two schools are Carver Military Academy at 13100 S. Doty Avenue and Prosser Academy at 2148 N. Long Avenue.

CTA President Ron Huberman says the new card offers numerous advantages.

"The smart card reduces the number of cards carried by CPS students and makes it faster and easier to board, thereby helping improve travel times for all customers," says Huberman.

Currently, students are required to carry three items to ride buses and trains at the reduced fare of $.85. These include a CPS I.D., a reduced fare I.D. and a reduced fare card.

Under the new system, CPS students will use one card that stores value, much like the Chicago Card. It will be personalized with a photo I.D.

Huberman says the new card will allow officials to track students through the transit system.

Though the feature will be used mostly for safety purposes, it could also be used to identify truants, Huberman says.

He added that it's possible students will be able to opt out of the tracking feature. An agency spokeswoman could not clarify whether that would be the case.

Chicago Public Schools chief Arne Duncan applauds the new program.

"Because being on time for school every day is critical to our students' success, the smart card's tracking capabilities will help to keep our students safe and accountable," Duncan said in a statement.

Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union Illinois office, says the prospect of CPS collaborating with the CTA to track students using the smart card is worrisome.

"A student  could use this card in the evening to go to a legitimate after-school activity and that might end up in a database that could used to pursue an investigation of truancy," says Yohnka. "This tracking of individuals by government without any real evidence that they've been involved in any wrongdoing is a troubling trend."