Do some popular Metra tickets actually qualify as gift certificates under Illinois law? That's what one man is arguing in a class-action fraud lawsuit filed Tuesday against the commuter rail agency he calls a "profiteer," claiming the tickets' one-year expiration dates are therefore unlawful.
John DiVito, who uses Metra to commute to his job downtown from west suburban Roselle, says in the suit he was spurred to action after purchasing more than $100 worth of 10-Ride tickets and seeing most of the rides go to waste after the cards expired.
He claims Metra's limited ride tickets -- particularly 10-Ride and One-Way tickets -- satisfy the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act's definition for "gift certificates" and therefore cannot legally expire any sooner than five years.
That law defines gift certificates as prepaid records promising a good or service, for which its value is "decremented upon each use" -- which is exactly what the tickets are, DiVito claims in the suit.
He claims Metra's ticketing policies "exemplify the purpose" behind the law -- namely to prevent merchants from sticking consumers with artificially short redemption windows.
"By doing so, not only do profiteers like Metra get something for nothing, they also get to earn interest on the money buyers hand over to them for services never to be rendered," DiVito claims in the suit. He claims Metra and other sellers who set too-short redemption periods wrongfully profit because they know not all consumers who pay in advance will redeem their voucher for services.
In 2011 alone, Metra riders bought 1,800,000 10-Ride Tickets, a 5.2 percent increase from the year before, according to the transit agency's 2011 ridership report. Passengers bought more than 9,600,000 tickets from either stations or on-train conductors, a slight increase from the year before.
Metra spokesman Tom Miller declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday, saying the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
The suit asks a judge to certify it as a class-action, including any Metra riders who bought tickets that expired in less than five years. It claims breach of contract, unjust enrichment and violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud act, and asks for a judgment ordering the transit agency to extend the tickets' expiration dates.
The suit also seeks an unspecified amount in damages, plus the costs of the suit.