C'mon and take a free ride, courtesy of Ventra server failure

A massive Ventra server failure resulted in about 15,000 free rides at 60 of the CTA’s 145 rail stations during the height of rush Wednesday afternoon.

The Tribune reports that about 165 card readers at the stations were affected. The CTA “will be tallying the total amount lost and billing the vendor, Cubic, for the cost of the outage.”

Meanwhile, earlier in the day Wednesday, the CTA board approved its $1.38 billion budget that keeps service at current levels with no fare increase.

One civic group thinks the CTA should be looking at ways to increase fare revenue.

At the Tuesday night budget hearing, the Civic Federation “urged the CTA to study fares based on distance traveled or peak-hour usage, saying the proposed budget included “overly optimistic” expectations of state funding increases for reduced-fare riders,” according to the Sun-Times.

Wise thinking.


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  • The Civic Federation is delusiuonal if they think that dis-incentivizing rush hour travel is a good idea. Now, I can see incentivizing weekend or late night travel with cheaper fares as a way to boost usage.

    And I still don't think distance based fares will work very well and of course they don't say how it should be accomplished. I'm fine with everyone paying the same, but rates should probably go up a bit every year like Scooter has proposed in the past. The Post Office does something similar, but based on inflation.

  • In reply to chris:

    The Gapers Block column (cited a couple of days ago) that the London Underground was soaking passengers who failed to "tap off" for the full distance fare indicates that distance fares won't work.

    Apparently, it has no support in the community, either, given the Sun-Times report that someone commented in favor of race based fares--i.e. someone from 95th [12 miles] should pay less than someone getting on in Lincoln Park [3 miles]. The discount ride cards for seniors, disabled, and military are already messed up; I guess this guy wants another welfare program, even though he is already getting subsidized 50%.

    However, unlike Pace, CTA has no incentive to incentivize ridership, sort of the point Richard was getting to, notwithstanding his usual Obama rant.

    Also note that CTA has found all sorts of ways to increase fares, overt ($3 ticket), covert (open system means cash fare) and theft (double charges).

  • In reply to jack:

    C'mon, Jack, I wouldn't be me without my "usual Obama rant". I think you would be disappointed without it.

    That said, I do (get smelling salts ready) agree with and acknowledge what you say.

    BTW, Obama is just latest in the model of great intentions and failed operations. My previous rants were targeted at George W. Bush. Wait, the Ventra mess can --could be-- his fault, no?

  • In reply to chris:

    I wonder when anyone at the CF last rode public transit.

  • The Ventra Card is a foreshadowing of the ObamaCare Card, where the only revenue increases will come at the expense of the taxpayer.

    How many decades have they been trying to get the CTA/RTA right? Common sense ideas like Chris' above will go nowhere, because success and failure in the marketplace are not things that seriously have to be considered, until the CTA runs out of OPM (Other Peoples Money). And that day in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois is fast approaching.

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    There are many things that run quite well that don't have to worry about success and failure in the marketplace. It just takes the right type of organization or certain way of thinking.

  • The system was never built to handle distance-based fares. For the most part, riders arrive at a station during the period between trains at a uniform rate. However, when a train discharges, you have a surge of riders going through the exists. There's simply no way the limited number of turnstiles would be able to handle the load, especially when the Ventra card is only promising a 2 second turnaround.

    On top of that, all the one-way exits would have to be replaced with card readers, which wouldn't be cheap. There;s already a large backup at most of these single exists, and imagine the traffic jam if riders had to scan their card to go through the gate? Sheesh.

    I don't have a problem with either a general fare increase, or a rush-hour fare increase. I', f*cking sick of cramming on to the Brown line trains at Chicago Ave. I swear, some days it's like the Tokyo subways. If increasing the fare would allow the CTA to purchase additional trainsets, and reduce crowding, then sign me up. I'm not looking for anything crazy, like being able to grab a seat. However, being able to stand without someone's elbow in my face would be quite a pleasure.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Good point you added on people being essentially trapped behind the fare barriers.

    Other than the threat of the max fare, there wouldn't be anything to prevent bus riders from pulling the cherry on the back door and leaving without tapping.

  • In reply to jack:

    Distance-based fares on buses would be a disaster. I hop on the #66 eastbound bus at Larrabee, and on a typical day it takes anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes to discharge/load the bus. Now, imagine the 10 to 20 people hopping off the bus having to swipe their Ventra card, and the board times would skyrocket.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Especially if they insisted on going out the front door.

