CTA bus driver explains why he must ask for cash fare after 2 Ventra fails

There are two sides to every story, of course. In a post last week about the switch to Ventra, Cheryl commented that “now the bus drivers are started to ask people to pay cash if they can’t get their Ventra cards to work.”

A CTA bus driver replied to the comment, and I wanted you all to see it:

Trust me, if the drivers had it our way, we would let you sit down after the first two tries. Here’s the deal.

We aren’t trying to make you pay, but, you really have no idea how much CTA has pitted us against the public. We as drivers are mandated that if the cards read “Insufficient Fare” after tapping twice, CTA told us as drivers that we are to request a cash fare. I promise you this is not our doing.

You think you are stressed about this (trust me, I understand that and you should be)? We are even more stressed about this system because they have spotters riding watching us. If we don’t do this, we get called into the office for an automatic write-up that we cannot fight if we don’t follow CTA’s procedures about this Ventra.

Five write-ups and we have lost our jobs. No exaggeration. We have lost operators because of this.

Please understand – it is not us. We can’t do a damn thing about it either. A majority of us feel bad for the customers because we know, but, CTA is the one creating these rules and set us up to come to the forefront to look like a bunch of jackasses over this VENTRA system.

I need my job. It sucks for everybody. Now, I have seen some of my coworkers be a**holes about it, but, the majority of us do understand, so when we are requesting cash fares, we’re not disputing you, per se – we are trying to save our jobs.

I would say more, but, I’m frustrated for you all as well as myself and I’m just trying to earn a living.

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  • I'm the person who pointed this out and I have no problem with the drivers. It's not their fault I will end up going to jail for refusing to pay a fare or get off the bus because their overlords are making them do this.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    That's just stupid. Grow up.

  • In reply to Phillip9:

    What's your problem Phillip?

  • In reply to Phillip9:

    Why? I have paid $100 for a monthly pass. It's not my fault the card readers don't work. I'm not paying again for something I've already paid for.

  • Kevin, bringing up my comment about National Driver's Day or whatever it was, why don't you invite the head tyrant Claypool for another half hour session to explain why harassing the employees is preferable to not admitting again that Cubic cooked the books, and this system does not work. He was supposed to be the business genius worth his $192K a year (now $204K). But again he has PR lying.

    And, in a related topic, how is he explaining threatening to demolish wide swaths of the North Side, mostly for "staging areas," and, since he doesn't have the money, causing condemnation blight? I'm sure he can spin that in 10 minutes and walk out.

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    I understand that it is not the driver's fault. They are doing their jobs. Howevere, it is the responsibility of the rider to make sure they have the stored value adequate for their trip, just like in the old system. I have a Ventra card and I have "backup" cash on me just in case the card fails.
    If we all do this, then it puts the pressure off the bus driver.

  • In reply to Kenneth Byrd:

    Cheryl discussed this when you last brought it up. There is no point in having extra cash on it if it has a pass. The pass should not register "insufficient fare" unless it is expired.

  • In reply to Kenneth Byrd:

    And if you mean cash cash, CTA, unlike Metra, does not issue paper fare receipts. So, how is she going to get her $2.25 back?

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    In reply to Kenneth Byrd:

    Good job trying to defend an inept company lmao! If someone buys a $100 dollar pass through their system then how does the issue with the readers become the consumers fault? We're not talking about a card with insufficient funds! If you are running a multi-million dollar operation that handles money then you should hire the RIGHT people to make sure your readers work properly. It's absurd to have to carry "back-up" cash to pay for something you ALREADY paid for. Place the blame where it belongs......Ventra

  • In reply to Justin King:

    Except there ain't no such entity as Ventra. Responsibility is Cubic's, although also CTA's for poor contract management.

    There was the report that the readers are so bad, Pace sends out supervisors' cars to swap them en route, but CTA doesn't.

