CTA Ventra card activation: How to do it right

(This is a modified repost of a Sept. 15 article.)

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.

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?

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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  • I got the card Friday. I got the email today. Thanks CTA and Ventra.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    Hmm, maybe there's hope for me -- I got the card(s) on Saturday. No email yet, but maybe on Tuesday?

    btw, this is the text of the e-mail I received on 8/20/2013:

    Within the last few weeks, you received an email from the Chicago Card Plus team asking you to confirm the mailing address on your account. We appreciate all the confirmations we have received.

    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. {arrived 10/5} 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.
    {this was the last e-mail I received from CTA/Ventra}

  • In reply to PredictiveAnalytics:

    I have no balance on my card, the idiot at the CTA who "helped" me didn't do a damn thing I can see. I'm very close to outing him. Kevin knows who he is.

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    In reply to PredictiveAnalytics:

    Same here -- there is no username and password in my email.

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    How do i get my access code if i don t have the email anymore? waiting time with the hot line is at 45 minutes right now... :-(

  • In reply to Patrick Lesimple:

    Sorry, but if you don't have the email, you will have to call the hot line.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Which is just another stupidity. There's no reason not to have a way to get the website to resend the email

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    In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Sorry, when you call the hot line they ask for your access code (and inform you that your wait time is approximately 54 minutes.)

  • In reply to Kevin Mix:

    Must be your fault.

    Even so, you *have to* call the hot line.


    Just put the thing away in a drawer (or cut it up if you dare), buy a Ventra card at the L station and register it as though you were never issued another, and spend down your CC or CCP balance.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Those people are useless if you don't have your activation code.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    I got my card and the email with the password and log in, however, it doesn't work. It says that the information Ventra/CTA provided to me does not match an account they have on file. Well, genius, how did I get the email and card if there's no account? This is ridiculous.

    It's the parking scandal all over again. There was no QA done, no test runs, etc.

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    In reply to Isaiahb3:

    I had the same issue with the password. A friend told me that hers finally worked, so I tried it about 50x - exactly the same way each time - and I was finally able to login. However, then it asked me to edit my info and refused to save the info I edited, and instead kept saying it had experienced an error.

    Been trying for about 2.5 hours now - we'll see if it ever works. They really need to fire their programmer

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    Actually, the biggest problem is that many of us never got that email. Even people who did are having the login info and access codes rejected by the website. Customer service puts people on hold for over an hour and/or hangs up. If forced to leave a message, there's no response. Balances are taking days to transfer and there are reports of being denied transit. This system is the fail. If you think the users are the problem, check out the Ventra FB page.

  • Wow, you have received an email from CTA about the switch? And you have actually received a Ventra card in the mail?? I thought that sort of stuff was just urban legend.

  • It's my understanding that I *should* be receiving a card in the mail, but that hasn't happened.

    Question for no one in particular: Would it matter if I purchased a card at a station instead? To the point, would I have to use the card that I might receive in the mail?

  • In reply to Blue:

    Blue, if you don't use the card you get in the mail, the money on your CCP or CC will be lost - unless you spend it down before Nov. 15.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Wouldn't attending one of the events in a park (such as Tinley Park) to transfer value work? Or is that only off mag cards?

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Unless something has radically changed in the last week or two:
    CCP users have to get the new card in the mail in order to transfer their balances.

    But, in contrast, there are no automatic transfers for CC users. They either have to spend down their balances, attend a balance-transfer-in-the-parks event, or mail in their CC cards next January. There is no real advantage to waiting for the card to arrive in the mail for them.

    Of course, there is no reason a CCP user couldn't get a Ventra Card and just add some money to it while waiting for the replacement card to arrive in the mail. There is no way they can prevent a person from having multiple Ventra Cards.

    You know, the Tribune article said that only 2% of rides are paid for with CC and 17% with CCP. It's amazing that dealing with such a small percentage of the total ridership can be causing such a large problem for the CTA. Now that the "Ventra Card is full of fees" hysteria has died down, the CTA's most visible PR problem seems to be getting the cards mailed to the CC and CCP users and the activation problems/misunderstandings.

