CTA Ventra card: Navigating what can be a confusing online buy

Yes folks, Sept. 9 is officially V-Day (Ventra Day). And I’ve got tips for buying the Ventra card online, and for using your own contactless bank card instead of Ventra.

Navigating the Ventra website to buy online. The VentraChicago.com website is not very intuitive for those of you who want to buy a Ventra card but don’t want to use it as a CTA or Pace pass (1-day, 3- day, weekly, monthly, etc.). That’s because you must select Load Transit Value instead of Purchase a Pass.

That’s not what I would expect to see when I don’t even have a card yet. Perhaps it should say Purchase Non-Pass Card. Then it should prompt you to Select Initial Card Value, instead of Add Transit Value.

Maybe I’m being picky here. But others I’ve talked to have been confused by this option as well. My 20-something daughter and her roommate found this and other parts of the process confusing – so much so that she bailed out twice before finally completing the entire online purchase process. She also mentioned she got no immediate confirmation email saying “thanks, you’ve completed the process.” That’s a simple step that now has come to be expected, especially when you give up your credit card information.

I hope this helps in getting you through the non-pass purchase process online. Of course, you can always buy one at over 700 retailers. Just enter your Zip code at the Ventra home page and you’ll get a map with retailers listed. Be sure and register the card online so you get the $5 purchase added as transit value on your card.

Register to use your own contactless bank card. You don’t have to get a Ventra card to use the new payment system. You can use your own contactless debit or credit card with the “Blink” logo on the back. But, you MUST register the card on the Ventra site to take pay 25 cents for a transfer. Otherwise, you will pay another full fare.

Tattler commenter Olaf1 posted this helpful hint:

1) Register your bankcard at http://www.ventrachicago.com. This will create a Ventra Transit Account.

2) Fund your Ventra Transit Account as if you were using a Ventra Card. You must put enough money into your Transit Account in advance to pay all your fares. If you come up even a nickel short, you can still use your bankcard to board, but your card will be charged a full fare and you will get NO TRANSFERS.

Unfortunately, when I checked Monday evening to register my debit card here, the page said “Coming Soon.”

Hopefully, that will be fixed shortly.

One final thought: Patience is the key with this new technology.
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    It doesn't look like you can register a bankcard yet. When you click on the link for it, it just says "coming soon."


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    In reply to Peter Kozak:

    Oops... just saw that you already mentioned that in the article. I guess I need to work on my reading comprehension skills.

    I am looking forward to that feature. Occasionally I'll leave my fare card at home and it stinks having to buy a new farecard for the day.

  • Hilevitch says that other deceptive acts have turned up, including putting a $5 authorization hold on a bank card, even though the fare is $2.25. It looks like CTA/Cubic/First Data is doing enough to screw people using an open fare option that that soon will be practically dead, sort of like how the debit card option will become so except for the extremely stupid or desperate.

  • Has anyone heard an update on when they will be sending out Ventra cards for Chicago/Chicago Plus cards users? They sent emails about a month ago saying the new cards would be mailed "soon" and by September 9th, but here we are and I haven't heard a peep from the CTA since. Online, it still says they are "moving me over". And a Tribune article today says they'll be transitioning people "in the next couple months". Hopefully they'll get around to that before the old cards stop working and become worthless.

  • In reply to tambreet:

    After I e-mailed them twice, they finally told me to just wait and if I didn't receive a Ventra card by the end of the month I should call.

    And I'm not one of those who got any e-mails from them. Not even one in September saying I'd get an e-mail in August, like at least one commenter here.

    A huge mistake on their part not to really say anything publicly about what holders of registered Chicago Cards could expect.

    No, Kevin, don't cut them any slack for poorly planned and designed communications.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    If you are so anxious to get a Ventra Card, just head over to a Jewel store, CVS store, or your nearest Ventra Vending Machine and you can have one in your hands today. There is no reason to wait for the CTA to send you one.