  • And the worst part about the Ventra mess that for under $20 million, maybe a lot less, the CTA could have gotten a new source for the RFID chips used in the Chicago Cards & kept the same system they had for years.
    But I'm sure some politically connected consultants got 10% of what Cubic is getting from the CTA, which means about $50 million!
    And then the politicians will get some of that, in campaign contributions & $100 bills under the table.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    In that Dick Mell suddenly had to go into the lobbying business so that he could hire his real estate licensed daughter, there may be something there. Similarly, there were reports about Bombardier and Alstom having hired lobbyists for the 5000s contract, and certain politically connected consultants showed up to prebid meetings signing in as representing some Chinese electric bus assembler, there is something going on.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    There is no shortage of electronics manufacturers and distributors that would have taken a $20 million contract. The fact that the tech they'd been using was no longer in wide usage is a ridiculous excuse they were throwing out there. Making a chip that stores a value and sends out a signal at a specific frequency is not somehow an archane, artisanal skill lost to antiquity. If anything, companies should be able to make them cheaper now than they have in the past.

  • I've never had my card display "insufficient fare" after tapping twice, but this seems like a fairly decent operating procedure. This does not sound like a "Ventra fail" to me, unless it is displaying "insufficient fare" when there is a balance left. This sounds like just not having enough money on the card, which happens more often when you don't display balances at the turnstiles (one of my major beefs with Ventra).

    But every day my card fails to be read-i.e., I have at least 2 "Ventra fails". Most of the time I keep tapping 4 or 5 or 6 or 10 times until it finally reads, but the bus drivers are starting to get frustrated and are just waving me through more often.

  • I didn't realized CTA was in the business of letting people who have expired cards ride for free. No doubt that are savvy individuals who do this on purpose to see if they can get a free ride. Pun intended.

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    In reply to chris:

    Obviously you didn't read the article lmao!! It's talking about faulty card readers as a catalyst to "letting people ride for free"! Reading is fundamental!!

  • In reply to Justin King:

    I read the article just fine. You simple assumed the problem was with the card reader and that nobody is trying to board for free. I did not.

  • In reply to chris:

    But apparently Cheryl, who started this whole L train of thought was not, as she pointed out that she paid $100 for a pass.

  • In reply to jack:

    I'm commenting on the problem in general, not Chery's particular issue.

  • In reply to chris:

    I know you're trying to be funny, chris, but you've failed. I, like Cheryl, also puts $100.00 on my card every month. We are not out here trying to cheat the CTA out of funds, but the CTA sure as hell is trying to cheat us. You get a bus driver telling you to pay cash? Tell them no and sit down. I'm not giving them any extra money. I really hope Ventra goes down, and we can go back to the Chicago Card/Plus and the strip cards.

  • In reply to mulder42:

    I doubt you can prove that each and every person experiencing this problem truly has the money on their card. I'm suggesting I've seen people try to scam these systems because they knew there were problems. I think it works both ways. I didn't say you or Cheryl are cheating CTA, but I think some people do. Personally, I've not had an issue with my card reading since 2013.

  • In reply to chris:

    It doesn't matter if there are cheats. What matters is that people who have paid are being asked to pay more. I've never been refused passage on a bus but I have had times that the readers at the train station took 4 or 5 tries, then worked. If I had been on a bus, I'd be out cash or left at the stop.

  • In reply to Myshkin:

    If you can provide the numbers of how many people are invalidly receiving Insufficient Funds, then we can talk. I've only heard of 1 so far.

  • In reply to mulder42:

    I'm sure you and Cheryl and a few others are in fact having problems, and that's understandable, every system has its problems. I think what Chris is getting at is there are likely tens or hundreds of thousands of people who are claiming their card is not working and they are just trying to scam a free ride. I'm sure the CTA has put this policy in place in order to prevent the loss of substantial revenue from people trying to scam the system. If Joe Smith tries to get a free ride once and isn't questioned what's stopping from Joe Smith trying to get a free ride the next time, and the time after that? Furthermore what's stopping Joe Smith from telling his friends? What's stopping their friends from telling their friends? Before you know it CTA is out ALOT of $$$ which will result in raised fares for everyone or service cuts.

