CTA Ventra cards: Oct. 7 date looms for no reloads of Chicago Cards

With October just over a day away, CTA riders both young and old are beginning to fret about what happens if they don't get new Ventra cards to replace their Chicago Card Plus or reduced fare cards.

A senior citizen wrote me last week: "Regardless of WHAT CTA said, the new Ventra Reduced Fare cards will not go out until OCTOBER. BECAUSE the old fare card machines are being systematically taken away from CTA subway stations, there is no way to REFILL the previous Reduced Fare Cards until the new ones are sent out, causing many seniors to have to search every El station to try and find one of those machines."

I asked the CTA about this, and was told that the RTA (which is responsible for the reduced fare program) began sending out reduced fare cards on Sept. 9:

"In fact, many seniors have shown up to various balance transfer events with their reduced fare Ventra Cards in hand, asking to transfer their funds from the old reduced fare cards to the replacement cards, which we have done.

"If by chance a person has not received their reduced fare Ventra Card, the magnetic stripe reduced farecards can be reloaded at rail station vending machines until November 15.

"While there will be fewer machines to reload magnetic stripe cards (in order to make room for the new Ventra machines) CTA is posting signs at least a couple of days in advance of their removal so customers can load more value onto magnetic stripe cards to last them until their replacement card arrives in the mail.

"Any remaining balances on reduced fare magnetic stripe cards can be spent down as we will still accept magnetic stripe cards through December 15."

And then there's the date worrying many CTA regulars - Oct. 7, when you will no longer be able to add value to Chicago Cards:

"CTA has an aggressive production schedule to make sure customers receive their (Ventra) cards. Customers can always add extra value to their Chicago Cards before October 7.

"Chicago Cards can be used until November 15, so the value can be spent down and not wasted. What's more, Blue Chicago Card customers can transfer their balances to Ventra Cards at the balance transfer events which are happening now through December."

So, if you haven't gotten your Ventra card yet, and you don't want to get caught short, you better add some value to your Chicago Card/Plus. Then you'll have to spend down the value before Nov. 15 or have it transferred to your Ventra at one of the locations in the link in the above sentence. Of course that doesn't include the hassles with activating the card. More on that tomorrow.
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  • There's still no word on when those of us who buy transit through work will get our Ventra cards though, right?

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    You should check with your benefits manager at work. You should have gotten an email by now to verify your info.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    My benefits manager says to call the CTA. I think if it doesn't come in time for my transit benefits to run out mid-October, I'll tell my boss to call the benefits manager and the CTA while I take some vacation time.

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    In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    All I've gotten from the CTA and/or Ventra is communication to check the information on file, i.e. mailing address, etc. which I did. I have yet to receive the elusive email about setting up the access code, etc. much less receiving the stupid Ventra card. What a MESS, but can we expect anything less of the CTA?!

  • In reply to Kevin Fuchs:

    They've moved on to other stuff, like two spokesmodels making conflicting statements about the Blue Line wreck, except that the WGN TV reporter just said that none was on site. Also, they seem to insist that 11 were injured, while the Forest Park authorities say they have taken at least 48 to hospitals.

  • Yes, it's nice that the date you can no longer add money to Chicago Card Pluses is only a week away. Hopefully they will ship out my replacement Ventra card any day now. Time will tell. *sigh*

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    Hi, I am wondering how will this transition work for disabled vets or military who have the military service pass. I haven't heard anything.

  • In reply to Jschizz:

    Jschizz: Isn't the military service pass essentially a reduced fare pass? You should get a Ventra in the mail. Or call 877.669.8368.

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    In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Well Kevin, this is where I'm confused. My understanding is reduced fare, you confirm your address, you get a card in the mail. With my MSP, I got it from the VA guys at the thompson center. I've never recieved an email or mail correspondance from the VA or CTA regarding the MSP or anything at all from CTA for that matter. I don't even know if these guys have a valid address, and I don't remember giving anyone my email. I got the card in person when I went to the thompson center. I will call. Thanks for the info!
    J

  • Kevin O'Neil, Thank you so much for this service you provide! What a shame that CTA itself cannot provide the clear info in the way you do. Reading your stuff has saved me so much hassle. Thank you again.

  • In reply to jack1:

    Thanks Jack1. You've made my day!

  • CTA really ought to consider extending the Chicago Card recharge deadline and card reader decommissioning plan.

    Converting to the Ventra system surely is a big, complex project. And it is good that "CTA has an aggressive production schedule to make sure customers receive their (Ventra) cards." However the schedule has not been so aggressive that I have received a Ventra card -- despite an e-mail more than a month ago telling me to expect one shortly.

    I am not grouchy about this. Really. But I cannot see why CTA would risk making unnecessary trouble for its riders and for itself by trying to push people through a too short conversion window.

