CTA Ventra card vents: The good, the bad and the downright ugly

Since I've been reporting on the problems with the CTA Ventra card rollout, I've gotten scores and scores of email and comments from frustrated and angry readers. Although a handful reported no problems and "easy-peasy," most did not.

At this point, I think the CTA must do the right thing and put off the Oct. 7 date when riders can no longer add value to Chicago Cards. As Michael said in a comment: "There is absolutely no reason why CTA customers should have to plan for CTA failure."

Here's a sampling of recent comments and emails:

The (mostly) good:

No drama machine purchase. Last week I walked up to the vending machine at Clark / Lake, bought a Ventra card for $6 ($5 fee + $1 value). Registered the card. Shortly thereafter had $6 on the card. Did one reload via credit card. I am carefully watching the account. So far no problems. Though it took over a day for my Wed AM trip to be priced.

Quick balance transfer. 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.

Easy-peasy activation. 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.

Common problems:

Got hung up on. 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.

Two full fares instead of  transfer. 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."

And another one. 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.

Customer service complaints:

Bad "contact us" design. 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?

Hotline is a joke. 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!

Activation woes. A couple of weeks ago I ordered two Ventra cards, one for me and one for my wife. Both arrived after 10 days. Hers immediately activated. After at least 8 tries and a couple of contact Ventra attempts through their website nothing happened with mine, it kept saying the access code was wrong (it wasn't). A phone call lasting a total of 40 minutes, mostly on hold fixed it.

Activation crap. I just tried to activate my card. I'm looking RIGHT AT my access code under the account settings, and the system is telling me it doesn't match. Before, I was willing to give Ventra the benefit of the doubt, but seriously? Don't launch something if it is still seriously flawed. What a sh*tshow.

Invalid numbers? I bought my Ventra today at a CTA station. The web site says it has an invalid combination of numbers.

Other problematic stuff:

Got 277 cards in mail - no joke! I was just searching online to see if anyone else had gotten a zillion cards in the mail! back at the beginning of september, I got a couple hundred of email confirmations as well, and yesterday, the poor postman tried to fit 277 envelopes in our mail box, all from Ventra! I left a message on their customer service line, but I kinda doubt they will be calling back....I haven't tried to register any of them yet, I wonder which of them is the right one?

Readers not working. 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.

Ventra breaks its own rule on usernames. Ventra has given me a username with an illegal character (an apostrophe). This means I cannot update my profile, add funds, or contact customer service (through the webpage). It also won't let me change my username, when I click on the "change username" field it forces me to update my other information but won't give me the option to change the username.... so the only way around this seems to be to call customer service as it's left my account totally unusable.

Reader problems on #36 and #22 buses. The Ventra card reader is fine on the 156 and the 151. Everytime I take the 36 or 22 the card isn't readable. It is so frustrating. At least it is good to know I am not the only one.

What's up with needing a nickname? I have not been able to register my card because the online questions ask for a nickname. There was nothing in the account format that asked to create a nickname. I have used everything - username, access code and pin. I am not able to register.

Service: Ridiculous, useless. I come to the city on an irregular basis. I don't carry cash. This VENTRA is ridiculous. I ordered a VENTRA card on September 9th. No card yet, but they quickly took the 10 dollars from my bank account. The phone number is useless and I've left 4 messages on the support page of the VENTRA site and reached out to them on Twitter This is not suppose to be hard. I don't need a pass. I just want to get on the L two times.

Risking trouble with too-short conversion window. 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.
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  • I guess that since Brian Steele is no longer permitted to comment on the real train wreck pending the NTSB investigation, maybe he can come back and comment on this one. Pres. Obama came cleaner on the overloading of healthcare.gov the first day.

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    What a pain...

  • i don't have one yet. this whole thing has been so half-assed that i honestly didn't even take it seriously and assumed it wasn't actually happening, that ventra would never be fully installed and operable. i see ads for everything under the sun on trains, buses and at stations, but never once did i see anything about ventra that told me anything. yeah, occasionally the cta guy would come on the pa and tell you ventra is great and coming soon, but nothing else.

    furthermore, i refused to believe a system was being rolled out that would require anyone who simply wants to board a bus or train to submit to and patronize the banking system in some way. i guess they already had us at work and home with credit applications for jobs and housing, so it's only logical they would put their grip on us between the two.

    anyway, i now only understand how i'm supposed to proceed with this ventra crap because it's already happened and people are telling me how they did it, and there's finally a website up explaining the whole thing.

    whatever. my biggest gripe so far is that it feels like these things take way longer than the chicago card, disposable cards, and even cash. i stand in a long enough line to board the bus each morning. now it takes longer to board. i zip through with my disposable. i see the people in front of me waving their ventra around, after 3 or 4 passes it tells them to "go." then it takes a second. then it tells the next person "okay."

    not sure if it's just me but this thing has added 15-20 minutes to my commute to work mostly because i can't make the transfer to my second bus anymore with the 5+ minutes of "go" and "okay" each morning, plus people fumbling to grab a card out of a purse or wallet at the last second.