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    In reply to Impartial Chicagoan:

    "I think what Chris is getting at is there are likely tens or hundreds of thousands of people who are claiming their card is not working and they are just trying to scam a free ride."
    Seriously? I mean seriously. Think about that. Tens to hundreds of THOUSANDS of people trying to claim their card is not working to scam a ride. In a population of three million.

  • In reply to Kevin Kalb:

    Are you agreeing or disagreeing? It might sound like I'm blowing things out of proportion but if you think about it with 1.7 million paid rides during each week day you're looking at 442,000,000 weekday rides per year. 100,000 rides would be .02% of the yearly ridership (100,000/442,000,000). That's 2 out of every 10,000 riders scamming for free rides. Probably an underestimation actually. Say you bump that up to a more realistic 1,000,000 scammed rides per year or .2% (2 out of ever 1,000 riders). Now multiply that by the $2.25 fare and the CTA (as well as tax payers) are out $2.25 million. Now I know I'm pulling numbers out of my you know what but you get the picture. A few free rides might not seem like much but they add up and if we start letting people get away with it it may get out of control and end up costing the taxpayers.

  • In reply to Impartial Chicagoan:

    Really, it would just cost the rest of the riders, not as much the tax payers.

  • In reply to Impartial Chicagoan:

    I'm not claiming any numbers, but I am suggesting there are unscrupulous people who ride the CTA who are savvy enough to scam rides if the option is available to them. I think it is somewhere between the number 1 and the numbers you suggest.

  • I have a ride free permit Ventra card. At least three times a week it shows as "insufficient fare". How can that be?
    At almost every bus stop you'll find someone that has to retry their cards two to three times..or more.
    It was and is total bullshit that the kinks in Ventra are fixed.

  • In reply to Howard Moore:

    I told one potential rider "apparently the Niles Free Bus is too expensive for you."

  • I believe there is a difference between "Insufficient Fare", and the other "fail" message, which indicated the card couldn't be read. If the account doesn't have the funds, then of course they should have to pay with cash.

    Here's the deal, though. How on earth is the "spotter" going to tell the difference between a card that isn't reading, and one that doesn't have the funds. To cover their a**, the driver is going to request a cash fare under both conditions, no?

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    I'm really not trying to create a rage here, I'm just simply explaining what the drivers are up against. Barring everything else, it is not up to the driver to figure out how the "spotter" , as you quoted, will be able to "tell the difference.......etc.", we are just instructed to request a cash fare if one's Ventra card reads "Insufficient Fare" twice. You see, the screens on those terminals can be seen by the riding public depending on where they sit, which a spotter can easily position themselves to monitor. It is even heard of that it may be a spotter/mole themselves who tries to process a payment with a bum card just to see if the driver will do what we are instructed which is simply ask for a cash fare after an IF reading. We understand that a majority of you do, in fact, have sufficient fare for your ride(s), proof and point, I have a friend who has asked me on a couple of occasions to add money to their Ventra account because they were having financial difficulties and needed help until payday. They gave me their account login info, I put money in their account and , just out of curiosity, I logged out of their account then relogged back in. I was furious because the account online showed no reflection of the funds I added and it took about 20-30 minutes for the account to finally reflect the funds I added to my friend's Ventra account. As a driver doing this for a fare paying friend, I was shocked at the length of time it took for the account to reflect. So, I know exactly what goes on as far as adding fares to the cards. I think it is totally unacceptable for these companies not to be expeditious in making your added funds available. I can't help but feel bad for customers whose cards read "IF" and they pull out a receipt or try to show me on their smartphones that they have added funds recently, but, the fact of the matter is, as far as what CTA has mandated, we can't help you. If the public will band together and complain more to BOTH Ventra and CTA, they will be forced to make changes. Im not trying to tell you what to do, we are all adults, but, perhaps if you do carry a little bit of extra cash ( I understand the frustration in that as I barely carry cash on me either and I also understand that why should you have to carry backup for a system that has been shoved down your throats, but, it is one of those "it is what it is" type of situations), but, the key is complain to CTA and VENTRA while doing so, you may not have many issues as far as us simply trying to do our jobs. Once again, please trust me, a majority of us do sympathize with the customers as far as Ventra is concerned. CTA has made us front line targets for potential harassment over an inept fare-collecting system. We are targeted and although, I, myself, am not asking for sympathy for what we endure, I do ask for understanding as far as this matter is concerned now that you've been provided a little light on what the procedures are.