  • In reply to emglatstein:

    Brian Steele and Company say everything is working fine. No need to slow down. They told the RedEye that all the cards went out.

    Making unnecessary trouble for CTA's riders is the CTA's business, not transporting people efficiently.

  • In reply to emglatstein:

    I didn't even get an e-mail. Apparently that is my fault, and I am obliged to atone for it by spending lots of time on the phone. Fie on that.

    Trouble for riders? That is our reason for being, to have trouble and learn to like it. Somebody's doing very well off this conversion, but it's not us. If that is not grouch-worthy, I don't know what is.

  • Classic CTA incompetence. They could screw up one car parade!
    Not one Ventra Card should have been sent out until they had received every single card ordered!
    But these idiots screwed that up by not waiting & set deadlines that are totally impossible to get everyone on Ventra by that deadline.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    That's o.k. to them. Just more people paying $2.25 for a ride than $.25 for a transfer.

    I had someone complain to me that "you can't get a transfer from Pace to CTA." I mentioned something about a prepaid card, but she wasn't going to go to CVS to get one, which appears to be the only outlet in her area according to the Ventra vender map. I guess paying $4 would be less bother than going to CVS, pay $6, try to register the card (would require a pay phone in her case or going back home) and then board Pace. I don't know what she did going back, but if the goal is a hidden fare increase, they sure succeeded.

    And, a month in, we still see the post about transits benefits and now VA reduced fares.

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    I have yet to receive my Ventra card as well. Did CTA just start pushing them out the door as they came in? I guess I understand that to them its better to get things moving through the mail rather than sit on a bunch of ready to go Ventra cards but why write the e-mail in that way! I got the e-mail over a month ago and still no card...

  • I got a verification email over a month ago, but I still haven't received my Ventra card. It sounds like that's typical, and I shouldn't be concerned?

  • In reply to Kim Z Dale:

    Like I said, some spokesmodel told the RedEye that all the cards were sent out. From the comments, apparently all to squishypie.

    So, based on that representation, it is up to you whether you should be concerned, but it doesn't look like you will receive a card in the normal course.

  • They said they mailed them out on September 20 and that we should get them within five to 10 business days after that. So, technically, we have until October 4.

    Here is the RedEye article you were referring to:

    http://articles.redeyechicago.com/2013-09-27/news/42465792_1_ventra-cards-chicago-cards-cta-riders

  • Kevin,

    Does this mean they are still mailing out ventra cards? I'm a Chicago Card plus guy and was starting to get worried.

  • If you're waiting for a card to replace your card tied to the transit benefit program, you have time.
    If you're waiting for a card to replace your regular Chicago Card / Plus, then I would start being concerned. At the very least, load up some money on the card before the Oct. 7 deadline to reload Chicago Cards.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Is there any reason why we can't just buy a brand new Ventra card from the machine at the L station and forget about the replacement that's allegedly on the way, which I won't be able to register it if ever does show up because they never sent me an e-mail with the code? I really, really don't want to spend time trying to get answers on the phone.

    If I understand correctly, there won't be any need to transfer a balance, if I spend down my old Chicago Card and have a bought-from-scratch Ventra that I can start using at that point. Is there some catch that I'm not taking into account?

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    Yes CC, you can do that as long as you don't have a CC-Plus that has value that needs to be transferred.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    OK, then. I will try doing that, and I will let you know how it works out.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    OK, here is what I did so far--now I need to know the next step. (Again--I am one of those who got no e-mail whatsoever, and did not get a card in the mail either. I have decided just to forget about the old Chicago Card, spend it down and get a Ventra from scratch.)

    I went to the vending machine at the L station and put in 6 bucks using cash. It gave me a Ventra card and a receipt. Right now the card doesn't know who I am, so I need to be careful when I tell it who I am and what I want.

    The receipt says to call or go online and activate my Money Network Mastercard Prepaid Debit Account and use it for purchases bla bla bla. Even the front of this card says "Money Network Enabled" and "Valued Cardholder" and "Debit MasterCard."

    I don't want any of that stuff!

    How can I be sure when I activate the card online that I am not doing any of that? How can I avoid being snookered? All I want is 1) For the $5 new card fee to be turned into transit value and 2) To be able to get the card back if lost. I don't want it to be a debit card.. I will not supply any credit card information; I will add value using cash only. I don't want to use the card for anything but CTA fare and I don't want to pay any fees.

    I am looking at Step One of the "Register Card" page. I noticed even with my less than sharp eyes that "CVV" aka the security code on the back is not actually a required field. So, would omitting that information be step one on the path to making sure I don't wind up with a full-blown debit card and keep it a pure transit card instead? I am nervous about what might happen on the next few screens. Could be a trap.