  • Yes, delaying the turn-off of riders' ability to add value to their Chicago-Cards is a sensible step.

    Kevin, since I have not received an activation e-mail or actual Ventra card despite a message more than a month ago indicating my card is in the works, I decided to take your suggestion and load up my Chicago-Card-Plus before the October 7 deadline. So I went to my CTA "Manage Fare Preferences" page. It shows the following --

    "This card is being moved to Ventra.

    "The current balance and preference selections are displayed for your convenience. The fare preferences for this card CAN NO LONGER BE CHANGED. As soon as you activate your new Ventra card, you will be able to manage your preferences via the Ventra system."

    (Emphasis added.)


  • In reply to emglatstein:

    Yikes, well, sorry for the bad advice Eric.

  • We can still use the paper cards with magnetic stripe correct? Thats the easiest way to do it. Im not carrying around some stealth bank card and enabling this crap. If I cant use my old magnetic strip paper cards, I guess Im biking ( Which usually beats the CTA anyways) Way to go Chicago - only you could fumble mass transit this bad. What a joke.

  • In reply to marco:

    No, Marco, those are being phased out.

  • In reply to marco:

    No. In December, all magnetic-stripe card readers (on turnstiles and fareboxes) will be removed from the system. Everything is moving to Ventra, not just Chicago Cards.

  • In reply to MichaelBenamiDoyle:

    Just to be clear, you also can use your own contactless credit/debit card. You don't have to use Ventra. You would have to register that card to get the 25 cent transfer fee instead of paying full fare.

  • You what I'd love to see a report on? The chain of responsible individuals and companies for Ventra and the Ventra rollout process and schedule. Who created the schedule? Who approved it? Who is managing it right now? Who is the decision point for making changes to the process and schedule?

    Also, who exactly runs the Ventra system? The trademark is CTA's. The farebox and software technology is Cubic Transportation System's. The cards, themselves, come from MetaBank. Who are the individuals at the other two companies responsible for managing this process? Who are the inter-organizational liaisons? Who among them is aware that an ongoing rollout problem exists?

    Even more, who designed the online user interface? Who is responsible for managing and making changes to it? CTA directly? Or a CTA subcontractor?

    Point being, there is a massive dropped ball here--in fact, it sounds like there are several of them--and more than likely the problem is a broken internal and inter-agency chain of command. There is no other reason that the level of inflexibility and organizational ignorance about these problems would be going on.

    In other words, someone or someones with a public media platform and an investigative nature should go roll some heads.

  • In reply to MichaelBenamiDoyle:

    The contractual relationship, as CTA put it, was that CTA contracted out responsibility for fare collection to Cubic--as contrasted to the prior arrangement of Cubic selling the machines to CTA. This, however, must only be an issue of legal title to the equipment.

    However, in that CTA spokespersons are quoted, the "customer service" line is supposedly staffed by CTA, Cubic is charging for additional equipment, and apparently CTA and Pace will still be maintaining the bus fareboxes, the division of authority is certainly not clear.

    Of course, the clearance of bank transactions (whether through use of open media bank cards or people using the Ventra prepaid debit card) has to be through banking channels, in this case First Data and MetaBank.

    We don't know who is mailing out the cards or is maintaining the computer infrastructure for this.

    So, the answer probably is that there are so many cooks that none of them is accountable.

  • Why blame the entire city when we can just blame Forrest Claypool?

  • So if an out of town guest wants to ride the CTA, they have to buy a Ventra Card?

  • In reply to marco:

    No, if they have an RFID bank card, such as a Chase Blink, which can also be used at McDonald's, or a smart phone with near field communications ability and a credit card app.

    However, as became evident only into the rollout, and Olaf pointed out was belatedly posted on the CTA fare chart, using a bank card is essentially a cash fare, in that you don't get transfers. However, if you are riding the L and don't intend to transfer, the $2.25 per ride is cheaper than paying $3 for the disposable Ventra ticket, but the latter does give you transfers.