    If you have a registered Chicago Card (as opposed to a Chicago Card Plus), your balance will NOT be automatically transferred to the Ventra Card they send you (you have to go to one of the parks or mail your old card to them in January to do that), so there is really no advantage in waiting for them to mail you one. And if they do get around to mailing you one, then you'll have two Ventra Cards! Lucky you!

  • In reply to Olaf1:

    I don't see any reason for me to hurry up and get one. I am not anxious and didn't say I was. I can still use my Chicago Card for a while.

    My point is not my situation, but the mass confusion created by a poor communication plan. I think they should have announced to the public what the intent was to issue Ventra cards to people who have Chicago Cards, rather than keep it all a secret and only tell people by e-mail, and then fail to execute the e-mail plan correctly.

  • In reply to Olaf1:

    I am not that anxious, it's just with their very short transition period, I am worried about losing money. I have over $100 on my Chicago Card now. Will that transfer over to Ventra if it's unused? I hope so, but I haven't heard definitively. I also have a couple more RTA checks from the tax-free Transit Benefit program to deposit. Should I go over to the CTA office and deposit them now, and hope they transfer over? Or wait until Ventra? Will I even be able to deposit them into my Ventra account? I have no idea.

    And all this knowing that my Chicago Card Plus card will no longer be accepted after November 15th, a fact I only know thanks to Kevin's helpful post last week. The CTA has not told me that. It is still not mentioned anywhere on the Chicago Card site. There is NO MENTION of Ventra on the Chicago Card site except a vague message saying some account functions aren't working while they transition to Ventra. On the Ventra site, it says "Chicago Card customers will receive their new Ventra Cards in the mail beginning the week of Aug. 26." and that site does not mention when my Chicago Card will stop working.

    I'm also confused by the RFID thing. I have several other RFID cards in my wallet. Do I need to register them all with Ventra? Since unregistered cards are getting billed, does that mean each of my cards will get billed if my whole wallet gets close to the scanner? This whole system/transition is extremely confusing and poorly communicated.

  • In reply to tambreet:

    I was replying to CCwriter. I understood that CC had a regular Chicago Card, not a Chicago Card Plus. The two are different.

    In your first paragraph you say you have a Chicago Card and in the second you say you have a Chicago Card Plus. Do you have both?

    The CTA has announced that the balances on regular Chicago Cards will not be automatically transferred over. You either have to take your old card to one of the transfer events scheduled (mostly) in city parks or have to mail it in to Ventra customer service at the beginning of 2014 if you would like to transfer. The events at the parks will distribute free Ventra Cards if you fill out a registration form. (Expired cards will not be transferred.)

    The plans for the Chicago Card Plus are different. They say they will send new cards to the CC+ holders. When the CC+ holder gets the new card, they will have to call a phone number to activate the card. At that time, the balance in the CC+ account will be transferred to the Ventra Account.

    If you have a CC+ card, I don't know what to tell you. If you sincerely believe that the CTA has lost track of you, I wouldn't add any more money to the account. I don't know how Transit Checks will be handled with Ventra Cards.

    The latest press releases from the CTA:


    Here is a graphical chart (pdf format) summarizing the transition process:

  • In reply to Olaf1:

    Interesting chart. I noticed it said "Registered Chicago Card Customers: August: I'll get my Ventra card in the mail."

    So I guess I am not a lazy or easily confused person making a fuss over nothing.

  • In reply to Olaf1:

    It doesn't quite work that way, as my experience was different. You can't activate your card when you get it in the mail. You must log into the website first. It doesn't state this ANYWHERE!

  • In reply to Olaf1:

    "If you are so anxious to get a Ventra Card, just head over to a Jewel store, CVS store, or your nearest Ventra Vending Machine and you can have one in your hands today."

    When I (finally) found the list of retailers on the Ventra site, it said "Retailers only perform reload services right now." Is this true, or just more CTA/Ventra misinformation?

  • In reply to rastewart:

    Someone on chicagobus.org who works at Jewel said that Jewel (at least his) has all the stuff to issue cards, and described the process.

