CTA Ventra card: How's that working out for you?

The CTA Ventra card used to be the subject of nearly daily posts here from October through December. Then the CTA backed off the transition deadline, and it actually started working.

Or did it?

New CTA Ventra readerThe CTA’s own Ventra reports show that Cubic -makers of the Ventra fare payment system – continues to meet performance standards. The CTA has demanded that Cubic:

  • Lower average call wait times to Ventra customer service of five minutes or less to speak to an operator.
  • Process all Ventra readers taps in 2.5 seconds or less, 99 percent of the time.
  • Achieve a 99 percent availability or “uptime” on vending machines and card readers on both buses and at rail stations.

But what’s been your own experience on card reader processing time?

I almost exclusively use the Red Line, and my experience has been very good there on card processing. I would estimate that I have a failure – have to tap twice – once in about 50 taps. When it processes correctly, it does so in well under one second.

Buses, on the other hand, are another story.

I’ve been riding the #77 Belmont lately to visit a relative at St. Joseph Hospital. My Ventra card is processed correctly on the first tap probably only 25 percent of the time. It usually takes at least two taps to process, and seems to take more than 2.5 seconds.

At least twice in two days I waited at least 10 seconds for the reader to react – and reject the first tap.

So, how’s that Ventra card working out for you guys?


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  • It's been uneventful for about two months, only the occasional double-tap needed. Then today it wouldn't register at all, took about 10 taps until an attendant had to come help and finally got it to register. Evening commute was fine so hopefully that was just a blip.

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    Mostly works great on the L, some missed taps if I don't get the swipe just right. Agree slower but usable on the bus.

  • Still waiting for the e-mail they supposedly sent me last fall, and the card that was claimed to have been mailed. Good thing I went and bought one from the machine and managed to sidestep the debit card option.

    Still don't like having to make a special visit to the machine to check my balance, though I like that I can do it online at home without even logging in. When adding value in the station, I find that the machine makes me press too many buttons; some seem unnecessary. Also, the alignment of letters to buttons (choices, identified A through J or something like that) is off-kilter to anyone over 3 feet tall. Yes, you can match the letter to the button, but it takes extra time and concentration to pick the right one. A very clunky interface design.

    Very little problem going through the turnstiles, but on the bus it fails on the first try maybe one time in 7. Doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. I will not accept that it's my fault for holding the card wrong, no matter what the driver insinuates.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    Oh wow, I thought I was the only who who hated the alignment of the letters, despite whether you could match up the choices or not. Drives me bonkers.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    CC: How do you check your value at home without even logging in?

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    There is a check balance option above the log in at Ventrachicago.com

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    1. Go to the main Ventra page, www.ventrachicago.com
    2. At the upper left, right above the big Account login button, there is a small Check Balance link. Click it.
    3. Looking at your card, enter the serial number and expiration date in the respective fields, and hit "Submit."

    For me, reading the info off the card is a lot quicker than digging out my login and password from the secret location where I keep all of mine recorded. When you think about it, this method doesn't really compromise anyone's security, does it?

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    Sorry, I should have said at the upper right.

  • I get failed taps about 20% of the time. The east turnstile at Granville never works for my card, but the one next to it always works.
    Got 2 failed taps yesterday on different buses.

  • If I have had failures with tapping, it has only happened on the bus, and it was a one-time thing. I wonder if the U-Pass Ventra card is more reliable?

  • As an infrequent and irregular user of the CTA, I was a little late to the Ventra party. I have not experienced any of the sort of problems that others have mentioned. The only thing was once some sort of warning message flashed on the Ventra reader, but it was so fast I couldn't read it.

  • Works fine, but not as well as the old Chicago Card Plus. I really have to slap the whole card down on the reader instead of just tapping it to get it to work perfectly every time. It's something I wouldn't notice if the old system hadn't worked so well.

    Still never transferred my $45 balance from my CC+ though, despite calling them at least five times. I feel like they basically just stole $45 from me.

  • In reply to Seitz:

    They did steal it. They owe me $100.

  • I generally have good luck, bus and L. Once a driver told me not to tap so quickly (ie kinda tap and hold for half a second), my success rate is up since I started doing that.