    For those, it was probably bad enough if (as reported) they were charged twice if their purse or pocket happened to rub against the reader on the way out. Someone else said that having the readers on the handrail might be part of the problem.

  • In reply to jack:

    I'm calling "urban legend" on the "accidental" charges until I see proper proof. I have to hold my wallet up to the ready for a second or two to get it to register. I simply don't see how brushing by the reader will cause it to read.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Probably depends on where your pocket is. I think a purse might be a different issue.

    The article said that the bus drivers noted it, and apparently they have some way of determining from their seat if a valid fare has been charged. Any bus drivers out there to confirm this?

    With all the crazy stuff going on with Ventra, and nobody taking responsibility for it (other than Claypool saying that Cubic has to), I don't think anything can be written off to urban legend at this point.

    The one thing with which I seem to agree with you is that most of the TV footage on Ventra shows that the cards are not being tapped properly, such as a passenger floating it over the display screen. I don't know how representative that footage is.

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    In reply to SpinyNorman:

    The issue is the backward design that CTA doggedly holds on to. Buses in many European cities typically have 3 double doors: Barcelona buses have one at the front, middle and end, and four exits on articulated buses. Aisles are wide enough that people can easily hop on and off, and wheelchairs can quickly be loaded via the raised platforms. Distance based fares would be no more difficult to ensure that on trains.

  • In reply to Sebastian Huydts:

    The real problem is distance based fares would effect the poor more than the rich.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    An equity hearing on the Ventra systems also so found, but that didn't stop CTA from saying it was fair.

    Other than the 95th St vs. Lincoln Park one in the Sun-Times, I don't know how you can make that generalization, though. Assuming that all yuppies live in the South Loop and Lincoln Park?

  • In reply to jack:

    I've never heard it suggested that distance based fares also happen on buses. But if it were, that would be much harder than the train, and the train would be hard enough as pointed out above. Very few of our stations have wide open concourses like in London where they employ this type of fare.

  • In reply to chris:

    Washington D.C.'s Metro system also uses distance based fares. However, the system was designed for it, e.g. separate exit gates. There are still backups at rush hour, but they are manageable.

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    In reply to SpinyNorman:

    The Netherlands have such a system nationwide. Initially problematic, it works pretty well now. Tried it out last summer, no traditional turnstiles, very fast readers, and distance based. Works on all buses, trains, trams etc. Privately administered with oversight from government and consumer groups.

  • Our transit benefits administrator got a surprise envelope in the mail today from the CTA. Apparently, the CTA is trying to make up for the missed October 31st reloads to Ventra. We each received a 30-day pass and two 7-day passes....the old Transitcard magnetic strip style. I haven't had to use one of these for years....pre-Chicago Card! Its nice so nice that the new Ventra technology is such a mess that the CTA has to revert back to a fare media pre Chicago Card Plus! At least I won't be shelling out my own dollars to reload my Ventra card and in fact I'm now Ventra card free for the next 90 days! Thrilled!

  • In reply to Matt:

    Glad to see your report that CTA finally made it right.

    With all the reports about people being taken $2.25 at a time, I sure would be indignant if they took me for $100.

    And, of course, CTA couldn't have done it in this manner if it stuck with the old deadlines.

  • In reply to Matt:

    Our firm's transit admin finally received an email to set up the company account, but it was basically blank, there was no way to add employees to the account, and while the email she received talked about a training video of some kind, there was no link to that, either. The mailbox for the Ventra phone number she was given was totally full, so she's had to email them. At least there are a couple weeks until she needs to send in the order.

  • In reply to villafan:

    The Tribune had a story about another foul up in the transit benefit system--apparently administrators can now get into the site, but get the wrong company, raising identity theft concerns.

    And, of course, note the buck passing. Tammy Chase is back out to say that the problem is minimal, but referred it to Cubic, but Cubic referred media inquiries back to Chase. Did Pravda work in that manner?

  • Making rush hour travel more expensive is the exact opposite of what you'd want for a major city. And the only way to implement distance-based fares with the volume the CTA handles is to have people tap on the way out. Do we want to make leaving the station take longer?

  • In reply to Myshkin:

    It sounds like someone who is actually advocating for car travel by destroying what's left of the CTA.

  • In reply to chris:

    The CTA is more than capable of destroying itself.

    If you want to see how CTA listens to critics, look at the Press Release. Somehow, according to the Ministry of Propaganda, the Chicago Civic Federation entirely endorsed the balanced CTA budget, without mentioning anything else in the Sun-Times article.

