Ventra fiasco fallout: CTA relents - will allow card refills, mag stripe sales

Drowning in a flood of customer complaints about Ventra card activation problems and woeful customer service, the CTA today backed off two big changes that had been effective since Monday.

  • Riders now will be able to add value to their Chicago Cards.
  • Magnetic stripe fare cards will now be sold again. Both transactions can be done at rail station fare vending machines.

The CTA also told Ventra to dramatically beef up the number of customer service representatives staffing the Ventra hotline: (877) 669-8368. Customers on Monday endured phone wait times of more than 30 minutes, as well as dropped calls after long waits.

The Ventra contractor, Cubic Transportation Systems, will triple the number of agents at the call center. It will take a few weeks to get staffing up to 300, CTA officials said. "These changes are designed to ensure customers have the full complement of fare payment options as the transition to Ventra continues," CTA President Forrest Claypool said.

The CTA is sticking to its next deadline of Nov. 15, when riders will no longer be able to use the Chicago Card or Chicago Card Plus. And they won't able able to add value to the mag stripe cards on Nov. 15. Riders can use them till Dec. 15.

Finally, the CTA has resent usernames and temporary passwords to Chicago Card Plus holders who have received but not yet activated their cards. Many customers have said they never received or deleted the email needed to activate the Ventra card.

At least the CTA was smart enough to make this move, albeit a few days late.


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  • Just received the email resend. Oh, this VENTRA activation sucks. The website is unusable, claiming errors without telling you what the errors are. And then the site blocks you from looking up a customer service phone number by bringing you back to the screen with the problems when you try to migrate out to a Customer Service screen. The screens look great if they'd only accept your entries. Bet they did not use PMO / Project Management Office disciplines. Whatever, the testing have been handled poorly.

  • Although I didn't have any problems activating my card I've not been having fun with Ventra.

    I didn't realize that although my Chicago Card balance was transferred my autoload settings were not. Once I used the transferred balance my account was empty, which naturally meant it stopped working when I was rushing to get to work early.

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    In reply to Kim Z Dale:

    So how did you get the balance from your Chicago Card to transfer. I don't think I have gotten that done yet. The website said I could do it in person at the Ventra office at 165 N. Jefferson or at one of the transfer events. Since I live and work in the Loop and none of the transfer events are convenient to the Loop, I went to the Ventra customer service center where I was told the only way I could do the transfer was at the inconvenient transfer events.

  • In reply to William Damico:

    Since the Chicago Card does not have "autoload settings" I am assuming that Kim Z Dale is referring to a Chicago Card Plus (which has autoload settings) and not a Chicago Card.

    The CCP balance is supposed to transfer when you activate your new card. Alas, the regular CC balance does not automatically transfer.

  • In reply to Olaf1:

    Neither does the CC+

  • In reply to William Damico:

    P.S. In January through March, you will be able to transfer balances from Chicago Cards and Transit Cards to a registered Ventra Card by mailing them into the Ventra service center.

    Of course, spending down the balance between now and November 15 would be the best course, but I realize that may not be possible for everyone.

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    In reply to Olaf1:

    Where can I find more information about the January to March balance transfer process?

    When I am working (federal employee on furlough right now) I live and work in the Loop so have little need for the CTA and being unemployed right now rarely come into the city. Originally I used the card for monthly round-trips from the loop to North/Clyborn but I haven't done that in a while and have probably between $15 and $20 on the Chicago Card.

  • In reply to William Damico:

    This is the only information we have about the January thru March mail-in process:

  • In reply to William Damico:

    As Olaf says, the best thing to do is spend down the value while you can if possible.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Be careful with this. I don't take the CTA anymore since moving to the burbs, so I gave my card to a friend to use up my balance of $12.25. I had my CCP card set to auto reload $40.00 and it auto reloaded today. The CCP site doesn't let you make any account changes in the transition to Ventra and the Ventra site doesn't sync with my CCP account info.

    So be prepared to see an auto reload for whatever you had/have your CCP card set for.

  • OK, so the heck are they supposed to know if a user received their card? There is no USPS tracking on it, so are they just assuming that if it isn't activated within N days of the mailing, that the user received it? I received one card 2 days ago, but the 2nd card hasn't arrived. I assume they were mailed at the same time.

    I didn't have a problem logging into the website, and changing the default account name and password, and setting the PIN.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    The purpose of activation is to assure that you received it. So, I assume it is the opposite of what you said.

  • Damage control!

    Let's not let them off the hook too easily, Kevin..

    Forrest Claypool is quoted in today's Sun-Times: “'We’re sending out 110,000 new emails to Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus customers,' Claypool said Wednesday, 'with very clear, simple directions on how to activate their cards.'”

    Mr. Claypool, why wasn't this done earlier? Why were unclear, complicated, incorrect directions allowed to go out--or in many cases no e-mails even sent? (Oh, and why isn't Mr. Steele answering for the communications end of things?)

