The CTA certainly is aware of rider problems with all things Ventra - from activation to reading to "double dipping." Late last week I got a call from Brain Steele, the CTA's vice president of communications and marketing, to respond to some posts I wrote about those problems.
First, he asked me to connect him with a woman who had problems adding value to a card after she bought it at one of the many retailers. Steele's theory was that the retailer hadn't activated the card before giving it to the woman.
The CTA has increased by four-fold to 2,000 the number of fare media retailers, Steele said. That means "there are a lot of newbies, so we're sending out bulletins reminding of them the proper procedures."
As for the long waits, dropped calls and pure frustration with the 1-800-VENTRANOW line, he said the CTA has made these changes:
- Added phone operators.
- Expanded weekend hours.
- Updated prompts on the automated system for call intake. A lot of people were trying to get basic information so the more prompts were added to explain how to get it.
- A call tip: if you're waiting in a queue for a specific service, don't press zero to get to service rep. That actually may take longer thank staying put.
Steele said last Monday was the largest call volume day so far with 11,000 callers. Wait times were "unacceptable" - but down to about four minutes by Tuesday with about 3,500 callers.
Using your own contactless debit or credit card. Riders still can't register to use their own debit or credit cards instead of the Ventra cards. That means you will be charged full fare each time you use it - even for a transfer. But Steele said if you want to make multiple rides, you can add value to the card at a Ventra vending machine.
Ventra readers not working? Report them to the CTA. Steele said he hasn't heard of a lot of issues with readers not working. But I've had a few comments and emails from readers saying they've been waved through bus boarding.
Steele did say there's a "learning curve" to how you touch the card to the reader. " You don’t have to touch actually the card to the reader," Steele said. "You have to do it a couple of times and then it becomes a little more routine - just like we had to get used to the Chicago Card Plus 20 years ago."
Steele took the opportunity at the end of our chat to remind me that this is the first time in "almost 20 years that the CTA has rolled out new fare payment system that will serve 600 million rides last year, including the CTA and PACE, serving 240 communities plus Chicago.
The CTA expected some glitches, and continues to appreciate and ask for our patience.
"The main reason we opted for phased rollout is to identify the issues, Steele said. "We understand it’s a big change. But once you go through process you realize it’s not much different from the Chicago Card/Plus. The overall process is an easy one for users once they start using Ventra.
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