CTA responds on "insufficient funds" message from Ventra card reader

In my post from Monday (CTA bus driver explains why he must ask for cash fare after 2 Ventra fails), I started out by noting that “there are two sides to every story.”

Now the CTA has asked me to give their side of the story:

New CTA Ventra readerThe Ventra reader screens were upgraded earlier this year to offer customers information about their account; a screen message of “insufficient fare” means a customer’s account doesn’t have adequate funds to cover their ride.

While the method of payment is changing for customers, CTA’s policy on collecting a fare has not. The policy of not allowing customers to board without paying a fare is a longstanding one. It’s no different than with the legacy fare cards that the CTA is currently phasing out. In short, if you don’t pay, you don’t ride.

Finally, the bus operator’s characterization of the incident underscores the need for a firm and clear policy for how bus operators accept Ventra fare payments. Bus operators are the CTA’s ambassadors to customers. Their role includes understanding that Ventra is their fare payment system, just as the legacy fare payment system was. It’s part of their job to collect fares from customers. If a fare payment card is not working, a bus operator can explain why (i.e., insufficient fare) and let the customer know his or her options.

I think the vast majority of CTA Tattler readers agree that no rider should get a free ride. And we all agree that it’s the driver’s responsibility to collect the fare. I saw a couple people comment that they “insufficient funds” message was erroneous because they have a pass. So what should they do? Do this, says the CTA spokesperson:

It is an extremely rare scenario in which a Ventra card holder with a pass would receive an “insufficient funds” message—it would only happen if they incurred a negative balance on the transit purse (stored value) of the card.

If a customer receives a card-reader message that prevents them from using their card, they should ask the bus operator for assistance.  One of the biggest issues we’ve seen in our field observations is that many riders are still trying to touch too quickly, or holding their cards at an angle to the reader, instead of touching the card flat in the middle of the reader.

In such cases the reader can’t read the card. This learning curve was expected, as more than 80 percent of our customers are using contactless cards on transit for the first time. In fact, we posted a video a few months ago to help educate customers.  Operators can help make sure that the card is being touched on the reader correctly.

If a customer gets an “insufficient fare” or other message, they can call customer service, who can help them quickly address the issue.

She added this:

For many years, in cases where farecards are not working, our policy has been for drivers to attempt to collect the fare twice before asking for another form of payment.  Drivers also have discretion to allow a passenger to ride.  Current CTA policy is for operators to request a fare after two “Stop:  Insufficient Fare” messages.  That means the customer has attempted to pay twice unsuccessfully.  This is different than two unsuccessful attempts to read the card (which would result in a “Card Not Read” message).  The two messages are distinguished by different color screens and different audio tones.

Again, incidents in which a card won’t work at all are rare, and getting rarer.  As you’ve seen from the Ventra performance reports, touch times are down dramatically, system uptime has remained above 99 percent, and currently nearly every 9 out of 10 rides are taken with Ventra, well over a million rides each day. 

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  • So, as usual, the anonymous spokesmodel* spoke out of both sides of her mouth without answering the question.

    I assume that if the machine can't read the card at all, it isn't going to produce an "insufficient funds" message, so stop blaming the rider.

    As far as "calling customer service," are riders supposed to have a cell phone, whip it out in front of thieves, and have the bus wait 2.5 minutes for "customer service" to pick up?

    Finally, if drivers are really ambassadors, why is CTA management treating them like the ambassador in Bemghazi? I don't see any denial of CountingToTen's account, especially about the spotters and discipline.

    I still think that if you aren't going to hold the propaganda dept's feet to the fire, they ought to pay you for doing their business.

    *Since attributed as "she," maybe it was not Brian Steele. He was off lying to the Tribune on something else.

  • In reply to jack:

    I assume she meant after the bus driver kicks you off the bus, then you can call customer service. If you have a cell phone you can be on hold for half an hour to be told it is somehow your fault. If have no cell, you're you really shouldn't be riding mass transit anyway.