  • In reply to CountingToTen:

    I'm assuming from your description that you used the website and some bank funds transfer to put money in your friend's account.

    It would be a bigger crime if the transit vending machines or some machine at CVS or the like didn't give instant transit value for cash.

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    In reply to SpinyNorman:

    There is a difference. The screen is blue and reads, card cannot be read. The screen is red and reads insufficient funds. The screen can be seen from where passengers sit on the bus, therefore a spotter can and will report us if we're not following the rules which is to request fare twice. If passengers refuse to pay, we are to then report it as theft in service and keep it moving. It is unfair because a lot of times, the reader is incorrect but, we as drivers can't tell what's valid or not. The problem is Ventra/cubics. The public needs to direct their anger to the real culprits and understand that drivers are merely doing there job.

  • In reply to Nashon Dotison:

    I don't see how the passengers or the spotters can read the screen from the seats. On the buses I ride, the reader is angled towards the door. There's simply no way for the passengers, or the driver for that matter, to see the screen. Does the driver have a separate screen or indicator light to show them if the card isn't reading, or if there is insufficient funds in the account?

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    I witnessed this scenario on a CTA bus just last night. The passenger asked a very fair question, "Do you have a scanner on board that will check my balance?"

    "Sorry, no."

    Having such a capability, or, even the capacity to add more funds on the spot to a card shouldn't be that difficult or expensive to add to buses and in the long run, would solve this issue while extending respect and consideration to both sides of the transaction - the driver and the passenger.

  • In reply to Linda LaFianza:

    RGRTA (Rochester, NY) has such a capability in its fare boxes, which vend passes and even overcame the "exact fare" problem by vending a stored value card for your change. Looks like they work with ordinary mag stripe cards, as there are several swipe slots.

    But Forrest Claypool and "consideration to the passenger" are diametrically opposed concepts.

  • In reply to Linda LaFianza:

    My understanding of the way the system works is that the card itself (unlike the old Chicago cards) does not actually have the amount of the value stored on it. When the system "reads" the card, it's really accessing the information on the account through some wireless connection, which is subject to interruption and glitches. (Seems like the supposed superiority of this system is based on the assumption that that never happens.) And if the connection isn't working well enough to register the fare as paid, how would it check the status and value?

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    In hindsight, the system should have been designed as a hybrid, online/offline system. The balance should be stored on the card, and updated when tapped to the reader. If the connection is unavailable, then fine, subtract the fare on the card, and update the central server at the next successful connection.

    This would have been an improvement over the old CC, which required a physical connection at the end of the day to upload a day's worth of data, which allowed possible rides without sufficient funds.

    Allowing usage without an active connection would have dealt with the spotty wireless coverage that we're obviously experiencing.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Balance stored on the card would have been inconsistent with it being an "open rfid system." On the other hand, just about everything CTA has done with respect to Ventra belies that it really is an open system. Double charging people who use bank cards the cash fare was one of the earliest of indications.

  • Has Cubic been able to sell this disaster to any other transit system?
    I doubt it.
    I doubt they ever will.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Cubic Transportation Systems news page states that SF's Clipper Card was extended to some suburban transportation systems. However, the Clipper site says that value is stored on the card, and thus (bringing several comments together) explains that web loads are not immediate, because the value information has to be sent out to the card, so it isn't the open standards system CTA claims. On the other hand, this description tends to reenforce the contention you made that the rationale for the CTA changeover, that Cubic wouldn't supply cards for that kind of system, was a lie (as were the other two rationales).

    Other than some releases for the Opal Card in Sydney, Australia, there isn't any release about a new contract looking back to Aug. 2013.