  • I think it is working OK. My complaints still are:
    1. Interface on machines is awful. Poorly designed for an adult to use as the buttons don't line up with the screen.
    2. Doesn't show your remaining balance/pass expiration date when you tap. It will tell you if your balance is low or its about to expire, but not the exact info. It'd be nice if they could add that feature.

  • I ride the #66 bus to/from Larrabee and the Chicago/Franklin L Station. Generally speaking, the card has been working correctly ~80% of the time, albeit much slower than the old CCP card, especially on the bus. The cell signal at Chicago and Larrabee is rather poor, even for phones, and I have a hunch that the bus is struggling to get a good signal.

    As others have noted, the system is much slower than the old system, and lines can grow rather long. On top of that, the positioning of the reader near the front of the buses often results in glare on the reader's screens, making it hard to see if the card was read, and whether the 'Go' was displayed.

    I agree with Seitz about the need to slap the whole card down. Frankly, I don't understand why they couldn't have engineered it to work with a range of 2 to 3 inches.

    They appear to have fixed the auto-load function. My first monthly pass did not auto load, but has done so each of the past 2 months.

    My biggest beef is that I've been double charged several times when switching platforms at 2 non-transfer stations, Van Buren/LaSalle, and Wells/Quincy. Due to service interruptions, I've had to re-enter the other side of the platform to change trains, which requires a second tap. I have no idea why they consider this a double tap, as it's a different platform, and I have a monthly pass. Each time I called they credited by account, but it's a hassle to have to call. I used to do this regularly with the CCP card, and I was never double charged. On top of that, one has to keep a non-zero balance on the card, in addition to the monthly pass, or the 2nd tap won't work, given that it wants to deduct a full fare.

    Overall, I'd say the switch has been a step backwards. As we're all aware, the rollout was a circus, which could have been easily avoided with a longer beta period to work out the kinks. Ignoring that, the card has increased wait times to board buses, and go through train turnstiles. I occasionally take the Blue line in from Chicago/Milwaukee, and the station only has 3 turnstiles. You should see the lines when 2 #66 buses arrive at the same time, and dump dozens of riders off at the station. It's a joke. Frankly, I don't care what their metrics say, but 2.5 seconds is an eternity when there are 2 dozen people behind you. The system should have been designed to pick up the card from 2 to 3 feet aware, allowing riders to simply walk through the turnstile without pausing.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    If they did that, then any contactless bankcard that you happened to have in your pocket would also be charged.

  • In reply to eBob:

    I would imagine that it would be fairly easy to design it to allow one to "rank" a set of accounts so that if it detected multiple cards, it would charge only one card based on the ranking. My Ventra card would be the default card, and if it wasn't in my wallet, it would use the 2nd card, and so on.

  • I would imagine the wait time for calls has gone down because so many of us have just given up calling Ventra. They will not solve your problem for you, so there's no point in calling them.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    I get your point, but I think it's a bit unfair. I had to call them twice in the past month to clear double tap charges, and I didn't have to wait on either call, and the SA fixed the problem immediately. I was logged on to my Ventra account, and I saw the credit almost immediately.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    But why should you even need to monitor your account that closely? Why can't it just work? I don't want to have to review my card/credit card every week or couple days just to see if their messed up double-charge system charged me extra. And how much money are they stealing from people who don't check or don't notice?

  • In reply to tambreet:

    I totally agree. Between the double taps, failed auto-load renewals, and lockouts, I've started to watch my account like a hawk. I never had to look at my CCP account.

  • In reply to tambreet:

    It is not one of the performance standards, so it shouldn't matter.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Good for you, but my experience has been they tell me whatever my problem is isn't really a problem and they can't fix it anyway.

  • What Ventra card? I'm still using my trusty Chicago Card Plus. :D

  • In reply to tankboy:

    Not for much longer.

  • Nothing but headaches. I buy a monthly 30 day pass and always make sure to set auto-reload to "ON", to ensure seamless use when the month ends. Every single time the period has reset may card has come up as invalid, leaving me stranded at the station and needing to (once I get home) manually log-in, update funding, etc. Then recently in the middle of the month the card inexplicably told me I had "insufficient funds"...again, baffling as Im paying for an unlimited pass. Once again forcing me to buy a 1 time use at the station until I can get home and sort through it...at which point I find a negative balance of roughly $18, all listed as Ventra back office transactions. Sit through customer support only to be told, "oh yeah we're aware of that, sorry". No explanation as to why random funds were being shifted around my account, no compensation for the additional tickets I was stuck buying.