    Also, should I avoid signing the thing on the back as though it were a credit or debit card? I suspect that "not valid unless signed" does not apply to me for my intended use.

    You know, being made to get a debit card I don't want was #1 on my list of objections when I first heard about this whole switchover. I was encouraged when I learned we didn't have to. But now I feel like these people have baited a lot of hooks to try to catch us, and I'm determined not to bite. I really don't like this treatment. So please add this to the litany of mismanagement that someone needs to answer for. .And wish me luck.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    CC: just ignore the part about the debit. You would have to activate it online separately from the CTA portion.

    Just don't do it.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    This is what I did. I am registered with the Authority. I got the e-mail to replace my Chicago Card last year. I did that. (I did this in person @ CTA headquarters.) On 11 September, I put $25.00 (+ the $5.00 fee) on a new Ventra card at the Belmont Blue Line “L” station. When I got home later that evening, I registered the card and was refunded the $5. So this definitely works. On this past Sunday, I also managed to correctly purchase a 1-day CTA Pass on Ventra. You cannot stockpile the passes like you could with magnetic stripe media. If you add a 1-day pass to your Ventra account, it will begin ticking the moment you touch it to your next bus, or “L” station wicket.

  • In reply to pudgym29:

    Thanks. I'll try registering it and hope for the best.

    Are you saying that once my Ventra card is activated, I can not only put regular transit value on it to be used per-trip, but on top of that value I can put a one-day pass on it, at the beginning of a day of particularly heavy usage? And all travel for that 24 hours will be paid from the 1-day pass, I just have to remember the day starts with my very next trip? That would be a really nice feature, if true.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    Someone posted a hierarchy of what Ventra charges first, which apparently would be the pass over the transit value. However, there were also the postings of accounts in which the postings seemed erratic (i.e. both a pass recognized and a fare charged).

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    Well, I appear to have successfully registered the card without making it into a debit card or connecting it to any credit card. Had to give a lot of personal information, though. I did not give them my real phone number. (Businesses do not get that from me, even if it's a "required field.")

    The "terms and conditions" are quite detailed. It may be the only way of getting straight answers to what we really needed to know from Ventra. I recommend downloading the pdf.

    Here's one thing I still haven't been able to figure out. Apparently the system will accept payments from a contactless credit card or debit card. Let's say I have one of those (which I'm not even sure I do) and I accidentally get it near a Ventra reader, for instance if my bag with my wallet in it passes near the machine as I board the bus or use the turnstile. Could Ventra charge my card for a fare? Or is there some kind of safeguard, such as registering the credit card with Ventra? Or do I need to get a lead-lined wallet?

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    It could potentially charge one of your other cards if you got it near the card reader. People who left their Ventra Card inside their wallet and waved their wallet at the card reader expecting the Ventra Card to be charged have gotten surprised when some other card has been charged.

    So take your Ventra Card out of your wallet in order to use it. And don't snuggle up with the card reader.

    On the other hand, people are complaining that it takes five or ten tries to get their Ventra Card to register when they deliberately hold it up to the card reader. So, I don't think there is a major risk from just passing by. But if you want to be sure, search amazon for "RFID protector" and you will find little credit-card size sleeves that you can slip your cards into as well as lined wallets. These will protect your cards from being accidentally read by Ventra, Walgreens, McDonalds, and other card readers. They will also protect your card from hackers walking down the street with card readers as well as government surveillance units tracking you. (You can often find the sleeves for a lower price at bargain web sites.)

  • In reply to Olaf1:

    Thanks--maybe it is time to get some of those protective sleeves. I've seen them advertised on TV to guard against hackers. I don't think my current cards are readable, but when reissued they might be the new kind. Sigh. These days every "improvement" seems to bring a new vulnerability for the unwary.

    In any case, I keep my Chicago Card in a clear plastic sleeve with a cord, attached to an outer pocket of my bag--and I plan to carry the Ventra card the same way. That way I never have to mess around with taking it out of my wallet, remembering to put it back, exposing wallet to thieves, remembering to re-zip bag, etc. I don't even need to take the Chicago Card out of the sleeve for the reader to read it. Let's hope this works with Ventra. On more than one occasion the cord has saved me from losing the card.

    Further on the debit card option: On my new Ventra account landing page, there's a button labeled "Prepaid debit account." I was afraid to push it from there, but I got the URL by mousing over, and opened the page from another window just to check it out. It's a Money Network/Ventra welcome page where one can set up the optional prepaid debit account and download a mobile app. You will need to set up an ID, password and give info including your Social Security number (apparently required by federal law). So, if you never give your SSN, that's how you can be sure you didn't accidentally sign up for a debit card with all the fees!