    There was, of course, the Gaper's Block story about the time that the Ventra situation hit the fan, that Cubic had messed up various other contracts.

  • In reply to jack:

    To explain to anyone that doesn't know it, the stated reason for dumping the Chicago Card was that the manufacturer of the RFID chip, ceased production, why I don't know.
    But since many other transit systems use a similar RFID card based system, it should have been easy for the CTA to find a new supplier for new batches of cards.
    The most it would have cost the CTA is the possibility of added a second card reader to the buses & turnstiles, until only new cards were in use. But only if the existing readers couldn't be adapted to the new cards.
    Switching to Ventra's cellular based system just reeks of corruption, cronyism & bribes!
    If we could get a real investigation of it, the CTA could end up owning all of Cubic Corp, which is a huge defense contractor!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    CTA didn't end up owning NABI, and after about 5 years ended up settling that one for the predicted amount, but mostly in spare parts.

    Of course, the question is who is going to investigate the allegations of corruption, when the law enforcement agencies are involved in a lot of additional stuff. I don't recall anyone from Metra being indicted.

  • In reply to jack:

    If they hired decent lawyers & not the typical connected grad from DePaul, Kent or John Marshall law schools, they'll get a huge settlement from Cubic.
    Maybe enough to start over again, with standard RFID cards!

  • In reply to jack:

    Probably the only one worth indicting stepped in front of a train. The rest just slithered away.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    I wasn't aware of this. It seems kind of strange that CTA didn't find another company for a new RFID chip, and then slowly make a transition to issuing new, updated Chicago Card/Plus cards. This would've made more sense. All this frustration switching to Ventra could have been avoided if some research into other companies was done.

  • In reply to mulder42:

    There was a request for proposals; I don't think we can presume that CTA took the sole bidder (SEPTA is using Xerox). In that there appears to have been a contractual basis for withholding payments to Cubic based on certain metrics, the standards must have been in the request for proposals and incorporated in the contract.

    The only conclusion I can fairly draw is that some time around the Huberman administration, someone thought that open standards media was a good idea, but since then the execution has been abysmal. In addition to the question whether Cubic was technically capable of doing the job, it is now manifest that there was all sorts of fraud in connection with the implementation, including three lies on why CTA just had to do this, deception about the fare schedule, including that bank cards would end up being treated as cash, without transfers, that one has to go through all sorts of hoops to have fares charged on the card fare schedule, etc.

    Pace has engaged in similar deception that it is eliminating Pace to Pace transfers July 1 because Cubic won't maintain the mag card machines, but it seems like plenty of other transit authorities are maintaining mag card systems.

  • In reply to jack:

    It begs the question whether the rotating carousel of CTA employees causes these sorts of problems.

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    Aren't the bus drivers union? Why are you paying dues if the union isn't going to back you against the CTA giving you an automatic write up you can't fight?

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    In reply to JP604:

    Good questions, but that's a looooong story.

  • In reply to JP604:

    They belong to ATU Local 241, but that got emasculated when Darrell Jefferson was kicked out and the international put it under receivership.

    Rapid Transit is represented by Local 308, and while Robert Kelly has been on the tube, especially after the O'Hare crash, what he has said hasn't helped his membership (and appears to have violated the operator's right to fair representation).

    About all the 2 unions agreed on was that when asked to make concessions in 2010, 90% voted that the other 10% could be laid off. Things went downhill after that.

  • Since I'm the one who started this, let me just say I never see the insufficient funds screen. I get the screen that says it can't read my card 3 or 4 times a week. I spend $100 a month on a pass so I am not stealing services or trying to get a free ride. I have in fact prepaid for that ride, so no, I am not going to be paying for it again. I understand the bus drivers haven't all gotten together and decided they're going to start demanding payment if the reader doesn't work 3 times in a row. The whole thing boils down to how CTA management messed up and now are pretending they didn't. Every single person who had anything input at all into switching the CTA from the Chicago Cards to Cubic ought to be fired.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    I agree, Cheryl. If the card doesn't read, the CTA should eat the fare. If the card reads, and doesn't have sufficient funds, then the passenger should pony up the cash to ride.