    I'm not running out to check now, though.

  • In reply to jack:

    Thanks--I'll probably call our local Jewel then and see what they can tell me.

  • I agree with CC. I pay for a 30 day pass through work and apparently we're going to be the last people to get our Ventra cards. I'm not going to go out and buy one that won't be a 30 day pass. And since everyone else is having problems the CTA won't/can/\'t fix or acknowledge, I just have to assume I'll get mine sometime in November.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    Actually, it looks like the Circuit Breaker/Ride Free cards will be last. I have two neighbors with them & they definitely want them as the current ones have been replaced a couple of times as they have become defective.
    I never understood why the semi-permanent Ride Free & Senior/Disabled discount cards were thinner than the plastic cards dispensed by the machines. I measured them with a micrometer, but I forget the actual measurements.

  • I went to the RTA building today to get my Ventra card,I filled out the application and loaded five dollars on to the card,they register the card for you and send you a e- mail with a temporary password which must be reset within a 24 hour window,your user name is your e-mail address and not the nickname you assigned to the card,the RTA building is by the Clinton green line stop,one stop down from Clark/lake

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    That was probably the best explanation regarding the purchasing process. I myself was confused as to why I couldn't "just purchase the card". I didn't get an email confirmation as stated, but I did print the confirmation when the process was complete.

  • This was a maddening process! They made it so complicated, I don't understand why! I have a Chicago Card. I received an email from Ventra stating I would get my card in 7-10 business days. It took 14 business days from the date of that email to receive it. I had the email with my account login info, but when you get the card it says to call a number to activate. I called the number to activate, which asks for an access code. It gives you an option to email you the access code. It only emails you an email that tells you your access code has been changed and to go to the site to get it. The documentation in the mailing does not say to log in to the site, but to first activate your card. When I tried to activate the card, it says the information I input was invalid.

    I should have just tried logging in with my info, but tried following their convoluted directions first. I finally called someone and after being on hold for over 5 minutes, got it all sorted out, but if everyone else's experience was anything like mine, this is going to a huge mess!

  • In reply to chris:

    *I have a Chicago Card Plus, not just plain Chicago Card.

  • In reply to chris:

    Oh, great. Looking forward to that experience. Thanks for the heads-up..

    I guess with this bunch, we should all remember that doing something different from what they tell yiou is the way to go.

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    In reply to chris:

    I am going through this foolishness RIGHT NOW! I can't even get the option to speak to someone. This is STUPID! If you are going to demand a change over, there is a thing call User Acceptance Testing. This is outrageous and I am not going to waste time out of my day because the CTA/Ventra has the business acumen of a three year old.

  • In reply to Ebony Daley:

    Let's not insult 3 years olds here. Next time one will put a pill in your lemonade.

  • In reply to Ebony Daley:

    Even if they don't know about User Acceptance Testing, they should have heard of Plain Ordinary Common Sense. Guess that's way over their heads.

  • This is probably the worst sign up process I have ever encountered. I had the same problems as Chris did...not being given clear instructions about the sign up code.

    I tried calling customer service twice, waited on line about 10 minutes, then dumped off the line.

    Having found this column, and reading Chris' comment, I figured out how to log in after several failed attempts. The profile I have has a user name I want to change. It won't let me change the user name before first updating my personal information, but won't let me update the personal information before changing my password.

    So, at this point I am absolutely stymied. I can't do anything without doing something else first, but can't do that without doing the first thing, which it won't let me do!

    The unnecessary hours of customers' time that are going to be lost on this are enormous, and the costs to the CTA and Pace in manpower unnecessary customer service calls are as well. Oh well, it is someone else's money, not their own being spent, so I guess it does not matter.

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    The ventra website is totally stupid. I updated the credit card information and couldn't find anyway to add value to the account. After stumbling through the website for 30 minutes, I finally saw an "Add Value" button on the first page of the account. Added $20. I then changed the username and password. But when I logged back in to the account again, another $20 was incurred to my credit card. Stupid!

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