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Ryan (my partner) got his Ventra card today to replace his Chicago Card--it took 16 business days to arrive (23 days in total.) My Ventra card took 15 business days to arrive (22 days in total.) I got my email a week before he did and my card arrived a week before his, so that suggests two separate mailing batches that both still took about 50% longer to arrive than CTA's maximum estimated mailing time.

    Given that, I don't think anyone whose card was mailed on September 20 should expect it to actually arrive before Friday October 11 (15 business days later.) And that wold mean, as I suspected, a lot of legacy Chicago Card/Plus customers are going to get screwed.

    There is absolutely no reason why CTA customers should have to plan for CTA failure. The idea that CTA is suggesting riders use strategies like topping up their Chicago Cards in case their Ventra cards arrive late completely misses the point. If those remaining Ventra cards arrive late, the real point will be that the CTA's management of the switchover process failed. I do not use that word lightly. When you switch off your customers' ability to refill their old farecards before you actually give them their new farecards, there's no other word that fits. If this were the private sector, someone would lose their job over this.

  • In reply to MichaelBenamiDoyle:

    There is absolutely no reason why CTA customers should have to plan for CTA failure.

    Except yes we do have to plan for failure from the CTA.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    "There is absolutely no reason why CTA customers should have to plan for CTA failure."

    I like that slogan.

    By the way, I'm not expecting my card to arrive at all, and even if it does, I never got the e-mail with the activation code. So by planning another way to get a card, I am planning for CTA failure. (I don't yet have a plan for when the new card fails to work properly.)

    I am also planning to get an apology from them for their failures, and I don't intend to let it rest until I do.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    Forrest was in the background at the site of the "impossible" train wreck today, but didn't apologize for that failure on the TV news, either, or for all the misinformation that PR department gave from headquarters earlier in the day.

    Of course, you don't have to apologize if you are infallible in your own mind.

  • Just to let you know my reduced fare card arrived last week. There is a number to call to activate it, which I haven't done yet.

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    Ok got my Ventra card, can't register it. Tried to activate card via phone as it says but since I don't have activation number it says it will send me a new one via email. But still nothing. Got all communication via email, got the card, but it's useless.

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    They really really really need to delay this at least a month or two. Ventra is a huge mess. They cannot handle the influx of customers. It is a mess now. Monday is going to be a nightmare.

  • A little nugget in Tracy Swartz's column in the Redeye today:
    http://www.redeyechicago.com/news/cta/redeye-how-to-prepare-for-mondays-ventra-deadline-20131003,0,7308799.story
    Apparently Chicago Card Pluses will continue to autoreload until November 14. So if you just wanted to spend down your CC+ and throw it away and buy your own Ventra Card, that seems impossible (as soon as you spend down your balance on a CC+, it automatically gets reloaded).

    In a previous tweet, @VentraChicago claimed that autoreloads would end on 10/7:
    http://t.co/kiJ8NCGBjc
    I contacted Tracy about this and she was kind enough to answer that Ventra had changed its mind.

  • My previous comment seems to have disappeared....

    Anyway, first Tracy Swartz and now John Hilkevitch are reporting that the CTA has changed its mind and autoreloads for CCP will continue until November 14. The 10/7 deadline for reloading Chicago Cards still stands.

    This is good news for those CCP holders who are still waiting by their mailboxes. It's bad news for those CCP holders who would like to stop waiting by their mailboxes and instead just spend down their cards, throw them away, and just get their own Ventra Card: As soon as they get their balance spent down a little, the CCP will automatically reload. (I believe I have seen complaints that CCP holders can no longer modify their reload options because VENTRA IS COMING!!!)
    http://www.redeyechicago.com/news/cta/redeye-how-to-prepare-for-mondays-ventra-deadline-20131003,0,7308799.story

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-ventra-makes-for-1-in-3-cta-rides-but-jolts-await-the-unconverted-20131003,0,1366195.story?page=1&track=rss

    There's also a very interesting graphic that accompanies the Hilkevitch article that shows that almost no one was using regular Chicago Cards and a relatively small percentage were using Chicago Card Plus. The big bulk of riders were using magnetic cards of some sort or other.

  • In reply to Olaf1:

    If true about the small amount of users of CC and CCP cards, it showed that CTA previously used deceptive propaganda in its last tax hike campaign, in that it published a map showing that people held CC all over the region, and hence the region should pay. Apparently not that many people.

    I wonder if they count Dan Lasky as 271 different customers. Given other CTA statistical methods, I bet they do.

  • I got my Ventra card Friday. I got the email with the activation codes today. If they had sent the email first, then the card, they way they said they would, it would have saved me a couple of hours of frustration Friday.

    It would also help if I could put my correct address in the address box in the Ventra site.

    Those people are useless, by the way.

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