    My question remains, however, does the driver have a screen/indicator showing the 2 conditions? If "spotters" are riding the buses, and reporting drivers for allowing passengers on the bus, even though the spotters can't see the reader's screen, then something is seriously messed up. I often stand near the front of the bus, as my ride only lasts 3 stops, and I can't see the reader's screen from a standing position. Simply no way a "spotter" is going to tell the difference.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    The drivers have their own screen.
    If you sit in the right spot on any New Flyer bus, you can see it to the left of the fare box.
    It shows "GO" just like the screen on the card reader.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    OK, but more importantly, if it doesn't show "Go", what does it show? Does it differentiate between a "card not read" condition, and an "insufficient fund" condition?

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    It shows exactly the same thing the card reader shows.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    ScooterL is right. I've seen the screen the driver 'sees'. Shows the same thing.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    The drivers have their own screens, though I do not know how anyone sitting on the bus can see them. I'll have to check that out.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    They are not eating the fare. I have paid the fare. The screen does not reflect that.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    Maybe your not tapping your card the right way. I have seen that happen a lot. It's different than the Chicago Card. That bus driver should show you how to do it right.

  • In reply to RunningRampant:

    Yeah right. This is my fault, not Cubic or the CTAs.

  • In reply to RunningRampant:

    Oh, so we need a tutorial now on "How to Properly Tap a Ventra Card"? I seriously doubt that Cheryl is doing anything wrong--her card is not being read. How do you tap your card, RunningR?

    Full disclosure, for myself, before anyone asks me: I hold it with my thumb the long way and place the card on that section below the 'Tap Below' sign. Seems to work most of the time now. The times when it doesn't I'm thinking I tapped too quickly after the person in front of me.

  • In reply to mulder42:

    Since Tammy Chase thinks it is the customer's fault, yes we do. Why else has CTA twice changed the color of the spot where you are supposed to tap? Each bus and turnstile should have a screen with a Flash app to run the video. Like the kiddie party center that requires that customers watch a film and sign a release before entering the play area, so should CTA.

    Caveat, I don't believe this, just making an inference from what was said in October and what was said now.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    Finally, we got to the bottom of this! Thanks for chiming in that you don't see an Insufficient Fare. I wonder if the CTA rules apply to if the card is simply not reading or just the Insufficient Fare.

    It does seem like they need more types of error messages available on their screens, including perhaps how much fare is left on your card which would be helpful after a successful scan.

  • I don't get the fuss. Everyone I know has a card and it works fine. Mine is fine.When CTA got rid of tokens and made every body switch to CTA cards everyone complained. When Chicago Card came around they complained. Folks, change is gonna happen. Find something else to grouse about.

  • In reply to RunningRampant:

    Well, good for you. Consider yourself lucky. 'Just about everyone on here has had the reader fail numerous times since the rollout. At first, it was simply an annoyance, since the drivers eventually let you pass once you tried 4 or 5 times without luck. Now, however, the drivers are starting to demand a cash fare, or kick you off the bus, even though your card and account are in good standing.

    I believe that's a very valid reason to grouse.

  • In reply to RunningRampant:

    If yours works 100 percent of the time, good for you. No one else has a magic card that works 100 percent of the time.

    If my card worked more than 75 percent of the time on the first two tries, I'm not even sure I'd be complaining about it. The fact is, it doesn't. Sometimes no amount of tapping it works. I understand the drivers are put in the position of telling me I need to pay, but I am not going to be doing that.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    I also apparently have a magic card as does my wife. Let's not extrapolate anecdotal evidence onto the rest of the CTA-riding public. It sucks you have a problem, but at this point I think this is exception, not the rule.

  • In reply to chris:

    Like I suggested, has CTA done an independent audit to see if the system really works? No.

    I bet the NABI buses wouldn't have broken if you personally didn't stand on the turntable. Sure....

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