CTA Ventra primer: How to tap card on reader

The CTA and Ventra have provided a short video on what seems like it should be an easy process - boarding and using a Ventra card on bus or train.

But that's not been the case for many CTA Tattler readers. They report having to tap numerous times with growing frustration. And there have been unconfirmed reports of passengers waiting to alight buses boring needles of hate into the backs of those frustrated riders.

Personally, I have not had any problems yet. First tap and I'm gone through the turnstile or down the aisle. Luck, perhaps.

Here's how to do it, according to the video:

  • Remove the card from your purse or wallet.
  • Tap card on center of card reader.
  • Go when you see the green "Go."

Simple, eh? If only the design of the reader were that simple - or better. As noted previously, many riders try to tap their card on the arrow pointing down - you know, right where it says, "Tap card."

Here's hoping we'll all just get used to this and figure it out, because I'm sure not holding my breath waiting for CTA to change the card reader design.


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  • Just as airlines now have movies telling you how to fasten your seat belt, CTA needs that video at every entry point. Which, of course, we know that they won't.

  • This is probably the only but extremely frustrating thing for me with ventra. I rarely had to take out my chicago card when boarding a bus or the L. With the Ventra Card, I've never been able to pay with my card in my wallet or in my phone case. I have to take it out each and every time (and sometimes I have to tap more than once, particularly at L stations). Isn't it NFC? You know, near field communication. I shouldn't have to physically tap my card to pay. In this sense, ventra seems like a downgrade. Otherwise, I have no issues (no double charges or anything like that) and really do like the more convenient amenities that I didn't have with the Chicago Card.

  • In reply to ibright05:

    I haven't had any problems using the card while it's still in my wallet. I found the old CCP to be more problematic. You may have to move the wallet/card around in a small circle to find the "sweet" spot.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    I hope you don't have any contactless credit cards in there, because it could be charging those as well .

  • I've noticed that some readers have had large green dots applied to the reader. I guess this is somehow supposed to help. I think they need to apply a big stick that reads "Tap HERE".

    Seriously, this is simply part of the learning curve of a new system. We have the same issues with magnet strip cards, as tourists and new users often struggled to get the card inserted correctly. Heck, the first time I used a magnetic strip card, I stuck it into the dollar bill slot, instead of the card reader, and the thing ate my card. :-)

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    I agree that it's part of the learning curve Spiny. People hate change. This is a big one. We will survive.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    The CTA Tattler as a reeducation camp continues.

    Maybe the engineers at Dilbert Industries, Inc., I mean Cubic, could have figured out that everything in this system was designed in a counterintuitive manner. Apple under Steve Jobs would not have done it this way, although Microsoft probably would. User interface means something more than confusing 90% of the users.

  • In reply to jack:

    Lol. If Microsoft did it, they'd release Ventra 2014 next year, and they'd move all the functions around without actually adding anything new, and we'd have to start all over again. Hell, it took me nearly a day to figure out how to add a row to an embedded table in the new MS Word. In the old version, you right-clicked on the table, and selected 'insert row'. Nope, that was just too easy. Sheesh.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    I'm not sure what versions you are comparing. 2007 went from the usual menu structure to the Ribbon, but Microsoft actually did some ergonomic research into that.

    I was referring more to that there isn't a reason to upgrade from Windows 7 to 8, unless it was forced on you because you had to buy a new PC, and then you have to learn "Tile World," unless you can get under the hood and find the Desktop.

    The way Ventra is described is similar to that, except that CTA doesn't admit mistakes unless forced to do so, and Cubic doesn't even admit that it is behind such things as the call center. And they can do so, because they have a monopoly on how to board the L or bus.

    So, if there is a Ventra interface 2.0, you are probably correct that instead of correcting things as posters here suggest, they will make it worse.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Oh, please. It's not a matter of hating change. It's really lousy design.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    The first time I used the card, the station attendant advised me to touch the broadcast wave icon on the card to the same icon on the reader. That worked fine and I have been doing it ever since..

    Now they have covered up the icon on the reader with a green dot so people can't be told that any more. What, are they going to issue us all green dots for our cards? That'll be some rollou!


  • The problems I've had have been with timing. It seems like if you hold the card in place too long it doesn't register, but if you tap too fast it doesn't register either.

    The other day I tapped in one aisle a couple of times and nothing happened. I decided that aisle was broken (since I know some have been), so I went to the next aisle over. I tapped there and my light turned green THEN I saw the light turn green where I had just been. Yes I was charged twice.

    Still, I'm not having as much trouble as other people, but during rush hour I do have the trouble of being stuck behind the other people who are having trouble.

  • Now that I watch the video it looks like part of the problem may be that by "tap" they mean "hold on the reader until it registers." That is not what I think of as "tap."

  • In reply to Kim Z Dale:

    Good point. Maybe it should say "Tap and Hold". I find the readers to be as slow/fast as the CC card readers. The reader must be performing a network call to a central server(s) to validate the card, and it's possible the servers have not been tuned (yet) for the load. I was hoping that the readers would be nearly instantaneous, as any delay causes backups at the turnstiles.