  • In reply to Myshkin:

    Why? It's supply and demand. The demand exists at rush hour, so the fares should reflect it. A small surcharge for peak travel times wouldn't be uncalled for. What's the alternative? Do you really think driving to the Loop is a viable alternative? Parking in the Loop alone is at least double the cost of a monthly CTA pass, never mind the cost of the car, fuel, and insurance.

    It's quite simple, if we want a "world class" transit system, then we're going to have to pay for it. Yes, there is waste that can be removed, but at some point we get what we pay for. I'm more than willing to pay to not have someone's elbow smashed into my face for the commute downtown during the rush.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Demand will go down as prices go up. For some people, yes, they would drive. Even if it's only a small percentage increase in drivers, you'll see a huge effect on traffic. If you carpool, you could make those costs not much more than a monthly pass. Carpooling is better than solo driving, but it's still more cars on the road.

    Another possibility (and one I've considered myself) is that people will take more cabs. If me and two or three of my co-workers who live near me were to take a cab home from work, it'd only cost marginally more than, say, a $3.50 train ride that requires me to wait for 3 trains to get a spot. Again, this is better than one person per car, but it's still going to increase the number of cars on the road.

    The CTA budget does need to be fixed but not that way. More important than a "solvent" CTA is keeping traffic down because more traffic will mean more money for more roads and road repairs (and more accidents). I know people always want the CTA to "pay for itself" but those arguments tend to overlook the economic boon of having a transit system that people actually use as their primary means of transportation.

  • In reply to Myshkin:

    I meant to add that that's why something like public transit should never be a wholly private enterprise because the main concern of public transit should be to encourage ridership, not just produce the best possible revenue. Supply-demand curves are used for determining maximum profitability for the entity in question, not the entire city. We should want the CTA to work towards what's best for the city as a whole, not the CTA's bottom line.

  • In reply to Myshkin:

    1. CTA can't even pay half its way, and continues to misstate statistics in its cry baby budget.

    2. If you were around last year, there was the stink that transit wanted even more of the gas tax, with all the commenters claiming that those who drive pay nothing, which was not the case. Maybe the taxpayers of this state should insist that the transit authorities eliminate the political cronyism, out and out corruption, and admitted inefficiency first.

  • In reply to Myshkin:

    If prices went up, and service remained the same, then yes, I could see a small reduction in ridership. However, I'm suggesting that prices be increased to purchase additional train sets, and improve service, which would likely increase ridership. That $3.50 fare would mean you don't have to wait 3 trains to get on board.

    I seriously doubt that people would take more cabs. With rising gas prices, the cab fares are going through the roof. I took a cab to work from River North to the South Loop a few weeks ago. I thought I would save time over the Brown Line, but it wound up taking longer, and cost $12. No way people are going to do this on a regular basis, even when splitting a fare.

    The CTA is busting at the seams during rush hour. The "decrowding" plan was a complete joke. The only way you're going to get the necessary equipment is to raise fares. Drivers are going to (unfortunately) scream bloody murder if you try to raise gas taxes to pay for public transportation. I'm not saying the CTA needs to turn a profit. There is no way to make money moving people. Period. All forms of transportation lose money when transporting people is involved, including bus, rail, and air. I'm simply saying that we need to raise enough cash to buy the necessary equipment to run a viable system.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    What you are saying makes sense, but is fiscally and politically impossible. Metra says that it increases fares to make some contribution to capital, but, basically, could not buy new cars without the state bond money, and that money is becoming more uncertain.

    With stuff like "sales tax revenue anticipation bonds" and "fare box revenue anticipation" loans and leases, CTA is already siphoning off what was considered operating money for capital, despite the lies in the budget.

    Given the above, I don't know what fare would be sufficient for your goal, but consider the political stink if CTA had raised fares to $5.50, instead of the effective $1.11 per ride the budget report indicates.