  • In reply to Olaf1:

    17% of 44 million rides a month (July 2013 Ridership report) is an awful large number of rides (7.48 million). Since that's unlinked trips, we don't know how many individual passengers, but that sure is more than a trivial amount.

    The only thing that can be deduced from that (and that about 6% of bus rides are cash) is that something like 75% of rides must be using mag cards.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Kevin, thanks for responding. I just cancelled my CCP and have been getting by with a bunch of magnetic cards with varying levels of $ (which I plan to burn in the short term). So, I shouldn't have to worry about any balance transfers. Do you suppose there could still be an issue with using a Ventra card other than my "official" one?

  • In reply to Blue:

    Blue, you can use your own contactless debit card.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Kevin, thanks *again*. My last (I hope) and very specific question is this: If, rather than using my own debit card (which, admittedly, would be a possibility), I decided instead to purchase a Ventra card at a station and make it my "permanent" card, would there be any confusion at the Ventra end if they had another one (my "real" one) on the way in the mail? I hope that makes sense. :)

  • In reply to Blue:

    Blue, that is a good question and I have been wondering the same thing but nobody has offered an answer. For sure the CTA won't address it because it would be an admission that they have messed up.

    I bought a card at the station and registered it online. My guess, and I could be wrong, is that as long as you set it up with a different username than your old CC or CC+ account, the system won't care. Anyway, it's looking increasingly unlikely that I will ever get a card in the mail.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    I'm another one that never got the email - I have every email Ventra sent me - how do you spend down your card? it reloads when it gets low. do I cancel it to spend it down?

  • In reply to goalie31mom:

    Goalie: You must have a Chicago Card Plus. Your balance will be transferred to your Ventra card once you activate it. Since you didn't get the email, be sure to read my post about How to activate if you don't have activation email.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    I've activated my cards; however the balances were never transferred from my Chicago Card Plus.

    I see the cards online in my account, but the balance on both cards is 00.

  • In reply to Blue:

    When they say you "should" receive the card, that makes it your fault if you don't. And when they say you "should have" received an e-mail, that makes it your fault if you never did.

    One must not ask how you could take any action to receive it if they didn't send it. The hapless customer must accept blame, because the CTA and Ventra and the shadowy forces behind this massive fail surely never will.

    As a matter of fact I did finally end up purchasing a card at the station. So far this has worked. I registered the card. I haven't actually attempted to use it. I still have money on my Chicago Card to spend down, and I'm reconciled to losing up to 2 bucks if the money doesn't come out even.

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    I'm guessing we are all following your instructions now, since the website is barely working. Very slow this morning!

  • Or it may be that since anyone buying a fare card at a station has to buy this, they are getting to the office and now trying to register it, so they have money on it to get home tonight.

  • Step one: Receive the Ventra card the CTA swears up and down it mailed to you.

  • I received 2 emails on September 15th, but I'm still waiting for my card. I read a story last week about a person receiving hundreds of Ventra cards in the mail. Maybe I should contact that person to see if they received my card.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    From the news reports, apparently the mailed Ventra card has the user's name on it, sort of like any other debit or credit card. I don't think you will get too far asking him to open 271 envelopes to see if any doesn't has his name on it. In any event, they wouldn't match the secret code in your 2 emails.

  • My shiny new Ventra card has actually worked once since I activated it.

  • Got the email, and logged in, but everytime I try and update my info & create an acess code it says try again.

  • In reply to joeconey:

    I'm having the exact same problem. If you figure it out, lemme know.

  • I FINALLY got one over the weekend but I'm not sure if it's the one to replace my CCP or the one from my work transit program, since apparently each one was supposed to send me a Ventra card. On top of that, I don't seem to get any emails with activations codes (even after the phone system said it resent it).

