By Fiona Ortiz
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Many Chicago commuters are not even aware of the little rubber-stamp mark on their monthly train pass indicating 'M' for male or 'F' for female.
The decades-old practice, shared by other transit agencies, is meant to discourage commuters with a day off from work from loaning a pass to a spouse, friend or other family member. Now Metra, which runs 11 commuter train lines in and around Chicago carrying 150,000 passengers a day, said it will phase out the practice by early next year.
Metra says it does not know how much the gender mark actually helps to reduce fare fraud.
In times of heightened awareness of transgender issues, the designation could be seen as disrespectful because passengers who buy the ticket in the station are not given the option to express their gender identity preference.
The ticket seller just looks at them, and stamps the letter he or she thinks is appropriate.
Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said there had been rare complaints from riders over the gender mark, and said the change was due to a wider modernization of the agency.
"This new Metra Board of Directors has found a number of historical practices from another era and is now in the process of going through and reviewing them - and as we find them, we are changing them," Gillis said in an email.
The Chicago Tribune reported on Monday that Metra decided to change the outdated policy after the paper's transportation reporter raised the question with the agency.
Commuters who buy train passes online are asked to choose male or female and the ticket is marked when it is mailed to them. But at the station, the decision is up to the ticket seller.
"If they do an eye check and decide what to put down, that's problematic," said Mike Ziri, public policy head at Equality Illinois, a group that lobbies against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender discrimination.
"It's problematic for a transgender person, where the appearance may not match what is on the pass, especially if transitioning," said Ziri, who noted that respectful interaction with a transgender person is to ask them how they like to be referred to.
"We're glad to see this policy is changing," he said.
A monthly pass can cost between $52.5 for a commute from a near-in neighborhood and $175 from a far-away suburb.
(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by David Gregorio)