    Also, the CTA personified (no specified individual) was quoted in the same story: "But it said registered Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus holders were promised Ventra cards in the mail with easy access instructions. That, the CTA said, 'has not been executed effectively.'” Again, I will hold Mr. Claypool responsible for an explanation and apology for the ineffective execution.

    We'll be waiting, Mr. Claypool. How about a deadline of November 15 to come clean on how this happened and give a full, genuine apology? If the CTA were a private business, I wouldn't care, because I would have long ago switched to the competing brand. But since we have no real alternative, you owe us the truth.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    You hit that on the head.

    This is a clear instance of poor contract management on the part of CTA.

    I've suggested elsewhere that the real way to apologize to registered CC and CCP customers is for Cubic to give them $50 in transit value, out of Cubic's pocket. I wouldn't count on that, but some sort of reparations is in order.

    But obviously, trotting out Brian Steele and Tammy Chase on Monday to tell people "how they should do it" didn't cure the PR debacle.

  • Warning to All Ventra users ...check your account..I was wondering why I was putting so much on the card in a short's taking Two or even three times the fare on one trip off the watch out

  • I just wasted an hour of my morning trying to reach Ventra customer service. What a train wreck...pun intended. Shame on me for calling in a second time after being cut off after waiting on hold for 20 minutes the first time! And it happened again the second time. And, again, after holding for 20 minutes. You think they have it set to randomly cut off people after 20 minutes of wait time to lighten the call load?

  • In reply to MartyChi:

    1. The articles only mention the wait time, not the percentage of dropped calls.

    2. Since the rationale for the delay was "until Cubic triples call center staff," I suggest you wait a bit before trying again.

  • Pictures of people lined up to use the Ventra machines at O'Hare this afternoon:

    When I was there last week, O'Hare had five Ventra machines and two Transit Card machines.

  • This picture taken at the O'Hare CTA station is awesome:

  • In reply to Olaf1:

    I guess that was the basis of the radio traffic report "avoid the O'Hare Blue Line station because there is a crowd of Chicago Marathoners trying to get their Ventra cards."

  • I turned off my transit benefit today. I am having to put money on my Ventra card even though my 30 day pass doesn't end until the 19th. I can't trust they'll load the next one correctly so that's gone until I feel I can trust them again. Which is probably never.

  • Time to get a car people

  • In reply to airportguy2:

    Oh, you're going to buy us all a car? And pay for our parking if we go downtown? Great!

  • In reply to airportguy2:

    If I wanted to drive to work the first thing I would have to do is get on the waiting list for a parking spot and then wait until a spot opened.

  • Oh I am so annoyed. My boyfriend and I moved to the suburbs in August and I now drive downtown. Knowing my CCP was going to stop working since the switch to Ventra I gave my card to a friend to use up. I previously had it set to auto reload $40, but CCP site won't allow any changes in the transition to Ventra. On Thursday, I had $12.25 left on my CCP card. It just reloaded with another $40.00!!!
    I can't change this via CCP or Ventra.

    Be careful with anyone who is trying to use up all the CCP balance! My experience it will auto reload and there is nothing you can do about it!!!

    If anyone has any advice on how I can solve this it would be greatly appreciated!

  • In reply to macb:

    Exit strategy? There can be no way out of the CCP! I'm sure the CTA considers this a feature, not a bug. One is not permitted to leave the city without paying a penalty.

    Seriously, my sympathies. You will have an extra apology coming. Or, you will get to throw an extra tomato or cream pie at the CTA official of your choice when these people are in the stocks in Daley Plaza, if my CTA accountability fantasy ever comes true.

  • Hanging up on people seems to be the one thing Cubic is good at.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    Based on that measurement, the CTA might consider Cubic very effective, and recommend they be given a bonus and more contracts. After all, it shows they can be efficient in dealing with (we didn't say solving) problems! Remember that customer-friendy communications are not part of CTA's scale of values.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    Maybe they'll get the message from the lawsuit.

  • Kevin,

    It says here that the CTA is sticking to it's next schedule of November 15th, and that people with magnetic stripe cards can only use them until December 15th. That's in direct conflict with the story that ran on the 10th of October:

    That story stated the following:

    CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -
    CTA fare options that expired this week are back in place Thursday, until the kinks in its new Ventra card payment system are worked out.

    The transit agency made the reversal in response to angry riders who had problems trying to get their Ventra cards.

    The CTA pushed back its deadline to phase out the old cards and allowed riders to once again put money on their old cards. The original deadline to phase them out was on Monday.

    But the vendor hired to manage Ventra did not have enough people on staff at the customer service center field calls and activate riders' new cards by the launch date.

    Officials said riders will be able to buy magnetic stripe cards and add funds to Chicago Cards for the next several months.