    And no idea how to combine both after I get them either... Our HR department seems as ill informed as everybody else about this whole situation.

    By the way, that phone menu system is easily the least useful and most ridiculous phone menu system I have ever encountered. Today's hold time: 53 minutes!

    If only the CTA had had some data as to ridership and Chicago card/card plus users they could have used to forecast demand so they could have staffed things appropriately.

  • The process is excessively difficult, spent two hours between trying to figure out the access code nonsense and being on hold. I eventually figured it out, but it should not be this hard. The Chicago Card & Chicago Card Plus were so easy to activate. Even credit cards are easier to activate than this new system.

  • In reply to cpapunk:

    Please share the trick! I'm missing something clearly. The instructions are to set a new password then create an access code but it won't let me do that without updating my information - which requires an access code!

  • I just sat on hold 36 minutes, a rep came on and said their whole system was down, but she could transfer me to an activation rep who could activate the card. She put me on hold another 2 minutes, then they hung up on me.

  • In reply to tambreet:

    They are extremely good at hanging up on people.

  • If I ever do get a Ventra card in the mail, am I allowed to simply not activate it (which will be unnecessary now that I bought one at the station)? If I cut it in half with scissors, will I be in violation of the law?

    By the way, some guy was saying on the radio this weekend that he bought a Ventra card, activated it, set it up for automatic replenishment, used it, then got a message that it had been deactivated, yet more money was put on it. He was told it is impossible to transfer the balance. What he should have been questioning is who deactivated it and why, and is this happening to other people's Ventra cards too? Apparently this happened to two Ventra cards he got.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    I'm sure that activation only means confirmation that you received it, same as any other credit card activation, and the go ahead to transfer the balance from a CC+.

    I'm also sure that whoever isn't going to try to activate 271 cards.

  • I can't believe that CTA didn't bother to posts signs weeks ago at the bus and train stops, to informed people they can't no longer add money to regular Chicago Card and can't purchase the transfer cards as of Monday, October 7. Not everyone has a computer, labtop, tablet, or cellphone with internet access. Unless people are informed by their friends, relatives, and co-workers; watch the news, and read the newspapers, people are caught off guard.

  • I'm a long-time CCP 30-day-pass user and my experience was similar to Wendy Darling's and others:

    - Never received an e-mail with username & password. It wasn't until I read this post today that I even realized that such an e-mail should have arrived.
    - Received Ventra card in mail last week
    - Activated via telephone, but unable to register online and verify balance (per the above)
    - My CCP card (as predicted) did not work this morning at a train station.
    - So, tried using the Ventra card this morning (7th October) at a train station, but it did not let me through. Had to add $10 (since that's the smallest amount I had at the time) at a Ventra machine so that I could get to work.
    - When I call to check my balance, it says that I have the remaining $7.75 *AND* a 30-day pass valid until 14th October.
    - Tried calling and chose the option to "reset my online password" (not that I would know my username still)... Apparently that requires a rep. Was disconnected automatically after being on hold for ~40 minutes.

    So, if my Chicago Card Plus balance *did* transfer over, why did I have to load cash in this morning?

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    Your instructions are still missing the fact that they have a bug. You create an access code--and, yes, you know the difference between an access code and a password. The phone menu still tells you your access code is wrong. I'm not the only one this has happened to, finding ourselves looking directly at the website listing the access code as we entered it, but having it rejected. That's called a bug. At that point you have to press * (asterisk), which means you "forgot" your access code, even though you did not. (People who write these phone menus, like website designers, often assume that an error means the user made a mistake, even though it is often the result of a programming error.) They send you an email with a new access code. You can then use that one to gain phone access. For some reason they inconveniently designed the system so that we have to activate by phone, when it could have allowed us to do it via the website. Anyway, you can then go to the website and change your access code back to the one you wanted in the first place.

  • And now my user name doesn't work.

  • Those of us that use a Chicago Card Plus card through our employer's Transit Benefit Program seem to be completely unaddressed other than we were supposed to transition to Ventra in October (not happening, see below).

