CTA Ventra card: Big problems with online activation - and how to do it right

At least a few CTA Tattler readers and myself are reporting problems with activating the new Ventra card online after finally receiving one in the mail. To be clear, that’s for Chicago Card/Plus cardholders who got emails in August from the CTA stating their card would be coming in September.

Ventra logoThe activation problem stems from confusing instructions in the email received; combined with instructions on the card itself to activate it.

When you receive the card, you must activate it by calling a toll-free number, entering your card number, and then entering your “access” code. But what is your access code? The phone lady says if you don’t know it, you will be transferred to a service representative who can help. So I did that, and was told the wait for a rep was 22 minutes on Saturday night, and 34 minutes on Sunday night.

Needless to say, I hung up.

And I looked back at the email I got from Ventra on Aug. 26 – almost three full weeks before I got my card.

Folks: Go back and READ THAT EMAIL carefully. It says:

You’ll receive your new Ventra Card in the mail within 7 to 10 business days. {NOT!} Then, you must ACTIVATE your new Card by calling 1.888.824.8802. Please follow the process below to create your Ventra access code to activate your new Card.

You may use the Ventra transit account username and temporary password listed below to view your account on ventrachicago.com. After changing your password, you can create an access code that will also allow you to review and make changes to your account over the phone. Once that’s completed, you’ll be ready to take advantage of online account management and much more.

OK then.  Step-by-step. To activate your new Ventra card:

  • Find the email you got a couple of weeks ago from Ventra.
  • Log in with the username and temporary password provided in that email.
  • Provide the necessary user info.
  • Create your access code.
  • OK, that’s it for the online work.
  • Call the activation number on the card.
  • Enter your card number.
  • Enter your access code.
  • Done!

Oh, and by the way, your access code is not the same as your password. That’s just another thing that can trip you up.

In retrospect, the email tells you how to activate the card. The big FAIL here is that people aren’t thinking about that email when they get their card in the mail two-to-three weeks later. You just want to activate it. But you can’t without following directions in the email. And the “Quick Start Guide” you get with the card doesn’t mention following those instructions in the email.
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  • As trigger (probably another name here) keeps saying, you can always search something to find a supposed answer. That's the whole problem.

    I don't know if it is Cubic or CTA that is making corned beef hash out of the conversion, but one certainly doesn't have to go through all this garbage to activate a credit card, for instance; just call an 800 number and maybe give them the 3 digit code on the back. Heck, this is even more complicated than setting up an account on EFTPS, and there the federal government could raid your checking account. It is about as complicated as T Rowe Price, which doesn't seem to want to let you log onto your account (i.e. the website accepts an 11 character password, but their Quicken connection only accepts 10).

    Since open fare technology has been tried elsewhere, did CTA or Cubic study those conversions first, or is it the usual "we incompetents know all and need not consult anyone?" At least Metra has 2 consultants on the RTA dime for their system mandated by the state.

  • In reply to jack:

    This was my complaint. I've activated countless credit cards before, but this was way more complicated. As Kevin points out, you tend to read the documentation you receive in the mail, not going back to refer to directions in an email you received 3 weeks ago. I still had it, but didn't think to refer to it for how to activate my card.

  • In reply to chris:

    That is the most mystifying part to me. How they could put together instructions to send with the card without mentioning the e-mail part...? Did they not even mentally walk through the whole process to see if it made sense and was explained understandably? Or did the people who came up with the instructions not even themselves understand how it would work? Did anybody in fact understand how it would work?

    Where, oh where, I find myself asking more and more these days, is the adult supervision?

  • In reply to jack:

    Seriously, I lost/deleted the email after reading it twice. I thought it said all the instructions for transferring my Chicago Card Plus would come with the card shortly. And though I still haven't received my card yet, how am I going to be able to transfer the funds from the Chicago Card Pls over to it without that email from weeks ago?

  • In reply to JohnT:

    John, you will have to call the Ventra "help" line.

  • Here's where the incompetents at the CTA screwed up. Yes I know that's redundant!

    They should have issued the Ride Free cards first, because they don't need to do anything for their cards to work. Then the half-price senior & disabled cards & after both of those worked, you issue the rest of them.
    You do the simple stuff first with new technology [for the CTA anyway] & let that be your test project.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    The hitch in that theory is that the RTA sends out the reduced fare and free cards, not CTA.

    Other than not opening some rotogates, the issue is not that they don't activate the readers, open the turnstiles, and charge accounts, but that stuff that paying customers have to do are all mucked up, or as chris indicates, way too complicated for anyone who doesn't work in the back office.

    Speaking of the back office, someone who apparently sold himself a Ventra card got his pass and credit, but noted on chicagobus.org that there are all sort of unknown "Back Office $0.00" transactions on his account history.