    After reading this, I went out and purchased two new 30 day magnetic stripe passes. I currently have one now that expires on the 23rd. That means when I start to use the next one, it will expire on November 22nd or 23rd, then I'll have the last one I purchased to use from November 23rd through at least December 22nd. So with you story saying that the CTA says that magnetic stripe passes will be useless on December 15th? That means I lose seven days. I certainly hope that get this crap fixed, but the fox news story said several months. Can you clarify?

  • In reply to ESEMAJ01:

    What a quandary--do you believe the CTA, or Faux News?

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    Ask Scooter, we KNOW that we can't believe CTA. Other than that, Brian Steele has not said that the other deadlines have been affected, and doesn't show any change in the schedule.

    Also, this was Fox32 news, not Fox News Channel.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    If you believe that the Tribune Editorial page is a more reliable source, it says:

    Meanwhile, the CTA is sticking to its Nov. 15 deadline to stop accepting the Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus. That's unnerving to people who are still watching their mailboxes for the promised Ventra card to arrive.

  • In reply to jack:

    I'm sure not watching my mailbox any more.

    I did take the opportunity to put another buck on my Chicago Card so it comes out to an even number, which I can spend down on single bus rides.

    My Ventra card (bought from the machine and registered online) appears to be working OK. The only annoying thing is that you have to go out of your way to find out what balance is left on it.

    As far as deadlines go, I am still holding Mr. Claypool (and Mr. Steele if he's listening) to a November 15 deadline of a complete admission that the thing was badly managed, and an authentic apology. (If they need to know the elements constituting an authehtic apology, then can ask me.)

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    Authentic apology from CTA? Get real.

    Today's contest, though, is finding the other inaccuracies in the Tribune editorial. Someone on who claimed that the press was catering to idiots just posted that he discovered that he was charged for a couple of rides because his pass didn't autoreload, so even he had to "go out of his way to find what balance."

    I bet that the only thing that will become public is that CTA and Cubic settled the class action. However, I was wrong in thinking that the "ghost train wreck" would overshadow the Ventra train wreck in the press.

  • In reply to jack:

    "Authentic apology from CTA? Get real."

    Well, I'm going to keep insisting on it anyway.

    Yeah, there are some odd statements in that Tribune editorial. It's like they don't know to read the Tattler if they want to find out what's going on before the whole world knows.

    "You can buy any old Ventra card from a retail outlet or a CTA vending machine — or beg one from that nice lady in Cleveland — and activate it with the user name and password that surely landed in your inbox on Wednesday."

    What the what? Either they don't realize you don't need the allegedly e-mailed info at all if you buy a brand new card anonymously from the machine--or if they meant you can just make up a username and password, that was a confusing way to express the sarcasm.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    There was that, but the more egregious omission is that provision is only made to transfer a CCP balance to the Ventra card mailed to you.

  • In reply to jack:

    I re-read the editorial and it doesn't appear to say anything at all about transferring balances. Wasn't that the issue underlying all the complications?

    If they really wanted to home in on a problem, they could address the fact that people trying to spend down their CCP balance who don't want a Ventra card can't do it; it keeps reloading and there's no way to stop it.

    Sigh. Tribune is so behind the curve. A real shame.

  • In reply to jack:

    ccwriter: Even if your CCP account tools don't let you disconnect the credit card (see there first), you certainly have the right to tell your credit card company not to honor the charges. Someone suggested earlier that he or she was going to contest the charge with the credit card company.

    If it is transit benefits, prior posts indicated that the administrators are not getting straight poop, either.

    But the issue (according to Claypool) was that the Cubic call center couldn't handle the load, regardless of the numerous underlying problems.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    Don't forget Eric Reese. As Head of Revenue, he really ought to be the first guy fired.

  • Now that I have another $40.00 on my CCP card that I do not use and gave to a friend to use up before the November 15th deadline I went to the bank and got a new debit card (linked to my CCP card). At least this way they can't take another $40.00.

    Although knowing the city, it will probably go on my credit report or something stupid like that.

  • Jack, Cheryl, macb, that particular situation is moot for me because I have only a regular Chicago Card. Vowed never to give CTA my credit card information after observing a co-worker get the royal runaround from CTA when one of their employees was embezzling from customers a few years back and when called to their attention they simply denied it until they no longer could. I bring up the CCP problem because I am sympathetic to those who have also had money taken out they didn't authorize during this "transition." Hope it is returned to them with an apology. Yeah, that will be on my list of demands.

    Don't tempt me with the "straight poop" reference. I would only pelt the Revenooer with some mushy vegetable matter when he has his turn in the Daley Plaza stocks.

    But a "load" is right. I shall not let Mr. Claypool get away with his attempt to reduce gross mismanagement to a simple issue of call center staffing.

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    So, I still have NOT received a card, NOT received any e-mails, and now cannot change either credit card info, or cancel my Chicago Plus card... Now what?

  • In reply to Sebastian Huydts:

    Sounds like a phone call to Ventra is in your future! Good luck!

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