    Our HR dept. called CTA/Ventra and was informed they are VERY behind and that Transit Benefit Program loading of transit passes or funds by employers won't be ready until November now! And we will likely get our Ventra cards in November! So tell me what happens when my 30 day pass is loaded onto my Chicago Card Plus around October 20th and then come November 15th I can no longer use my CCP??? If this information is accurate there are going to be a LOT of very angry Transit Benefit Program participants! The CTA needs to push back the date the CCP cannot be used. It's only fair.

    In addition, our company is now recommending that we turn off our pre-tax transit deduction until the mess with Ventra is resolved and simply buy 30 day passes on our own directly through Ventra. Well, this really angers me since the program saves me tax $. It also saves employer some in payroll taxes. If this ends up being a mess a lot of employers may say forget it and drop out of the program. Very unfortunate.

  • In reply to Matt:

    That's very odd Matt. I'm a transit benefit user and I got my Ventra Card Friday. I didn't get the email until yesterday and currently my Ventra card does not work, but I do have it.

    They've also apparently deleted my account, or something, because I can't log on with the username and password I set up yesterday, after I got the email that should have come before the card arrived.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    I think getting the cards won't be the major problem for Transit Benefit users, its the ability of our employers to reload for next month before we cannot use our CCP. It's that website/system that is behind and has serious issues that are being worked on. Also, it is very unclear if an active 30-day pass will be automatically transitioned from the CCP to the Ventra account. Even if all this has actually been figured out, it seems like a good chance there will be lots of errors and issues.

  • In reply to Matt:

    RE: Matt's musing:

    >Also, it is very unclear if an active 30-day pass will be automatically transitioned from the CCP to the Ventra account.

    If I check my balance via the phone, it mentions my 30-day pass, suggesting a succesful transition from my CCP to the new Ventra card.

    BUT: When I actually tried using the Ventra card this morning at a rail station, it did not allow me through. Checking my balance at a Ventra vending machine showed a balance of $0.

  • In reply to Shayan:

    It won't let me log in using the username/password combo I entered. And the card doesn't work. And the CTA/Ventra doesn't answer customer service requests via email.

  • In reply to Matt:

    Matt, I'm fairly certain the CTA will keep allowing us to use the CCP if they don't have this sorted out for the transit benefit program.

    And I agree that's wrong for your company to recommend.

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    On September 5th I received confirmation from the CTA that I had updated my CCP information and Ventra would be sending me an e-mail shortly.

    October 6th I received the Ventra e-mail.

    Now the wait for the card begins.

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    Here's a new one. I received a Ventra card in the mail. I have never had a Chicago Plus Card. I have, however, a Metra link up ticket. I have never registered my Chicago Card (the one where you just load up the cash). I have never registered a link up ticket. I have never given the CTA my email address. So how (a) did Ventra get my address and (b) am I supposed to activate this card without an email from Ventra? And since Metra has been SOOOO helpful (NOT!) providing information on this changeover, I'd be grateful if someone else in this forum could provide an answer. Thanks bunches!!!

  • If you are sure you don't have a Chicago Card Plus (perhaps someone else in your household does? a family member? an out-of-town visitor who registered it in your name?), just throw the Ventra Card in your junk drawer. Go to a Ventra machine in an L station or a CVS or Jewel store and get your own Ventra Card if you need one. It's just not worth the hassle of retrieving your login and password.

    Chicago Card Plus users need the Ventra Card that the CTA sends them in order to transfer their balance from the CCP account to the Ventra Card. For everybody else, there is no advantage in using the one they mail you over the just getting one on your own. If after next year no explanation surfaces for why you got the card in the mail, just throw it away.

    Metra has said that they will announce in November how link-up tickets will work with Ventra.

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    In reply to Olaf1:

    Metra actually responded to my email. They did not send me a Ventra card and no, I've never had a CCP. But Metra did say that when we purchase the link up cards in December, they would give us a card that will be compatible with the Ventra system. So we shall see come December.