  • In reply to jack:

    If you have your own contactless credit card, you can use a Ventra machine to load either a stored value or pass on that card to avoid the higher pay-as-you-go fares.

  • In reply to zolk:

    As I mentioned on chicagobus.org in response to your post there, I'm not going to give CTA an opportunity to mess with my bank card by registering its number with them. If one has to use a Ventra vending machine, it may as well dispense a card.

    Also, marco's comment was about tourists, and I am really sure tourists are not going to register their bank card before coming to town. More than likely, they are stuck with Ventra tickets, or can figure out the bizarre open fare system.

  • In reply to jack:

    You do not need to register your bank card to add transit value or a pass at a Ventra machine. Registration is only required if you want to manage those funds online.

  • In reply to zolk:

    But. other than the $5 creditable deposit, is there a reason for doing so, or a concise description of how to do it?

  • In reply to jack:

    Yes, there are instructions for using your own card posted at the top of every Ventra machine. Photo: http://cl.ly/image/2a3m2o2T122r

    You can even use a different credit card to pay for the value or pass. Just this evening I was able to load $5 in value on my unregistered Chase card and pay for that value using my non-contactless Citi card.

    The benefits are that you don't need to carry an extra card and you can avoid the $5 fee. If a tourist already bought a 7-day pass prior to registering a Ventra card, that $5 credit won't be of much use unless they're staying beyond that pass period.

  • In reply to zolk:

    Zolk, you will get charged full fare for a transfer if you don't register your bank card.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    You will get charged a full fare for a transfer if you do not setup a Transit Account by adding value or a pass at a Ventra machine. That's not the same as registering your card. Anyone with a contactless card can walk up to a Ventra machine, add value or a pass, and avoid pay-as-you-go charges without having to give their personal info to CTA. Registration is only required if you want fare protection, notifications, and autoloading. Per the Terms on Ventra's site:

    An unregistered Ventra Account is automatically set up when you purchase a Ventra Card or when you purchase transit value or passes using your contactless credit or debit bank card or mobile phone.

  • In reply to zolk:

    Got it. Thanks Zolk!

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Kevin, I have to apologize to you. I think I may have misled you when I said you have to register a personal card in order to link a Ventra Account to it. I've been following the VentraChicago twitter stream and they repeatedly said you have to register first. Finally, after V-day came (and went) and people started asking "how do I register?" they changed their tune and said you could have an unregistered Ventra account by adding value at a Ventra machine. I didn't know who to believe after that. But I think zolk has decided the issue convincingly.

    You still need to register in order to recover value if your card is lost or stolen, but it appears you can have an unregistered Ventra account linked to your personal card just as you can have one linked to a Ventra Card.

    I apologize again.

  • In reply to Olaf1:

    No worries. Thanks for all the info you are providing Olaf.

  • In reply to marco:

    Apparently, one will still be able to put $2.25 cash into a bus farebox, but that option is not available on the L.

  • Has anyone heard of any accommodations the CTA will make for social service agencies that have relied on giving out the flimsy temporary transit cards to give clients a few rides? Will these agencies now have to buy the Ventra card and register each card?

  • In reply to Edgewater Roadie:

    Social service providers will be able to obtain 3-day and 7-day disposable contactless tickets. These multi-day tickets will not be available to the general public.

  • My jaw just about dropped when I read some of the problems not previously discussed here. 277 cards in the mail, no nickname, invalid code, unallowable character....These may be unusual problems, but they are happening in a context of widespread missed deadlines, broken promises and failure to communicate. I'll go so far as to guess the pure "easy-peasy" experiences are in the minority.

    Train wreck is right.

    Is this system not supposed to be accountable to us, the citizens of Chicago (which allows the monopoly) and the customers of the CTA? MichaelBenamiDoyle has a great point. I think it's time for an expose on who's running (or failing to run) this show.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    Has the CTA ever been accountable to passengers or the public????

    I'm sure that the Blue Line wreck will divert any media attention from this. And Brian Steele will say everything is working fine and on schedule. This isn't as obvious as not opening the Red Line in less than 3 weeks would be.

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    Um...Is there any news on replacing the magnetic Individuals With Disabilities Ride-Free card with the Ventra version? I have yet to get or "hear" (I'm deaf) ANYTHING regarding this type of replacement. Any idea what Ventra/CTA is doing for these cards?
    Last I heard, the Ride-Free program was closed - although my card says it expires Sept 2014

  • In reply to Jon Son:

    Anything would have to come from the RTA.

