Ventra card problems: How the CTA is responding

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.

Ventra logoFirst, 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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  • I'm a CCP user. I got the "You will be receiving an email from Ventra with instructions" e-mail on September 4th, but I haven't received any e-mail from Ventra since then. It's not in the spam folder. At this point, should I call someone?

  • In reply to WCityMike:

    Mike, I think you just have to wait. You haven't gotten the card yet right?

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Right. I'm just wondering if this is something to be concerned about -- it's been 18 days since when they told me I'd be receiving something, and I haven't.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Thought I had replied to this, but I don't see it on the page -- no, I've not received the card yet. I suppose that's what I'm kind of wondering: it's been nearly 18 days since that first message, and I've received neither a new message nor a replacement card. I'm a CCP user through the workplace transit benefits program ...

  • In reply to WCityMike:

    Similar with me. An August 20 e-mail says:

    "You will receive an email from Ventra as soon as your card has been printed - this will occur over the next two weeks. Once that email arrives, you will receive your new Ventra Card within 7 to 10 business days."

    Have not received the Ventra card or seen any follow-up e-mails since. I'm not complaining. I would rather the CTA/Ventra people work out the bugs before asking me to set up the new card. But I was starting to wonder whether I had missed something.

  • 1. As for Ventra readers not reading, Steele's "blame the passenger" theory doesn't work with regard to chris's post that the reader was stuck on "stop." We're kicking around the theory on that the driver has to tap his card on the reader to get it going, and maybe this one didn't do it correctly.

    2. Apparently Steele is engaged in double talk with regard to using your own contactless bank card. If you can't register it, how can you add value to a transit account associated with it? You sure aren't registering it with CTA to cancel it if it is stolen--the bank does that.

    3. Are Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus almost 20 years old? I doubt it.

    4. Four minutes and a complicated phone tree are not acceptable.

    5. Even with Olaf finding the new fare chart and Steele saying no transfers, there really isn't an explanation of why CTA gutted the "open" part of the open media system, and in effect imposed a fare increase to use it, not admitting to it for a couple of weeks.

    6. Read John Kass today about how the Emanuel administration uses flacks, including Daley ones.

  • In reply to jack:

    "You sure aren't registering it with CTA to cancel it if it is stolen--the bank does that."

    Actually you are. The bank knows nothing about Ventra or your Ventra account. The bank isn't going to notify Ventra that your card is stolen unless Ventra tries to process a charge against it. Ventra isn't going to process a charge if you have sufficient balance in your Ventra transit account.

    If you have a balance in your Ventra account (transit value or passes) you need to notify Ventra after you notify your bank because:
    a) Whoever has your card will be able to ride buses on your card until the balance in your transit account runs out.
    b) YOU won't be able to use the balance in your Ventra account until you link a new card of some sort to the account.

    Also note that the terms and conditions require you to notify Ventra whenever you get a replacement card from the bank (for example, your card expires). If you don't, the replacement card will be charged PAYG fares until you call Ventra to link the replacement card to your Ventra account.

  • In reply to Olaf1:

    But your long discourse skirted the issue: If you can't register your bank card, how can you put transit value on it?

    Also, all your long discourse proves is again CTA is killing the open of the open fare standards system. And since Mr. Flack says that you can't register your bank card, then why are you willing to take the risks you state?

  • The CCP has not been around for 20 years.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    CCP = Chicago Card Plus, in this context.

  • Brian Steele doesn't know his agency's own history. None of the automated fare collection system is 20 years old. Transit Cards were introduced in 1997, Chicago Cards were introduced in 2000, and Chicago Card Plus was introduced in 2004.

    At each juncture, there was a comfortable period measured in several *months*--not several weeks--between full deployment of the new technology (turnstiles, vending machines, mailing of new cards) and system-wide switchover to that technology.

    In terms of Chicago Card Plus, CTA customers had four *years* to get used to Chicago Card--including two years of a pilot program and two years of system-wide implementation--before Chicago Card Plus debuted.

    So my question is, why this time is CTA allowing for only a very short period of time--essentially barely more than the single month of September--to distribute Ventra cards to all existing Chicago Card/Chicago Card Plus customers, give those customers time to register and learn how to use the new Ventra cards, and most critically, to work out all systemic kinks (and there have been several, as Kevin's wonderful and consistent reporting on this matter clearly demonstrates), before the old system will be rendered useless?

