CTA Ventra card: Readers email their problems

For the last two weeks, readers have been bombarding me with questions and complaints about Ventra card purchases and activation. I’ve tried to answer as many as I can, but may not be able to get to them all.

But I thought I would share some common problems with solutions or just a heads-up about them.

  • Charged twice because Ventra next to debit card in wallet: Take your Ventra out of your wallet – check out this tweet from @DePaulU: If you use your Ventra card while it’s in your wallet, you could be charged twice since debit cards are also a payment form. Take it out!
  • Ventra double-billing. The reader’s story: I used my new Ventra card at the Lake Red Line station on my way home from work yesterday for the first time. Heeding everyone’s advice, I removed the card from my wallet, however I was double billed on my actual Ventra card (I use the single fare payment, not monthly). So apparently there is no technology linking the payment scanner to the turnstile to prohibit an additional charge if the turnstile hasn’t cycled through a passenger.
  • Problem purchasing Ventra cards from retailers: Here’s this reader’s story.
    I purchased a Ventra card at a CVS for $5 and was told I could register it to get the $5 back on the card. When I went to Ventra’s website to register it, however, I got an error message stating “an invalid combination of card data has been submitted.” I called the Ventra customer service line, waited 22 minutes TWICE before being hung up on, and when I finally got a customer service representative, I was told that I could not register a card I bought from a retailer unless I added value to the Ventra card at the time of purchase.In other words, you can’t just pay $5 for the card and attempt to register and load it online. You must load some amount at the time of purchase in order to be able to register the card.
  • CCP cards and when auto-loading by credit card stops. One reader asked when auto-reloading by credit card to your Chicago Card Plus would stop. The CTA says after Oct. 7, Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus will no longer be able to have value loaded on to them, either online or at CTA rail station vending machines.
  • What if I deleted my email about Ventra activation? First do check your trash folder. Otherwise you probably will have to call Ventra. The Ventra Customer Call Center can be reached at 1.877.NOW.VENTRA (1.877.669.8368), Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. CST. The automated system is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Not sure who to blame here on poor communications. The CTA hired a company to field questions and do the rollout. But the CTA ultimately has to take responsibility. We can all be patient with the new technology, except when our time is wasted with dropped calls to Ventra customer service after long waits. Other companies get this right. Ventra and the CTA should too.
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  • So, I was thinking of just forgetting about the Ventra card which may or may not come in the mail, because I never got the e-mail without which I could not activate it, and just buy a new one and register it. I can avoid having to transfer a balance by simply spending down my Chicago Card. However, if I can't get the $5 back without being put through a bunch of nonsense, forget that. So, my question is how can I make sure to get the option to load money on it at the time of purchase to avoid having to make any phone calls?

    P.S. the very second gmail introduced those stupid boxes, I undid them.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    You go to the store and you say "I'd like to buy a Ventra Card and add $x to it." If the clerk says "that will be $5" then you say "No, no, no. I want to add $x to it." If the clerk says "That will be $5+$x," then you can be pretty sure they understood you correctly. Make sure x is some number other than 5 just to make sure that nobody gets confused with the $5 purchase fee.

    But I am shocked and appalled at the "must add value at time of purchase or lose your $5 forever" part. I hope that was some sort of misunderstanding or that the reader can at least go back and add a dollar and then register his/her card. I can accept some start-up errors and maybe some policies that I don't necessarily agree with, but if that is a real policy, I am just flabbergasted.

    In their "common misconceptions" web page the CTA said:
    "If a person walks into a retail location to get a Ventra Card, they can call the 800 number or use their smartphone to quickly register the card, then walk outside and board a bus/train—the value is immediately added."

    I admit this doesn't say "you don't have to add some anything to the card in addition to the purchase fee" but it certainly led me to jump to the conclusion you could just plunk down $5, register the card, and ride.

    Silly me.

  • In reply to Olaf1:

    Olaf (if that's your only identity), today you blew it.

    The guy on Chicagobus.org says that the clerk has to be sure to use one PLU for the deposit and a different PLU for the value. So, I'll take his word.