    And, of course, thee are those who used a bank card (which doesn't require agreeing to anything) who are getting gotchaed. People flamed me there for not realizing that bank card meant cash fare, until Kevin Z complained that he got charged $2.25 for a bus ride. If he didn't have notice that that would happen, CTA didn't give notice to anyone.

    What might have tested something is if someone would have sold Claypool a card during the test, and, if he rides the Ravenswood as he claims, whether his fuzzy mind could have figured out how to activate it.

  • In reply to jack:

    Yes! Yes! Yes! Make Mr. Claypool go through the process himself without any assistance or warning. If he actually does, the logical outcome will involve one or more people spending several hours in the stocks in Daley Plaza.

  • Oh great. So that means those of us who NEVER GOT ONE SINGLE SOLITARY BLOODY E-MAIL ABOUT IT are SOL when (if) the card finally arrives?!?

    Sorry about the screaming caps, but I've had it with these people. I've absolutely had it!

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    CC, you're not totally out of luck. You can call Ventra for activation. But you will lose 20-30 minutes of your life on hold. Or more.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    I may make good on my threat to send them a bill. It'll go to Mr. Claypool's attention, of course.

    Or, I might just go buy a Ventra card as though I never had a Chicago Card at all. Only thing I'm afraid of is that if they do send me one and it's sitting unactivated, somehow that may interact adversely with the new account and I'll be in catch-22 land. Think I should risk it?

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    "It'll go to Mr. Claypool's attention, of course."

    Only if he uses it as an exhibit to his current "abolish the RTA because we need even more money because of this" campaign.

  • In reply to jack:

    No, I mean I will address the bill for my time to him. With copies to the media (Kevin and Hilkevitch)..

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    Thanks for clarifying what you meant, but but I've said before that I have a recycling bin next to my mailbox, and there is a reason there is a trash can/recycling bin/deleted items button in every e-mail program.

    Which is where your letter to Claypool will go, or maybe it will be referred to Customer Service, where you will get the standard "our supervisor will look into this" autotext response.

    Over the weekend, the Sun-Times couldn't get a truthful response out of a CTA spokesperson to which it was referred regarding a letter Terry Peterson appears to have signed to get gang leader Larry Hoover out of jail, so don't expect to get anything truthful out of Claypool.

    Also, from Hilkevitch's last couple of columns on Ventra, apparently he gets his anecdotes from Facebook.

  • In reply to jack:


    Well, at least we have Kevin.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Is it like Citibank and the phone support is in India or Bangladesh? Maybe not, as Mike from Citibank usually picks up. Since Ventra doesn't pick up, one can't tell if that customer service person (if such exists) sounds like she lives a mile west of Scooter.

    As I noted above, most of the people on chicagobus.org went out and bought one, and getting one only seems relevant if you want a balance transferred, which Kevin Z said eventually happened.

  • I got my Vulture card easily at machine. Registered it online and got my $5 credited back. I have tried a few times to add transit value at machines. Followed "instructions" a couple times and never prompted to insert cash but instructed to tap card and then offered a receipt. Thanks Vulture Card. When I have time I will try again, but the $20 I used to buy mag stripe card instead of adding value is working fine. I still have $3.50 on Vulture card. So far record of 7 taps to get card to read on bus. Meanwhile back to inserting mag card. No tapping for me for a while.

  • In reply to Petrd1:

    I've been watching bus drivers wave people on to the bus once they've waved the card in front of the reader and it doesn't read the card. So maybe once it's November and I have heard nothing from the CTA and they haven't sent me a card I'll just buy one, not activate it, and ride for free until they make me do something about it.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    Oh boy, this is shaping up to be a fiasco nobody will be able to ignore!

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    It is going to have to get to the level of the Metra mess. Pretty much everything at the CTA short of the NABI mess gets swept under the rug.

    The only thing that would get Ventra to that point is if large numbers of passengers can't get through a turnstile on December the whateverth. As Cheryl noted, the bus drivers will let you through.

    But, if you look at chicagobus.org, someone just dumped on you folks who can't follow "basic instructions." I'm sure CTA staff feels the same way.

  • In reply to jack:

    Well, the dumper is trying to deflect from the real problem, which is that the CTA and/or their partners can't explain their way out of a paper bag. As the reply to that comment points out, the e-mail still apparently has unique information. Also, has it been established that the letter referred to accompanies all cards?

    And again, what about the CTA's failure to follow through on their promises? When they say they'll send something and they don't send it, which has been established as one of the problems in this scenario, how would that be the fault of "people who seem to have issues following basic instructions"? As I've pointed out before, receivers can't receive something the sender didn't send, no matter how hard they try.

    The CTA staff's feelings and $2.25 will get you...