  • Roosevelt station has added stickers in the sweet spot but it's still much slower then the Chicago Card Plus. I used to be able to go through without stopping, now I have to tap, wait, go.

  • I put a sticker on the outside of my small wallet. I always put my Ventra card on that side, face up inside. This way, when I go to tap my card, I don't have to take it out. I just remember to press down with the sticker side and it reads well. I always get the green GO.

  • In reply to ApresSki:

    I have a clear plastic card holder attached to an outside pocket my bag with a cord. The Ventra card works fine through the plastic. This way I don't risk losing it in the process of getting it out and putting it away all the time.

  • I've tapped and waited about 30 seconds before it said Go on a number of buses. That's why when I hear CTA Guy tell us Ventra speeds up board it just makes me laugh and laugh.

    It's also supposed to be stress-free. I heard that announcement last night.

  • Yeah it's bad enough that it doesn't always work when you tap, but when you have to wait 3-5 seconds after tapping for the thing to even register that you tapped it is incredibly annoying.

    It looks like they wanted to save some money on the processors in those things and made the entire thing slow. I rarely saw lines at CTA stations to get through, now I see them all the time with how slow these are. Chicago Card > Ventra in every single way.

  • In reply to Rob M:

    I'm not entirely convinced that the problem isn't on the server side, and not the reader side. I assume the system makes a call to some central server to validate the card, and register the transaction. If the server is slow and/or overloaded, there will obviously be a delay. As an example, take a look at the rollout of the wonderful healthcare website. ;-)

    On this morning's trip, both the bus and rail station readers took less than a second to register. However, there have been times when it took over 2 seconds to register.

  • In reply to Rob M:

    30 was not a typo. I have waited half a minute for it to tell me to go. Which does not speed up boarding.

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    Is anyone still having problems with the auto-reload feature on their Ventra account? I ask this because I'm down to the last $2 in my account and have the option activated, but thanks to some prior stories I've heard, I'm not sure if the reload option will work properly and I'd hate to be stranded away from home unable to pay for transit to get home.

  • In reply to Kevin McDonald:

    You can still load cash on it at the Ventra machine in L stations, right? If you're going to be in one, you can do that.

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    In reply to Kevin McDonald:

    For me, it worked (auto-reload CTA/30 day pass)the first time. But it didn't auto-reload 2 days ago for me. I got charged all fares yesterday without knowing my balance went NEGATIVE again! Last time it went negative was the system charged me twice for single ride (had to tap twice) even when my CTA/30-day pass is still ON.

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    Kevin, we should mention the fact that the dumbed-down display when you use a Ventra card says only "Stop" or "Go." The previous system displayed the balance on your card (I don't know about Chicago cards). I can see two possible reasons for this: One, the designers think we're all too stupid to grasp more than Stop or Go. Two, it's a deliberate effort to hinder people from realizing when they've used up their positive balance and are going debit (if they have that enabled), thus maximizing the opportunity to extract fees wthout warning.

  • It seems they think we're just going to ttust they'll come through with the reload. Since they didn't let me use my transit benefit money for the last 2 weeks of my last 30 day pass I no longer let them near my paycheck and I certainly wouldn' t let them near a bank account or credt card. I had to make a special trip to an L station to buy a 30 day pass that I won't get a tax break on but I guess that is how it will be from now on.

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    I got charged an extra fare (I have CTA/30-day pass) for tapping the card twice within 7 seconds. That was because it didn't go through the first time!!! How many people have experienced not getting through on their first tap? A LOT!!!! then my balance went negative without any notice. Next morning during traffic hour where there's a long long line for only one working reader, my card couldn't go through even with my 30-day pass is still ON because my card has NEGATIVE balance. The rep at Damen station accused me tapping my card twice for someone else. Watch out!!!And it didn't auto-reload my 30-day pass two days ago which I set it up the first day i activated my Ventra Card. Called Customer Service the whole morning, and finally got through. "I will forward your question to the customer service center" Unbelievable!!!

  • This video is a little condescending. There are many times I've tapped it exactly as shown and it will either not recognize the card or it will take several seconds to register. And now they're admitting you have to remove it from your wallet. They don't say why but it's because they'll charge your other cards too if you don't. Why on earth would we want a system that requires people to take a card out of their wallet? How is that any improvement over the Chicago Card system? With the amount of time it takes to register and the rest of the issues, it's a step down from the mag strip cards. Ventra is an answer to a question nobody asked.

  • In reply to Myshkin:

    Unless the question was "Can my pals get a contract to be paid big bucks and not have to do a proper job?"

  • Here's a more accurate and informative video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iABcE04qEQc

  • The real trick is hold. Tap has nothing to do with it. Just stand there and hold it in front of the reader until it shows it's Microsoft reboot screen or until the bus driver waves you on. P.S. Last night my first ride to train was free due to faulty reader on bus so the $2.25 initial train fare and $.25 transfer ended up as $2.50 total rather than the usual $2.25 it would have cost as the initial $2.00 bus ride and first $.25 train transfer with next bus being $0. I guess that makes up for the usual free transfers from at least one reader not working daily on my commute.