  • So a bunch of so-called planning pros have stated that distance based fares are the way to go.
    Completely insane.
    Spiny Norman beat me to it, but I written the same before, that except for a very few of the newest L stations, but not all of them, the CTA is utterly incapable of handling hundreds, possibly thousands of people getting off & exiting at Lake St., then swiping or touching their cards to the fareboxes.
    CTA rail was designed as a classic PAYE system, Pay As You Enter, with small station houses.
    I'm old enough to remember when their was an addition 15¢ charge to ride the Evanston trains, the Swift, the Evanston Express, north of the Mart, Lake St west of Harlem & into River Forest [just one station]. The conductor would walk from car to car, on the SB trains, collecting a special payment transfer that you got at an Evanston or Wilmette station or the 15¢ if you boarded at Howard, Morse or Loyola.
    NB, he collected the 15¢ from everyone.
    But many times, he couldn't get to everyone because the train was so packed with standees, he gave up.
    The NB platform at Howard was split lengthwise for the northern 60% of the platform. There were two little booths where you paid the extra 15¢ so you could go to the restricted side of the platform & ride into Evanston or Skokie.
    Riding the 97 bus was even weirder.
    If you boarded WB in Chicago or Evanston, you didn't pay as you got on, you paid as you got off, everyone had to get off at the front. Getting off east of North Shore Channel was no extra charge [that was the old route], west of there, you paid 15¢ extra to get off. Eastbound, you paid the extra 15¢ when you boarded west of the North Shore Channel & nothing extra east of there.
    The 17 Westchester bus was operated the same way out of the Forest Park terminal, except everyone paid the extra charge on boarding.
    It's got to be at least 30 years since they ended this, which was after an experiment when for a month, the Evanston locals were free to ride from South Blvd to Linden or back.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    It probably has to be over 40 years since all that was eliminated.

    In the early 70s, when CTA took over local Evanston bus service, the rule basically was that a fare inspector got on at South Blvd., and you needed either a full fare receipt or full fare transfer to ride south of there, or pay the difference. At some time after that, the system was changed that if you wanted to ride the Evanston Express, you had to buy an express check in either Evanston or Skokie, and the conductor would check it somewhere between Howard and Belmont. All of that went out the window, of course, when CTA went to the mag card system and started eliminating conductors, I guess 1997.

    In later years, extra fares were generally imposed only one way, i.e. as indicated southbound on the Evanston Express, or in the Loop on express buses. For instance, there wasn't a surcharge on the 147 southbound, I suppose for such reasons that it became the local bus north of Devon when 151 was generally cut back to that point.

    The only apparent surcharge today is that it takes $2.25 to board the L with a stored value card as opposed to $2.00 on a bus. That seems justified in that one can transfer free within the L system.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Sounds like the Metra. It always annoyed me when I would ride Metra and have a monthly pass and the conductor didn't make it to my car to collect fares. Although, later in life I was on the receiving end of that bonus. Either way, it's lost revenue for Metra that could have been used to prevent fares from increasing.

  • In reply to chris:

    That got mentioned in official Metra publications about two years ago. Management thought it was a decent amount of money, but conductors didn't think so.

    Oddly enough, when I took a short trip, the conductors inspected the tickets immediately, but a long one, not until the train got into the city. Maybe it was the time of day, though. The other gamble depending on the time of day is whether if you don't have a ticket, you'll get stuck with the $3 surcharge for paying on the train if an agent was still in the station (until about 1 p.m.)

    I don't go back as far as Scooter's recollection did, but CTA collection was not as hit and miss. The train stayed stopped at South Boulevard until the fare inspector was done with his task, and there certainly was enough time for conductors to pick up express checks between Howard and Belmont.

  • Don't any of you guys remember when you had to stamp your transfer before leaving the train station?
    There were red stamping machines in the paid area, including the platforms. The 'L' system transfers did not have a time clock on them. As people got off the train, most of them would line up in front of the machines and timestamp their transfers before exiting the station. If you didn't stamp your transfer, the bus drivers were not supposed to accept it.

    Yeah, I know it wasn't everybody. People going downtown in the morning mostly didn't have to transfer. It just brought back memories.

  • In reply to Olaf1:

    Yes, I remember that. Supposedly it was to prevent the transfer from being used as a stop over check, but requiring the stamp really didn't make much sense.

    That was eliminated around 1974, when CTA first started "rides in 2 hours" on a transfer, the progenitor of the current you get two transfers within 2 hours on a fare card. The zone squares were still on the transfer, in case you had a direct trip the length of the city that couldn't be completed in 2 hours.

    Getting to ironies, the 2014 budget reveals (for the first time of which I know) that the 2-hour transfer policy now does not apply to a ride on the L if a bus ride is not involved, but a stop over will be allowed if one gets back on the L within an hour.

  • In reply to jack:

    Interesting catch. I read the budget, but I must have missed that line item. Or was it obscure?

  • In reply to chris:

    Page 37 of the budget (43 of the pdf):

    In recognition of the interconnected nature of the rail system, the CTA is amending its transfer policy to allow for re-entry into the rail system for the price of a transfer within one hour of initial, full-fare entry. Bus-to-rail, rail-to-bus, and bus-to-bus transfers will retain a two hour window for transfer use after the initial, full-price fare. This will help insure that customers using the system and needing to run an errand as part of a rail trip can exit the rail system and re-enter by using a transfer. A full fare will be charged for entry into the rail system after one hour from initial, full-fare entry. This policy has no impact on unlimited ride passes.