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    That was essentially my point, if not here, then definitely there.

    ..a ride on the bus, but not on the L (at least after the cutoff date). But the reason I cited that was that it isn't going to get you reimbursed for your time at $50.00/hour either, because, unlike letting MetaBank rip off the prepaid debit account side of the card, CTA doesn't care about the PR hit it may take so far on Ventra. Remember that CTA doesn't admit to anything, at least until it gets to litigation.

  • In reply to jack:

    Of course I won't get reimbursed. But I am up for giving them a big run for their money on the bad- PR front. Want to bet we can't make enough noise?

  • In reply to Petrd1:

    It looks like the two of you debunked my impression that it not tapping wasn't the problem also is one.

  • Who keeps an email that long anyway?

  • Who deletes an email? With local storage costing pennies a MByte, and online email accounts offering unlimited storage, I move all my emails in to a 'Old Emails' folder.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Unless you are just a hoarder, or have a real good search function in your e-mail program, it would make more sense to create classifiable folders, such as "CTA," "Bank," "apartment," etc.

    Given that the first thing I was told about e-mail was that it was CYA, I had a regular system of archiving them.

    Of course, you can be like Dilbert last week, and get them back from the government.

  • In reply to jack:

    If you receive a handful of emails a day, then manually classifying them can work, as long as you remember which into which folder it was moved. However, it becomes unmanageable when you receive hundreds of emails a day.

    Yes, a good search function is a requirement. Gmail, and even Yahoo mail, have excellent search functions, so all old emails get dumped into an archive folder. I use one folder per year.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Do you file your snailmail too?

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    Yes. Important mail gets put into a folder by company/source, and general receipts go into a (2 year rotating) folder by year. It's a simple system that mostly works. :-)

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    Well, I don't toss out anything actionable or important. There are certain things for which "gee, I threw it out" won't cut any ice.

  • Yeah, I had all those problems with activation, too, including asking for multiple resets in which they did not send me a new password, just some sort of reference number that was not a password.

    So I found the email, did what they said, monkeyed around with the password and the PIN and figured out they were different, then activated the auto-reload function, and ended up with a card with a zero balance and an old Chicago Card Plus with my old $19 balance.


    A day later, the auto-reload showed the expected $40 balance.

    But just in case I checked the card last night at Morse on the Red Line, tapping against the reload machine, and sure enough, $40. So I went into the station with confidence this morning and went to the turnstile and "Stop!" it said. Tapped on the reload machine. It said $40. Tried again. Ended up using good old Chicago Card Plus to get through the gate. There was no attendant visible.


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    One fiasco after another here. Finally got my Ventra (after not 7-10 business days but 15). This was after an additional 7 days because my Chicago Card Plus stopped working on the new dual machines (saw this happen this morning to 2 other people). Nice guy waved us all through--because my activated Ventra card (which I did do correctly) is showing 0$ even though there was 13$ left on my old CTA card ASND over 100$ on my transit benefit account (note--Ventra does NOT tell you how to transition your benefit account if you do the pre-tax thing through work--call your benefits person for how to do THAT). Still no money showing up (guessing it's not so very "automatic" as Ventra claims, much like 7-10 days isn't that length of time). Had to get off long wait time to call in as, you know, job and such (4:30pm closing time for customer service? Really?) And to top it off, the CTA attendant on my way home tried to make me buy my fare (along with students whose cards still weren't working...). If anyone can find me a Bigger Whig to complain to, I'm all over it!!

  • In reply to Sharon Ross:

    Not to confuse this worse, but weren't the employers the ones who were supposed to hand out the Ventra cards with Transit Benefits on them?

  • In reply to jack:

    Jack and Sharon: The transit benefit cards will be sent by Ventra/CTA but that's not supposed to happen till October.

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    I just registered my new card online. There was no field for USERNAME. Now I can't access the account online without the USERNAME. I called Customer Service - the wait was 42 minutes! It's just a matter of time until we find out that all our personal data was stolen...

  • So I went through the process today of registering my card and got lost. Finally... I have yet to see my Chicago Card Plus balance transfer and the site won't let me add any value. Ideas? Am I the only one?

  • In reply to jason4427:

    Jason, you should see your balance but it may take a little while.

  • I followed my emails instruction to activate my new ventra card which took 3 weeks to arrive. Then it failed to load my 30 day pass from chicago card plus. The website was no help and I had to call and be on the phone for an hour. The poor girl put me on hold several times investigating but finally put a 30 day pass on my account no Charge. My chicago card also still works. Such a mess.

  • RedEye'sTracy Swartz says she got through on the phone the third time after waiting 17 minutes, and the first two times, she was disconnected.