    I would bet money that on October 7, when people will no longer be able to load money onto their Chicago Cards and Chicago Card Plus, many of them still won't have received their Ventra cards, and many others will have registration and user issues (including technology-failure issues) that will give Kevin and local media a lot to report on. My guess is that CTA will sorely regret not having given itself and its customers more time for the transition.

  • In reply to MichaelBenamiDoyle:

    Thanks for confirming my impression about the date of the fare system, and that Mr. Flack is uninformed.

    Also, with CCP, even if the account features were new, you are correct that the technology on the fare collection side was already there with CC.

    While this is a phase-in period, I would agree with you that I don't see how CTA is going to make the next deadline in 2 weeks, especially if those with transit benefits still haven't received their cards.

  • I think the CCP users who use the transit option at work are going to be the last people to get their Ventra Cards. I hope they have most of the kinks worked out before I get mine.

    FTR, the CCP is not 20 years old. It could be 10.

  • You will get it. Just hold tight. They aren't sending them all at once.

  • Folks - my bad on reporting that Steele said Chicago Card Plus has been in use for 20 years. I checked my notes, and what he actually said was this is the "first time in almost 20 years" that we're changing to a new fare system - as Michael Doyle points out it was in 1997 that we switched to the mag-strip cards from Cubic. So that's close to "almost 20 years."

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Maybe it is close to 16 years.

    Somehow they got the 43 years on the 2200s correct. Maybe that shows what the priority is at CTA; there isn't a foamer group for transit vending machines. However, I would agree with the others that CC and CCP were a new fare system.

    Now ask Steele how long it has been since CTA had a disaster with a vendor? My recollection is that they settled a lawsuit in the past year.

    Also, ask him how long they have had GFI fareboxes, and, if this is the panacea, why that unknown entity known as Pace has a solicitation out to rebuild them, if Ventra was supposed to be the answer to everything (note prior statements that Cubic was taking over fare collection duties)?

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    So Steele was vague and confusing? Kind of par for the course.

  • Mike, I just realizedthat I correctly quoted Steele when he said it's "almost 20 years that the CTA has rolled out new fare payment" - he's referring to 1997 with the mag cards from Cubic, not the Chicago Card as Jack suggested.

  • Actually - just realized I did quote Steel correctly.He said it's "almost 20 years that the CTA has rolled out new fare payment" - not a the Chicago Card. It was 1997 with the Cubic Magnetic card.

  • 1) Nice to know an actual name and title for the head communications honcho. I can now refer to him by name when I spot a mishandled situation. Wonder if he'll keep up with the Tattler?

    2) But he should know that disingenuous spin won't work too well with this audience. In what way was the Chicago Card not a new fare payment system--exactly how would it qualify as a mere tweak to something done 20 years ago?

    3) Did he have anything at all to say about the missing or mistimed e-mails? Did he suggest what I should do if I (as a registered Chicago Card holder) get a Ventra card in the mail but never received any e-mail with the secret code to make it work? Don't say I "should have" because I didn't, and there's nothing the recipient can do to receive if the sender didn't send. And don't say call the 800 number, that's out for obvious reasons; even if they say it's all better now, I'm skeptical. Would I be able to simply buy a new Ventra card at my nearest Red Line station (being careful to put $5 value on it at the same time so I can get a refund)? Do they even sell them there? Forgive me for not trusting the CVS clerks. Or will the fact that I have a non-activated Ventra in my name at the same time cause problems in trying to register the new one?

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    CC, he follows Tattler.

    I didn't get a chance to ask about the emails. Sorry.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Somehow that sounds vaguely familiar, like something that happened on the CTA Tattler on August 1, 2011. Note that that date is not an approximation 4 years off.

    There also seem to be a lot of double and triple posts here. Maybe he can read some of them. Twitter isn't the only source of #information in the #world; as @ccwriter implies; is he #reading and #responding here? Or has @Mayor_Emanuel given him #permission to do so?

    [Note, this is my impression from the Channel 32.1 crawl; as I wouldn't tweet.]

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    No prob, Kevin. Maybe if he follows Tattler he'll volunteer an answer about the e-mails.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    P.S. I'm assuming you meant follow in the "reads the blog" sense, not the Twitter sense.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    After Joe Moore got his comeuppance on Chicago Political Commentary, I'm sure that da Mare has told his minions to stay away.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    Come on--he's in Communications. Evidently that means he won't tell us anything.