  • According to Hilkevitch's column today CTA is just starting to get the message that it should audit and do something about multiple charges. "CTA and Pace say they are still trying to get a handle on the depth of problems," but apparently Tammy Chase's minimizing isn't working, and CTA needs more than a reeducation camp for passengers.

  • In reply to jack:

    The "reeducation" notion they seem to have been pushing is insulting. Sure, when a new system is first implemented, there will be some percentage of people that don't do things quite right. But the idea that the problems with Ventra are a result of a large number of the people of Chicago not being able to figure out how to tap correctly or use the internet to register after several weeks is just ridiculous. If Ventra requires people to take the card out of their wallets to assure they won't be double-charged, then we should make cubic provide us with a system that emulates the Chicago Card system which actually worked and didn't have these problems. We'd "lose out" on the prepaid credit card, but I think we'd all survive.

  • In reply to jack:

    If the Trib made Hilkevitch's column a front page item, then the Ventra problems are not far, far worse than we know, they're far, far worse than we can conceive of.
    I'm getting a really sick feeling that the current Ventra cards will end up being scrapped for new ones without the Blink card or any other debit feature on it.
    It will simply end up a new Chicago Card, which was all that was needed if they couldn't get compatible chips, which is something I don't believe. I'll bet there were chip fabs that could have turned out new chips that would have worked with the current Chicago Card readers.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    I'm not sure about all of your points (like totally scrapping an RFID system), but I've predicted a NABI type lawsuit for a while now, and can't see how Cubic can sell this to any other transit authority.

    I'm also wondering whether this and healthcare.gov are similar messes, but at least Obama is getting a contractor to try to integrate the latter. But since CTA never admits mistakes (at least until too late), Tammy Chase minimizing will continue, if not the "the passengers are at fault" routine.

  • In reply to jack:

    Impossible to know, but I wonder how much revenue they lost on this transition. Lots of people getting free boardings when they encounter problems. Agents at the stations have really had to earn their salary lately.

  • In reply to chris:

    The article said that CTA was totaling that up.

    Although CTA and Pace don't yet have a lot of information to disclose, the transit agencies did hint at an answer regarding a question about uncollected Ventra fares that the Tribune has been asking for several weeks: Is Cubic being penalized for lost fare revenue caused by system malfunctions?

    "We anticipate there will be penalties for Cubic for September," Chase said. "We're still going through the data and examining the many very technical performance standards that must be met."

    Pace did have numbers for "cases in which a rider was unable to pay because of malfunctioning equipment."

    I mentioned before (I think in response to you) that there were counters in the door wells of CTA buses connected to the GPS system.

    I don't know if the turnstiles at the rapid transit stations still have mechanical counters. Again, note the conversation in May when the turnstiles were installed on the temporary stairs at Garfield that it was to count free boardings.

    If CTA can get numbers from either source, then I suppose it could back bill Cubic at the supposedly $1.08 fare per ride for the difference.

  • In reply to jack:

    Well, that would be interesting. It would bet it's more than the $245,000 they're paying to make courtesy calls.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    But of they scrap Ventra, can you imagine the chaos as they try to transfer balances from Ventra to whatever the new system will be?

  • In reply to Olaf1:

    I think that the problem was "transferring balances," instead of just issuing new cards for existing CC and CCP accounts. That wouldn't have taken care of unregistered media, but CTA isn't taking such good care of doing the latter, either, according to yesterday's news articles.

    Any such change would probably not be much different than a bank issuing new credit cards because its database of credit card numbers was compromised (which happened to me once).

  • http://www.suntimes.com/23406161-761/cta-paying-up-to-245000-for-ventra-calls-after-original-vendor-swamped.html?r=7021B2596790B3Q

  • It looks like there has been a software update to the Ventra card readers.

    1) Instead of saying "Tap Card" they now say "Tap below"

    2) Instead of letting the rider furiously tap with no feedback from the unit, it now shows a screen that says "Processing. One moment please" while it thinks about whether to let you board or not.

  • I haven't had a problem with the card. I purchased it at my home station's vending machine, and added a CTA/Pace 30-Day Pass.

    Since I had just returned from a trip to London, I can say that the experience is similar to their Oyster Card. You have to tap and hold for a couple of seconds, and then the reader signals that you can go through.

    I keep the card in my wallet (just as I had the Oyster Card in London), and I haven't had problem with the reader.

    I must say, however, that the readers on some turnstiles seem a little slower than others. But generally, I've been able to pass through the turnstiles with only a couple-seconds pause.

    I like the account management website after you register the card.

  • "Here's how to do it, according to the video:

    - Remove the card from your purse or wallet.
    - Tap card on center of card reader.
    - Go when you see the green "Go."

    Simple, eh?"

    Actually what used to be two steps with the Chicago Plus card are now three steps with Ventra. With Chicago Plus, you could leave your card in your wallet and simply 'swipe' the wallet. Now you've got to first 'remove the card from your purse or wallet'. More steps, more complications, less convenience. That's not what's supposed to happen when we move from one system to another.

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