    I also tried to board a train at Central Park and being unfamilar with the station accidentally swiped on the wrong side of the tracks. As there is no crossover bridge, I exited and tried to enter from the correct side, only to have my card denied. I was informed that there is a 20 minute lockout period from boarding at the same station. I explained that I made an honest mistake and asked if he (the CTA personnel) was going to make me wait those 20 minutes or if he could help me out and swipe me through the turnstile. I was informed I would in fact need to stand there for 20 minutes until the lockout expired and that he would not allow me to pass through. So in a blizzard, I exited the station and trudged through ankle deep snow and WALKED to the next station east as that was quicker and better for my mental health that giving this guy death stares for 20 minutes. Unreal. (As I seem to recall, the old Plus cards allowed multiple passbacks at stations and I never encountered similar lockouts).

  • In reply to viachicago:

    All that "invalid" stuff must be your imagination! Don't you know they've met the performance standards? (Apparently those weren't written to include not invalidating accounts of pass buyers, explaining or compensation.)

  • In reply to viachicago:

    As I noted before, the "lockout" is completely stupid. Luckily, each time I've run into the issue, the attendant was helpful, and let me through the gate. I simply don't understand the rational behind the lockout. What the hell do they expect people to do? Enter on one side of the platform, tie their Ventra card to a brick, and fling it across the platform to their friend to use on the other side? It simply makes no sense. I'm paying for a f*cking monthly pass, and I should be able to use it for multiple rides, including switching platforms when necessary. I can understand not allowing multiple taps at a single platform, but non-transfer stations are *not* a single platform.

  • I was on an EB 155 yesterday.
    While my card worked the first time, I was close enough to watch everyone else that used a Ventra Card.
    My favorite was one stop where this woman's card taps failed four times. The driver then moved the bus about ten feet & then her card worked!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Yeah, that appears to be caused by spotty cellular coverage.

  • It's pretty bad at the auxiliary entrance to the Merchandise Mart station during rush hour. It used to work well, but ever since Ventra, there is almost always a line going halfway down the stairs during rush hour, and it gets longer the more people who switch to Ventra.

    It often takes multiple taps, and the display doesn't clear properly after users go through, so the next person isn't sure when they should tap and go. About 1 out of 4 or 5 people tap it, it says Go, and then they get stopped in the turnstile, which really slows things down. Perhaps it's more a problem with that entrance - that there should be more than one exit/entrance turnstile there, but it certainly was much, much less of a problem in the old system.

    Bus loading takes way too long too, for similar reasons.

  • In reply to tambreet:

    I assume you're referring to the unattended gate on the northwest portion of the station? I totally agree. It's equally bad trying to get out of the gate now. Since there is only a single gate, you may have to wait several minutes for the inbound queue to empty before getting through. It's a joke. They really need a dedicated one-way "out" gate at the location.

  • During the evening rush, it's the northeast gate that's the problem. It's bad in general and when a train empties out with people trying to exit as other people enter, it gets way worse.

    I think the west side isn't as much of an issue because it's not so out of the way to go through the Mart.

  • honestly, since day 1, i've never encountered one issue using my ventra card. i hated the magentic stripe cards, which i used to lose all the time. keep up the good work, cta

  • In reply to ambrosewilde:

    Exactly how long have you worked for either the PR departments of the CTA or Cubic?

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Losing cards isn't an issue that's very much affected by which kind of card it is. If one didn't like the flimsy throw-away cards, the Chicago Card was an improvement. And it worked fine for most of us most of the time.

  • I've had much more success with tapping my card, particularly on buses where it used to be a problem.

    Also, I've noticed that bus drivers no longer just let you walk through if the card doesn't work. They are now saying that you have to put your fare in to ride. There must be an expectation that the card works well enough at this point. I think some people were scamming the system based on my observations.

  • So far so good, but like eBob, I'm an infrequent and irregular user––there being, as I have griped before, apparently no jobs in my field in reach of transit. Let me tell you, just as an aside, I wish I had a CTA commute to complain about again.

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