  • "You sure aren't registering it with CTA to cancel it if it is stolen--the bank does that."

    Actually, you are. Your bank knows nothing about your Ventra account. They can't report it stolen to Ventra until Ventra tries to process a charge against it, which Ventra won't do if you have a sufficient balance in your transit account.

    If you have a balance (passes or transit value) in a Ventra account linked to your personal credit card you need to notify your bank first and then Ventra because:
    a) Whoever has your lost/stolen card will be able to ride buses with it until the balance in your account is used up.
    b) YOU won't be able to use the balance in your Ventra account until you arrange with Ventra to link a replacement card of some kind to your Ventra account.

    You'll also notice that the terms and conditions require you to notify Ventra if you receive a replacement card because your old card expired. If you don't you will be charged PAYG fares when you use your replacement card.

  • Kevin,
    In your article when you reference "a woman who had problems adding value to a card after she bought it at one of the many retailers" are you talking about the reader who could not register her Ventra card and was told that it was because she didn't add any transit value in addition to paying the card fee? So was the CSR who told her that you have to add transit value in addition to the card fee at the time of purchase wrong?

  • In reply to Olaf1:

    Yes, I think she was wrong.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Thanks, I hope she was!

  • In reply to Olaf1:

    Doesn't say much for Customer Service if she was presumably put on hold for 20 minutes to get the wrong answer.

    Did someone who set this up come to CTA from the IRS? Are tax attorneys going to advertise on digital subchannels that they will fix your Ventra problems and cut through the red tape?

  • In reply to jack:

    Hey, I might go for that if the price is right.

    Course if I did, I'd turn around and send a bill to the CTA for reimbursement. Not that I would expect them to pay it. Just to make the point, and I'd make it very public.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    The only thing that might get CTA's attention is evbee's suggestion (below) to dispute credit card charges, assuming she can make that stick. That at least would get the incompetents' attention.

  • In reply to jack:

    As if I would ever let the CTA or Ventra have my credit card number! I will continue loading the transit card with cash only, just as I do with Chicago Card.

    I had a co-worker whose credit card was one of those overcharged by an embezzling CTA worker. And when she first noticed a problem she was given the brushoff. No, couldn't possibly be happening. Must be her mistake, her problem. Then it made the news.

    I don't need to be entangled in any more no-win situations than we already are faced with.

  • My credit card was charged $20 on 9/18 for the auto-reload. The amount shows on my credit card statement but hasn't cleared through ventra on my account. Spoke to someone Friday, the issue still hasn't been resolved. I called twice this morning, spoke to someone for 1 minute, got put on hold again and BOTH times I got hung up on. My support tickets online go straight to "Closed" status, so I've had no help through there.

    I'm calling my credit card company right now to dispute the charges.

  • Just a quick question: Any idea whom I should contact regarding incorrect transaction history? The information currently shows me taking the Foster bus at a time when it would have been impossible for me to have done so.

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    How exciting. My second trip using Ventra and I was double charged. I called and got a message telling me that I should expect a hold time of 17 minutes. I tried posting a message on the Contact Us link on the Ventra site and had only the choice of "Other" on the Select A Subject dropdown. Who are these clowns and what led them to think this was ready to release?

  • In reply to Steve Stern:

    Similar problem here. Transferred from rail to bus yesterday and I was charged both another full fare and a transfer when boarding the bus. Online support request was immediately given a status of "Closed Incident."

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to zolk:

    Same thing happened with me transferring from one bus to another. Charged full fare for first ride and full fare plus a transfer for my second ride. Checked my balance online and saw the problem. I first tried calling the support number and left numerous messages. I then filled out the contact form. When I checked the status online it stated "Incident Closed." I was furious. I called early in the morning and only had to wait 18 minutes. The service agent was nice, but probably was overwhelmed. When she looked up my account her end, she had no record of the errant $2.00 charge. I told her that I was looking at it online as we spoke. I was then put on hold for 10 minutes while she talked to a supervisor. When she came back I was told to take a screen shot of my account on my computer and email it to This email is NOWHERE to be found on their website. Why not try that?