    I'm not aware of what deals the IwD and VA people get, but the Senior Circuit Breaker or Half Fare programs are intact, just that the RTA is supposed to replace the mag strip cards with Ventra ones.

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    My auto-load doesn't work. Filled out a report on the contact form online. I haven't heard back. I look on my service history and see the incident was closed with no feedback, let alone fixing the problem. Also it takes several tries to get the card to read. This Ventra is just making problems where no existed.

  • This Ventra card system and timetable chart is a mess and a lie for people who registered their Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus.

    Some people who received their cards, but not the e-mail to explain how to register the card. Some people only received the e-mail informing them to update their information. Some people received the e-mail that the card is coming and still waiting. Some people with the regular Chicago Card, were told by CTA service reps to order the cards on their own. They are still working on getting the cards out to Chicago Card Plus customers and don't when they will start mailing out the regular Chicago Card. Not informing people not to mix you Ventra card with your credit/debit cards.

    And on top of that, everyone should have their cards register by November 15. Just waiting on channels 2, 5, 7, 9, and 12 (32) investigation reporters to do a story on this.

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    Guy get's on the #22 bus tonight, waves his card, get's the stop three times while claiming he just put a one month pass on there and the driver kicks him off. Another guy gets on and has to wave his card multiple times to get it to work. I'd be angry if I were that guy who got kicked off.

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  • In reply to Adele Green:

    Lots of luck with that.

    As indicated about a month ago, the best that might happen is that this ends up in a lawsuit, sort of like the NABI buses.

  • The Tribune (Tracy Swartz) has a picture of the mailbox of the guy who said he received 271 Ventra cards. Only 100 fit in the box, and he got a note to pick up the rest at the post office.

    I guess this was too incredible to believe without tangible photographic proof.

  • The automatic reload has not worked for me at all. The site has my card listed as being set for auto reload but I've had the turnstile tell me 'stop' twice and I've missed trains because of it both times. I told the attendant at the station that I set it up to auto reload and she told me that you can't do that. So not only is the auto reload not working but CTA employees don't even know basic information about the Ventra card.

  • In reply to Myshkin:

    I have the same problem with auto reload. it is says it is on, but I have to constantly keep track and reload it manually. I have called, emailed to no avail.

  • So here's a new development for CCP holders with transit benefits. Apparently, they're running behind. Shocking.
    I got this email yesterday which starts:



    This message is a change to a previous message you received regarding the transition from Chicago Card Plus (CCP) to the Ventra Card. In the previous message you were told that you would receive an email from Ventra in early October and that the email would let you know that your Ventra card was on its way. The email would also contain your Ventra login information.

    Unfortunately, the CTA has informed us that this email and the mailing of the Ventra Card has been delayed until mid-October, which means you will not receive the email until after the October 10th deadline to enroll on WageWorks for the November benefit month. Because of this delay, YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO ELECT A DIRECT LOAD TO YOUR VENTRA CARD FOR THE NOVEMBER BENEFIT MONTH. However, you may still utilize the pretax commuter benefit to fund your Ventra card for November by following the instructions below.

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    All I want to know is will I be able to use my free permit on the cta. They seem to forget some of us are on a fixed income.

  • Cta should have left the cards the way they have been. I don't care for the gathering of information as it is or my whereabouts!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!especially by finacial institutions or Big Brother!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I'll bike it or take a cab.

  • I haven't heard why they decided to switch to Ventra? What was the cost and what was the supposed benefit?

  • In reply to Gary Lucido:

    The CTA claimed that the manufacturer of the chips used in the Chicago Card was shutting down that line.
    I still don't understand why they couldn't have gone to a different chip fab & gotten a compatible chip.
    Other cities are still using older chips.

    The best guess is that Cubic bribed the CTA's consultants who then lied to the CTA, which believed the lie & was stupid enough to fall for Cubic's BS & then signed an insane $454 million contract to replace the entire system!

  • So here are the problems I encountered. It's a real fustercluck.
    1) They sent out 3 cards but I never got them. To get them replaced is going to cost me $15. My tough luck.
    2) The Ventra people say I can avoid the $15 by going somewhere out in the boonies. Yeah, like my time is worth that little.
    3) They are going to discontinue the ChicagoCard so any money on those cards essentially disappears unless you transfer it to Ventra.
    4) The current Ventra Web site is so poorly designed that it appears as though you have to buy some sort of a pass in order to get a Ventra card. I don't really believe that but the person on the phone thought that was by design and seems to believe that is an acceptable business model.

    Just more evidence that government just can't get it right.

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