Tuesday, July 1, marks the day when only Ventra cards will be accepted for fare payments on the CTA - except buses, where cash payments still will be allowed.
It has taken almost a year to roll out this new RFID contactless payment system. And quite a botched rollout it has been. Let's review what happened - relive those painful waits for cards that never came in the mail, the difficult activation process, the endless time spent on hold with customer service reps.
Late July 2013: The CTA releases the Ventra card rollout schedule. It started with college students getting U-Pass Ventra cards starting Aug. 5, and then Chicago Public School student getting their in late August. It seemed like an orderly rollout schedule with monthly deadline and milestones through December. In retrospect, it was way too ambitious.
Late August: Reports surfaced of Ventra card cash-loading issues. Money put on the card online wasn't showing up on the cards themselves. The CTA said, "The Ventra team has resolved those issues quickly—in many cases that same day—to make sure that impact on customers is minimal." I was being optimistic about the rollout, writing: "I think we all have to remember this is a new system, and there will be problems. Be sure and report those problems right away to get them fixed." Little did I know how many problems there would be.
Early September: The Ventra card transition began in earnest on Sept. 9, when you could get a card online, by phone, at CTA rail station and at many retail stores.
Mid-September: The first real problems began to surface, as riders reported having trouble activating their new cards online. In that same post I offered tips on how to do it right, and that post became one of my most searched and popular posts about Ventra cards. Another popular post from Oct. 1 was CTA Ventra card vents: The good, the bad and the downright ugly.
Early October: While problems with activation and actually getting the cards mounted, an Oct. 7 deadline for no more CTA magnetic strip card sales or Chicago Card reloads loomed. But by Oct. 9, in the face of a mountain of customer complaints, the CTA relented and allowed strip card sales and Chicago Card reloads. The transit agency dramatically increased phone customer service agents, but said it was sticking with its next Nov. 15 and Dec. 15 transition deadlines. People complained about not getting their cards in the mail. Meanwhile, one person got more than 200 cards in his mailbox.
Early November: On Nov. 3, the rail union asked the CTA to delay the Nov. 15 Ventra deadline. And on Nov. 5 the CTA did just that. CTA President Forrest Claypool put the blame squarely on Cubic Transportation, the firm that got almost $500 million to build and administer the Ventra fare payment system. The CTA also said it would not begin paying Cubic until it met various performance standards. And the CTA refused to say how long the transition would be put off.
December: The CTA starts tracking Cubic/Ventra performance on various metrics, such as timing of card taps and customers call hold times. That's what the CTA should have done from the beginning.
February: Cubic Transportation Systems has done a good enough job up to now on CTA Ventra performance metrics to start receiving payments for its fare collection system.
March: The CTA finally announces its newest Ventra transition plan - only Ventra cards would be accepted on July 1.
April: CTA tries to ease the way for riders with balances on various cards by holding "balance transfer events."
May: The first deadline of the new transition period arrives May 1: CTA customers are no longer be able to buy magnetic stripe fare cards. And Customers are no longer be able to autoload/reload Chicago Card/Chicago Card Plus.
June: And on June 1, it started to get real as you could no longer use your Chicago Card/Plus, nor could you load magnetic stripe cards. About 92 percent of all CTA rides were taken with Ventra cards by June 1.
July 1: The transition deadline is here. Riders can no longer use magnetic stripe cards. Ventra fare card machines do sell $3 disposable fare cards that include two transfers within two hours.
And so it is done. It took almost a year, but the CTA is finally all Ventra, all the time. This transition contains great lessons learned for any other transit system looking to move to these contactless fare card.
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