  • In reply to Lyda Jackson:

    I don't know how much at least a half hour of your time is worth lost engaged in futile activity, but I wonder multiplying it by how many people are being affected has drained out of the Chicago economy. Maybe Brian Steele wants to address that, but he gets his $160+K regardless.

    By this time,. the contempt for the customer is palpable.

  • In reply to jack:

    Contempt for the customer: That's apparently what success is built on these days.

    "Closed incident" is a meaningful metric to them no matter how it gets closed.

    This couldn't happen were transit not a monopoly enforced by the government..

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    Unfortunately, you are probably too young to remember (and did not research) that transit was a private business in Chicago until 1947, but eventually was taken over because it went bankrupt in about 1927, and there was no other way to reorganize the companies. The suburban systems remained in private ownership until about 1970, at which time they either abandoned operations or got subsidies.

    So, government wasn't a willing provider of this service, but certainly its hacks have taken advantage of the situation since then.

    Maybe the better analogy is what I mentioned above about the banks--some of them recently saw an incentive in providing better customer service, but incompetents protected in their patronage jobs do not. For instance, the RedEye today has an article that "The CTA said it finished mailing out Ventra cards last week to Chicago Card Plus riders who verified mailing addresses" but the comments here, or even to that article, don't reflect that.

  • The issues above are the exact types of issues that I think are going to explode in CTA's face on October 7. As for me, I finally got my Ventra card today--after a full 15 business days, not the "7 to 10" business days the "Convenience is coming!" email announced it would take. But I will say, it took only about 15 minutes for my old Chicago Card Plus balance to transfer over. That's better than it taking a day, but won't do anyone any good who intends to use their new Ventra card immediately after registering it. And not for nothing, but it's a transit card and I think being able to use it immediately to get around town is a very reasonable expectation.

  • Here's an issue I had:

    I have a Ventra 30-day pass which I've been using mostly successfully except for the bad readers I've found. I went to the Adams/Wabash stop, missed a green line train, decided to leave the station to run an errand while I waited for the next green line and then come back. My card didn't work at any of the turnstiles, I assume due to some sort of timeout that I couldn't re-enter again for a certain period of time. I tried approximately 6 different turnstiles. It sounds like it is programmed somewhere. I ended up asking the CTA employee about it and he swiped me back in after confirming my card had a valid 30 day pass.

  • In reply to chris:

    That sounds somewhat similar to the discussion on about zolk's complaint about timers, although yours is different.

    However, unless there is some sort of lockout that keeps one from passing a 30 day pass down the line to friends (compared to that a transit card could be used for 7 riders at once), having a valid 30 day pass should be sufficient, as the CA indicated.

  • In reply to chris:

    Someone on had a similar experience to yours, except instead of being refused, he now has a $2.25 negative balance on his Ventra Card with a 30 day pass. We surmise that your different result was that you did not have auto reload and he did; do you think that's the difference?

  • fb_avatar

    So, I have a question about the new VENTRA cards. I currently have a CCP with $14.75 on it. I got my VENTRA card yesterday and activated it be calling the 888 number. Now, its my understanding that the remaining balance on my CCP card is to transfer over to the new VENTRA card. Is this correct and if so, how long does that process take?

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Kevin McDonald:

    Oops! Never mind. The balance just transferred over. Now, does anyone know what the difference between the auto reload option and the "recurring payment" under the billing information section of managing your account are?

  • I believe there have been problems, but let me tell you my experience. I got an e-mail over the summer asking me to verify my address, and I did, easy-peasy. I got an e-mail saying the Ventra card was coming, and a few weeks later it did. I followed the activation instructions, easy-peasy. CCP balance came over the next day. I used it for the first time today -- no problem, and faster than CCP.

  • I have tried for 2 days to get answers for a couple of questions. The Ventra hotline is a joke! You end up in an infinite loop. One of my questions regards Pace and CTA melding. I called Pace and they said call Ventra. UGHH!
    I ride a Pace feeder route that is at a fixed $30 per month rate. My employer pays this with my pre-tax dollars. Will Wageworks provide the new card or do I need to get one?
    My second question is how do I pay for single rides on CTA. I assume at some point the balance on my Chicago card will go away if I don't do something about it.

  • In reply to cosmic:

    You should get your transit benefit card through work. But the CTA or PACE will send it. Ask your work transit benefit manager. But I could be wrong because I don't know what WageWorks is.

