CTA is planning big Ventra education campaign; "Ventra mobiles" to hit the streets

In my nine years of blogging about all things CTA, I have never gotten more email about one topic than Ventra.

Ventra is the new way to pay fares on both the CTA and Pace set to debut this summer. It features a contactless fare card plus an optional debit card - an option that's getting lots of attention these days. You can buy a Ventra card for $5, register it, and then have the $5 added to your transit account on the card. Or, you can use your own contactless credit/debit card if it has this symbol: wave symbol.

Read the CTA's frequently asked questions, and review the fees associated with the Ventra card - mostly if you opt to use the debit card feature of Ventra.

The CTA is planning a big education campaign about Ventra starting this month. It includes outreach to community groups, block clubs and churches. As part of the campaign, the CTA will gut two Optima buses and outfit them with Ventra machines and other educational materials so riders can actually see Ventra at work. A CTA spokesman has dubbed them "Ventra mobiles."

One common question is why the change, when the Chicago Card/Plus seems to be working just fine. There are two big reasons why the CTA is switching to Ventra:

  1. The existing system is aging and approaching obsolescence. The current technology is over 20 years old and must be replaced in the near future anyway. The magnetic strip cards will no longer be manufactured; it's an aging technology. That’s why credit cards and Jewel cards are going to the contactless technologies. Plus, the chips in Chicago Card/Plus are no longer being made. And that chip is proprietary technology. Whereas, the chip on the Ventra card is part of what’s know as open system.
  2. State legislation mandates common fare system by 2015.

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  • I hope they explain why using pre-paid debit cards are generally a bad idea. I don't care if it's the CTA's or Suze Orman's, they're just a currency exchange you carry around with you.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    I just heard a radio ad for a prepaid debit card sponsored by the currency exchange association. Whispered at the end "fees may apply."

    So, cut out the middleman and be screwed directly by the currency exchanges.

  • 1. I've learned that when some company or agency says they're having an "education campaign" it means that the entire basis of what they're "educating" us about is a disaster.

    2. If the chips aren't being made anymore, then find a new RFID chip & reader system & adapt the current machines [which the CTA owns & then must scrap for pennies] to that chip & issue new cards.
    A helluva lot cheaper than $454 million they're flushing down the toilet or is it into the connected consultants bank accounts in Panama & the Caymans.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    They couldn't just replace the chips in the Chicago Cards and call it a day because the transit micro-managers in the state assembly passed a law that says "The system must allow consumers to use contactless credit cards, debit cards, and prepaid cards to pay for all fixed-route public transportation services." 70 ILCS 3615/2.04(e)

    With the current system, train station turnstiles are connected to the central data base and record each transaction in real time. Bus fare boxes are not. (The fare boxes store the transactions as they are made and data is retrieved when the buses come in at night for service.) Without the ability to verify transactions in real time or at least quickly hotlist a credit card, an invalid credit card could potentially turn into a multi-day unlimited free bus ride pass.

    And if part of the objective is to get rid of the magnetic-strip cards, the current Transit Card vending machines are not capable of dispensing Chicago Cards. At the very least, the CTA would need to put something into place to sell Chicago Cards at every train station. And they can't just give them away for free, because kids will stand in front of the machine and press the "dispense free Chicago Card" button until someone shoos them away and others will collect them for art projects and just to brag about how many they have collected.

    What I'm afraid of is that the real scandal (despite the debit card distraction) will be in a few years is that the credit card industry will abandon the current contactless standard and just move to Chip and PIN like the rest of the world. (Chip and PIN is the popular trademarked name for the EMV standard.) There was an article in the WSJ a couple of days ago about Maestro (Mastercard's ATM network) putting the screws on ATM owners to retrofit their ATMs in the US for Chip and PIN this year. (Visa has similar plans in the next couple of years.) The two are not mutually exclusive: card issuers could put two separate chips in one card I suppose.

    I wonder if in a few years we'll be making analogies about how the CTA just spent a half-billion dollars on a collection of Betamax machines.

  • In reply to VernaB:

    1. The micromanagers in the General Assembly passed that after CTA said it was going to the system, basically to stick it to Metra. If you go back to the news reports of the legislative hearing, the point after "the legislators can't do anything about the CTA debit card" was to harangue Metra on not getting on board. But Metra has two ICE grants to develop its own opens standards system.

    2. As I pointed out earlier, unless CTA totally blew it, the risk of obsolescence should be on Cubic, as well as ownership of the equipment.

  • In reply to jack:

    "Should" be on Cubic? Do you know for a fact that there is something in the contract that would require Cubic to replace the system at their own expense or are you relying on Cubic's generosity, their love of humanity (to paraphrase Sgt Foley in An Officer and a Gentleman) to save the CTA from an expensive boondoggle?

  • In reply to VernaB:

    Why don't you FOIA the contract then? Apparently Hilkevitch was able to do it.

  • In reply to VernaB:

    And to help you, a link to the FOIA page.

  • In reply to jack:

    You were making the claim that Cubic was going to do something. I made the rash assumption that you might have known what you were talking about. My mistake. Sorry.

  • In reply to VernaB:

    And I made the rash assumption that you cared about the answer.

    Apparently, you don't know the meaning of the word "should," which you put in quotes. As I remember from debate class in high school, it was "ought to but not necessarily will be." And I qualified my comment with "unless CTA totally blew it," which made it also hypothetical, although I will submit that CTA has totally blown a lot of things.

  • "In my nine years of blogging about all things CTA, I have never gotten more email about one topic than Ventra."

    Not to mention the discussions on this blog about the Ventra Fee For All have been helpful, informative, and sometimes down right funny. Thank you.

  • If the need for education is reflected in Claypool's stammering on WLS890's "The Top 4 at 4" and preceding newscasts promoting "Connected to Chicago with Bill Cameron," the first person who needs to be educated is Claypool.

    And no, I didn't get up at 7 a.m. to hear the whole mumblemouth interview. If anyone cares, maybe a podcast will be posted next week.

  • Here's what I'm wondering: Since they recently made me replace my old Chicago Card with a new one (I don't see why they couldn't have let it go a few more months until the Ventra introduction), will I be able to go on using it until the last possible date in 2014 with no problem, before having to go to the bother of replacing it again? Or will there be an advantage to me if I make the change sooner?

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