    Tammy Chase had the usual excuses, but I guess that when Customer Service is an oxymoron, that's what happens. But now you are supposed to tweet a Cubic subcontractor if you can't figure out how CTA messed up in your case.

    Maybe the phone line wouldn't be so congested if CTA didn't make this so confusing.

  • NYC MTA is going to continue with its swipe cards for a few more years.
    I guess they're going to let the incompetents at the CTA make all the mistakes for them, so they don't have to go through the mess we are having right now!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Exactly. NYC MTA always sits on its hands until new technology is vetted elsewhere. I used to complain about that when I worked for the Transit Riders Council there a decade ago, but it does keep them out of trouble. They also give themselves lots of time to roll out new systems and allow customers to figure out how to use them.

  • Guess what else--if you're one of those people who slap their wallet against the reader without taking your card out, and you have a contactless credit card in that wallet, the Ventra scanner might charge your fare to your credit card instead of your Ventra card. That's been happening to someone I know. He was telling me about it last night.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    There was an article a couple of days ago about the people at DePaul finding that out. I guess he didn't read it. Look at the Ventra thread on chicagobus.org.

  • I spent 30 confused minutes on this, and finally figured it out! Here's the quickest way to activate your card:

    1 - Find the email you received when you ordered Ventra. Log in with your username and password to ventrachicago.com

    2 - Go to ACCOUNT SETTINGS. There, one of the listed items will be the ACCOUNT ACCESS CODE (4 digits). Keep that screen up.

    3 - Call the number on the sticker on your card (after hours is fine). It is 1-888-824-8802. Follow the instructions (you will enter the 16-digit Ventra card number, and then the 4-digit account access code.

    4 - You will then choose if you want to activate the Ventra card as a debit card as well (simple enough - just press 1).

    5 - You should then be activated. I just logged back on to my account, and I am.

    Terrible system, but we still get to live in the greatest city on Earth.

  • In reply to emilywesselfarr:

    I tried logging in with the information from the email and it didn't work. It said "username/password you entered does not match the one for this account". We'd just received our emails this week. Oddly enough it worked for my wife, but not for me. Ridiculous.

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    Yep tried logging on at Ventrachicago.com with the credentials emailed to me a month ago. Apparently, "username/password you entered does not match the one for this account."

  • In reply to Miz Fit:

    I tried activating mine this morning and got the same message. This whole thing has been a frigging nightmare. Clearly nobody tested the system to make sure it worked before implementing it.

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    "The process of sending you your new Ventra Card has begun. 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. The email will provide instructions for activating your new Ventra Card. Upon activation, any balance or passes will immediately transfer to your new Ventra account."
    I received this in an email on 8/20 from system@chicago-card.com
    I received the card in the mail today (9/26) having never received an email from Ventra with a temporary username and password. I use gmail and tried searching for Ventra in case I may have deleted it, but it found the previous three emails from chicago-card referring to the transition, so they must have not sent me an email, right? Anyone else have this happen?

  • In reply to Patrick Kelley:

    Yes - same thing - I NEVER received an email with a username/password from them. Had to call and get them to give me a new temporary userid and send me the password for it (they have to email you the password). After that it all seemed to go OK (logged in, setup my info including the account access code used to activate the card) however I'm still waiting to see my $45 balance from my ChicagoPlus card to transfer over (and yes I did call in to the number on the card sticker and activate the card).

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    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.

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    I posted this over on a different article but am mighty frustrated:

    I received 71 cards in the mail on Saturday after only requesting 2. This after getting the email confirmation over 100 times, though I only seem to have information for one card. I suppose 30 more cards are on their way....

    I tried registering 2 of these cards online to no avail, then by phone to no avail. I created this whatever access code thing but registering by phone tells me this code isn't matching the account. The online registering tells me I've entered the incorrect combination of information. ?! I've tried emailing via the "contact us" part of the Ventra site but of course haven't gotten any response. And even so, you can only get just a sentence into their comment box to request help. Waiting to talk to a customer service person requires being on hold for over an hour and who has time for that?

    I'm not an idiot but I can't seem to figure out what is going on, why I can't just register the darn cards. And who knows what I'm supposed to do with these other 69 cards I have.

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    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?

  • In reply to Amelia Kieras:

    This is beyond failure.

  • Yeah, this doesn't work. I tried to activate my card this morning and this instructions don't work. Yet somehow my wife was able to activate her card using the instructions. Ridiculous. We have the emails with the user name and temporary password, didn't work. It actually said it didn't have a card registered to the information I was putting in from the card itself. What a fucking shitshow. I got the same message that Miz Fit posted above. What a joke.

  • SPAM. Why can't Chicago Now control it????

    I don't think Bank of America needs some spammer to advertise for it, so it probably is a phish too (and not a rock band).

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