    You will have to get a Ventra card for single rides if you don't use Ventra for work.

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    Has anyone been able to figure out how this is an improvement on the Chicago Card? Ventra is starting to look like another Chicago scam. My last email was on Sept. 6 telling me my Ventra card would arrive in 7-10 business days. Obviously it's long past that now. So, this means the CTA will end up keeping whatever balance I have left on my Chicago Card Plus, and by the time that's no longer accepted, they'll be charging the $5 for the Ventra card again.

  • In reply to JP604:

    Supposedly CTA is out of chips. Other TAs reportedly not.

    The open fare system was supposed to be an improvement, but CTA figured out and tried to hide a fare increase on use of bank cards.

    This was supposed to be a phase-in, but so far the execution has been atrocious. Maybe you are right that this is not incompetence, but fraud.

    At least banks now have private bankers to resolve problems and no longer act like this. But the politicians have bought that this is the wave of the future and mandated it throughout the region. Metra may be corrupt, but they are correct in not joining Pace in just accepting this hook line and sinker.

  • I recommend that every one not wait much longer than the "7-10 days"--here is my experience:
    --Aug. 20--email received and I confirmed my address, later the "Convenience is coming" activation email received
    --Sep. 10--called Ventra after giving them a couple grace days for Labor Day (14 business days), because card still has not arrived. They tell me it is probably in the mail. Said to call back in a week if it still has not arrived.
    --Sep. 23--called again and spoke to a lady named Debbie with a thick Southern accent. She looks at my record and suggests that perhaps it still has not arrived because it is "lost in the mail." She says people who got their notices Aug. 26 have received their cards. I suggest perhaps it might be something on Ventra's end but she finds no fault with the company. She recommends that I sign up for the card myself. I hang up in frustration.
    --Sep. 24--I sign up for the card myself and on the online confirmation form, it says I will receive an email shortly.
    --Sep. 25--no email has arrived so I call Ventra again. On hold for 20 min and the system hangs up on me. Call again, on hold again for 8 min and the system hangs up on me. Call again, on hold for 20 minutes before I reach Pamela, who digs into my record. She tells me that a card was sent on Sep. 9 (which I still have not received at this point after a new round of 12 business days). She speaks to her supervisor and they sign me up for the card again and said she will expedite it to me. While Pamela was helpful, I still have not received it yet as of today, Sep. 27 (will check my mail tonight). She also told me the CCP will expire on Nov. 11 so it sounds like I will have another monthly cycle to use it if I still don't receive the Ventra.
    So apparently I will be getting two cards (or three even, not sure--the original card, my signup, and Pamela's signup) and will have to consolidate/cancel the extra ones so I can get all the $5 signup fees that are due to me.

  • In reply to excelsior:

    If you ever get anything in the mail, there shouldn't be a $5 sign up fee, because the card is preregistered if you confirmed your address.

    Of course, CTA announced that it was "waving" the fee, but it turned out that it was doubletalk, since the fee was required if, for instance, you bought it from a merchant and thus it needed registration.

  • In reply to excelsior:

    I've submitted two online support requests, both of which Ventra has closed without responding. I spent 20 minutes on hold trying to call their customer service and eventually disconnected with a fast busy signal. (Maybe it was because I had agreed to take the survey at the end of the call??)

    The online website shows my card was issued on September 9th, but I haven't received it yet.

    I certainly hope CTA expects me to start paying full-fare if they can't even deliver a simple card to me!

  • This continues to be a mess. I received my Ventra card and registered it over two weeks ago, but my Chicago Card Plus balance never transferred. I've called the Chicago Card people, and they say to call Ventra. I've tried to call Ventra on 3 separate occasions, and each time I wait on hold for about 10 minutes before I'm randomly (or not) disconnected without a person ever coming on the line. I've also submitted two online requests, which have received no answer at all. Today the Ventra line isn't even ringing - it just has a fast busy signal. How are people supposed to deal with this if the company that manages the cards can't even answer the phone?

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    In reply to rc429:

    The EXACT same thing happend to me. I registered the card but my CCP balance never transferred over. After 2 weeks I called Ventra and was disconnected and then called back and was on hold for close to 45 minutes before an operator manually transferred the balance over. Hang in there.

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