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    I'm glad I found this article. I deleted that email, but it was still in the trash folder. This process really is designed to be as complicated as possible. I need to use the login name and password buried in an email that I received a month and half ago to create an online account. Then I can get an access code, which I need so I can call them to activate the card. Then I can go back online to actually manage my account. Brilliant!

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    What do I do if I never got that email? I searched my inbox, every folder, spam, and trash and found nothing. I've tried calling customer service 5 times and been hung up on each time after waiting on hold for upwards of 10 min, and sometimes as much as 30 min.

  • In reply to Melanie Kibbler:

    I got this from the CTA:

    For customers who are unable to locate that email, they can call the activation line at 888.824.8802 (this is on the sticker affixed to their Ventra card when it arrives in the mail). When they’re prompted to enter their access code, they can press zero to be transferred to an operator – average wait time is 4 minutes. The operator will verbally provide a temporary username and will likely activate the card while the customer is on the phone, and send an email to the email address associated with the account that provides a temporary password so the customer can log in to ventrachicago.com and set up their permanent username and password, and also retrieve an access code that they would need in the future if they wanted to check their balance online for example.

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    In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Sorry, but the average wait time is upwards of 20 min whenever I've called. That is the time the automated system tells me at least. I've never actually had anyone pick up.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    "unable to locate that e-mail"

    Typical CTA refusal to accept any responsibility. What if *there ain't no flippin' e-mail because they didn't send it!* We know that there are many such instances.

    And no, we are not going to jump through all those hoops. They make it sound fast and easy, but after all the stories we've heard, I can have little doubt that it is no such thing.

    No reflection on you, Kevin, for having passed along what they said--it may be helpful to some of us. But the silence from Ventral and CTA on the overall issue will have to be broken at some point, and they do have a lot to answer for, which they should not be allowed to ignore, deflect or minimize. I hope you call them on the carpet when the time is right.

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    In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    The operators at that activation line cannot provide temporary usernames and passcodes. In fact they attempt to transfer you to the Ventra "customer service" number and all that currently is, is a busy signal. So do not advise people to call that number to get a username and passcode.

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    I got my card in the mail yesterday and can't register it online. Never did I receive ANY email such as the one Kevin described. It said in total: "Starting this summer, the CTA and Pace will be transitioning to Ventra, a convenient new way to pay for train and bus rides. With Ventra, customers will be able to use a single fare card for transit throughout the Chicago region. In an effort to make your transition smooth, please confirm your contact information within THREE WEEKS of receiving this email. When you confirm your contact information, we will start the process of creating your new Ventra Card. You will receive an email from Ventra 7-10 days before your Card is shipped with instructions for activating your card and transferring your current Chicago Card Plus balance.

    We look forward to getting you on board with Ventra!

    The Chicago Card Plus team

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    Thank you for this article. I don't know that I would have figured out how to activate my Ventra card successfully had I not read it. I am one of the few who has not had issues; I received the email, I got the card in the mail, I activated, my Chicago Card Plus balance transferred. I know that I am a very unique case...

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    I'll add my experience to the mix:

    After an extended wait (nearly a month after the initial e-mail), I received my Ventra card a couple days ago; I'm a long-time CCP user, and had responded immediately to all earlier e-mails to transfer my accounts. The card had my name printed on it. It was pre-registered on the site. Activation, following the steps of the accompanying literature, went flawlessly. Things were looking good.

    And the next morning, the card worked without a problem. The problems, though, began with the commute home. My card would not work, but the CPS employee let me through, chalking it up to bugs; however, my card STILL did not work this morning, and on the CPS employee's recommendation, I tried using my old CCP card – worked like a charm!

    So now, when I check my Ventra account, not only has my 30-day pass not transferred, but my account was debited $2.25 for that initial ride! I'm a tireless booster for the CTA, and had ignored previous calls of dismay regarding the Ventra system, but I'm a bit let down by this chain of events.

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