    I also said there that there will be the new foulup of the day. This is the new one. There doesn't seem to be any logical sense why one can't put $5 on the card, immediately use it and get the $5 transit value. That was what was represented, and even Olaf admits that.

    Olaf still hasn't provided a link to where it says that PAYG means cash fares.

    Was Frank Kruesi secretly hired by Cubic as a consultant to come up with this mess?

  • In reply to jack:

    "register" instead of "use."

  • In reply to Olaf1:

    Yeah, right there the combination of "call the 800 number" and "quickly" in the same sentence is a red flag.

    The communications aspect of this whole project has now gone from abysmal to ludicrous in its failure.

  • I've had a couple issues and witnessed others with the same problem of the new card scanner not working correctly. This morning I was waived through by the bus driver after I tried getting Ventra to tell me to "Go" 3 times. She told me they don't work as well as the other ones. I also had an issue at a turnstile, then slid over one and it worked fine. I've used the card all week now, but they can't keep continuing to forgo fares like this. I have to think it's a reader problem, not my card. If this can't be fixed, this will be a gigantic mess and possibly a lawsuit.


  • In reply to chris:

    If your card reads some places but not at all, it is the reader. My impression is that the reader sends out a radio wave that interacts with the chip and determines that the chip has a certain number.

    Walmart has been using these chips for inventory control for about a decade now.

    But your last sentence may indicate that we have another NABI debacle here. That was over $102 million; this is $450 million and climbing. So you might be onto something.

  • In reply to jack:

    I think I figured the issue out. There seems to be quite a lot of readers out of commission. The bus I got on again today (different bus for sure) had the reader stuck on "STOP" so it wouldn't even attempt to scan cards. I noticed that the reader I had trouble with at the turnstile earlier had an out of order on it already. This is fine at a station, but on a bus, CTA loses money. Who is responsible for this lost revenue (CTA I presume), and who is responsible for the upkeep of the equipment?

  • In reply to chris:

    Cubic would be responsible for maintenance.

    The contract would indicate who is responsible for lost fares. I guess that on a bus, it might be auditable if the number of rides on the Ventra reader doesn't match the number of boardings indicated by the laser device in the doorwell. The June Ridership report has numbers for the R routes, even though nobody is paying. I don't see how the L is any different, except the cases where the rotogate only partially unlocks, in which case there is a cost of putting an employee at the rotogate, which is otherwise supposed to be unattended.

  • In reply to jack:

    I didn't realize there was a laser device in the doorwell... Interesting.

  • In reply to chris:

    Next time look at either side of the doorwell to see if there is a box with 4 pinpricks in it.

    Similar theory to the red and green lights on either side of a garage door to reverse it if there is a child or dog in the way.

    I don't know how much CTA uses it, but Pace uses something similar when it changes a route, to say something like only 8 people boarded on a segment during a day.

  • I know who to blame. This is how the CTA communicates with its customers.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    The CTA Salary Spreadsheet indicates who is in charge of customer service communications at CTA.

    Maybe he should spend less time playing conductor on "final trips."

  • The CTA has published an updated fare chart that reflects the new Ventra system realities here:

    At the bottom of the fare chart, is a section explaining Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) fares. For the first time, the CTA is revealing that the PAYG fare on CTA buses will be $2.25 and not $2.00. (This comes as a surprise to me.)

    They are also revealing that the $5 O'Hare disposable ticket DOES include the price of transfers. I had wondered about this earlier. That means if you pay by Ventra Card at O'Hare and need to transfer, the total cost comes to $5.25, but if you use a disposable ticket, it comes to only $5. Although the chart doesn't say this, I read on the Ventra twitter feed that the transfers that come with both the $3 and $5 disposable tickets are not valid on Pace. Of course, they could be wrong.

  • In reply to Olaf1:

    Should have released it a month ago.

  • fb_avatar

    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.

  • In reply to squishypie:

    71 cards? Now we know where all the other people's cards are.

    That ought to wipe out the USPS deficit.

  • In reply to squishypie:

    I am also unable to register my card online and get the "invalid combination" message. When I call the customer service line it won't recognize that I want English and just keeps cycling through the English, Spanish, Polish options and then disconnects me. Maybe you can send me one of your 70 extra cards and I could use that...

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