  • In reply to jack:

    Hey Jack, what PDF. I can't find your above-cited paragraph in this budget pdf

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    They must have changed it since they first posted it prior to the public hearing. The equivalent place in that one is under Service & Fares on page 41 of that pdf, but the paragraph I cited isn't there.

    I'll use your "contact me" address to e-mail you what I then downloaded.

  • In reply to jack:

    Interesting. So maybe that change was revoked?

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    In that it was the first time I had ever heard of that policy, it may have been nonexistent.

    I guess you have something to ask the next time you encounter a spokesperson.

    I'll bet, though, that someone at CTA didn't figure that someone would use the "save as" menu option on Acrobat Reader.

  • There's a new problem with Ventra, it's taking money from bank accounts protected with a PIN & that's not supposed to happen.
    Greg Hinz at Crain's has the details.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Greg Hinz has retracted that story.

    The story sounded goofy to me from the start. You can take your debit card to Jewel or Target and buy groceries with it without entering a PIN number, why would Ventra be any different?

    In any case, the Chase spokesperson contacted Hinz and admitted she didn't know what she was talking about when she gave him the earlier interview.

  • I'm supposed to sign up for the new way to pay for transit at work some time next week, and I'm really thinking maybe I'll just skip the transit benefit and pay out of pocket. I don't trust the CTA anywhere near my paycheck.

  • Vulture Card is now trying to recoup losses by over charging. Despite the fare chart stating "Deducts fares and transfers on CTA and Pace. Transfers must occur within two hours of first ride." Charged me full fare again after 1 hour and 10 minutes. That is after the lag time of charges actually showing up on my web account transaction history. I'll let you know how long it takes them to respond to my inquiry.

  • In reply to Petrd1:

    Was a bus ride involved? Otherwise look at my post above about the budget saying that the 2 hours didn't apply to 2 entries to the L. Again, one of the covert fare increases.

  • In reply to jack:

    One L entry and then bus rides. Per Complete CTA Fare Chart http://www.transitchicago.com/travel_information/fares/fullschedule.aspx No such caveat is apparent. Of course that is "transit cards" not the new improved Vulture Card.

  • In reply to Petrd1:

    So you were taken, any way you look at it.

  • Today's problem is that a Chase Blink debit card is not supposed to be accepted without a PIN (Crain's).

    While it came up in connection with someone's Chase card in the wallet being charged instead of the Ventra card (I guess someone who intended to use the debit card wouldn't complain), this (combined with the bank card being treated as a cash fare) has to be the death of bank cards as a component in the "open fare" system, if Chase closes that hole in its payments process.

  • In reply to jack:

    Yeah, I just don't see how that was ever supposed to work. Only a fool would walk around with a debit card without a PIN. The Ventra readers are not designed with a PIN pad, so the only way for it to work would be for the issuing bank to allow for certain merchants (e.g. CTA) to be set up on the user's account as a PIN-less transaction.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    I'm not sure either. My card like that has a Visa logo, which I was told meant that it could be processed in the same manner as a credit card, as opposed to the then pure ATM card without a 16 digit number. Maybe the usual merchant asking "debit or credit" has something to do with it, but clearly debit transactions on that card require a pin.

    Obviously, the Ventra machine doesn't offer "debit or credit" buttons either, although grocery counter machines do.

  • In reply to jack:

    Hinz has retracted the story.

    The Chase spokesperson has admitted she didn't know what she was talking about when she gave him that quote.

  • Retraction of the Hinz story in Crain's Chicago Business this morning:


  • I finally used my Ventra card at a train turnstyle today. I made sure I spun it enough the next person would be able to go through.

  • Pace extends deadlines to July:
    Pace will continue to issue paper transfer cards (valid only on Pace) to cash customers until July 1.

    Pace 10 Ride Plus tickets will no longer be sold after Nov 18, but existing tickets will work until July.

    Magnetic stripe cards will be accepted until further notice.

    Current Student Haul Passes will be accepted until Dec 31.

    Note: I recently purchased a CTA Transit Card from a vending machine in an 'L' station. The expiration date of the card was April 15, 2014. I don't believe that any of these extensions will make any fare cards work past the expiration date stamped on the back. So even if CTA adopts a similar policy, don't assume your cards will work past their expiration dates and beware that the vending machines have been issuing Transit Cards with short expirations.


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