    What happens a rider is mistakenly kicked off and is then assaulted, mugged, raped, or shot? I assume the CTA thinks they can cook the books enough to deflect blame and avoid the huge lawsuit. They'll probably fire the driver.

  • In reply to johnpseudonym:

    If a rider misses a bus connection by a few seconds and then is mugged, is the CTA also responsible if the driver was a few seconds ahead of schedule? Let's not be ridiculous.

  • In reply to chris:

    Not legally for the mugging, but the driver is still on the hook. The usual service standard is that a bus is off schedule if it is 1 minute early or 5 minutes late, and they have gps to check that.

  • In reply to jack:

    Why on earth is the CTA blaming the public for not swiping correctly.
    I've been using several different RFID cards for years & all you have to do is wave it in front of the reader.
    You don't have to place it flat on the reader, that defeats the purpose of it.
    The facts are that either the antenna in the reader is poorly designed & manufactured, or the antenna in the card is poorly designed & manufactured or both.

    Now since I never remove my card from my wallet & it gets read correctly about 75% of the time, I'm going to guess that there's something wrong with the readers or the antennas in the readers, instead of the cards. Remember the huge problem Apple had with iPhone 4 antennas?
    Then there's the fact that there are a couple of L station turnstiles that never, ever work with my card & I have called to complain about them. But the CTA says they will then contact Ventra about the problem.
    But the reader at the east turnstile at Granville still never works for me & it's at least a month since I first complained about it! There's one at Clinton/Lake that's also a recurrent problem.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    I mentioned earlier a news item that Pace was sending out supervisor cars to replace readers en route, while CTA won't. That would tend to support your theory.

    If some reader on a turnstile continually fails to work, one would think that the Customer Assistant would have reported it. So, something is falling through the cracks.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Pretty sure it was the east turnstile that I used last night so maybe it is fixed. Although the middle one, (left of wheelchair gate) said out of order so maybe they just switched them.

  • In reply to jack:

    Jack - I didn't realize you were so optimistic as to think somebody can get in touch with Ventra "customer service" in 2.5 minutes. I am on hold with them now to find out why my auto-replenish hasn't worked the last 4 times, despite the fact that the card it's hooked up to is valid and has plenty of money on it, and I've been on hold for 20 minutes and counting.

  • Please read the second quote, where the spokesperson says it's "It an extremely rare scenario in which a Ventra card holder with a pass would receive an “insufficient funds” message."

    I haven't heard from anyone here that this scenario has happened to them. It hasn't happened to me.

    If you don't have enough on the card to pay your fare, then you should be booted. Same now as in the past.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    How does the anonymous sandbagger know? Does she really think people do what john says? And if they get kicked off the bus, do they have any proof, if "customer service" picks up. No, like they don't have any independent proof regarding Cubic's statistics.

    Chase and Steele shoveled a bunch of manure the first two days sales of cards at TVMs were terminated, and they are shoveling it now.

    BTW, did Ms. Spokesmodel have any news on the class action being dismissed? I don't think so.

  • In reply to jack:

    Jack, what do you suggest CTA drivers should do when cards show "insufficient funds"? Just let them keep riding? Wouldn't be much incentive to actually put money on the card then would it?

    Again, I don't see any difference in how they are dealing now with cards with no money than a year ago.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    1. I suggest that CTA get an independent audit of what Cubic is doing, and, then as as result of that audit, fire them.

    2. I don't expect the drivers to be subject to hidden spotters and the employment death sentence.

    iBill may have been a bit over the top, but you seem to be in at least Steele's pocket that this is all the drives' and passenger's fault. Safeway had a similar attitude and is now out of business.

    You have essentially relied on a strawman. Why don't you ask Steele about the independent audit or why you are getting so many complaints here if Cubic really is meeting service standards? I bet it isn't. No different than NABI.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    It could be possible that the customer has put money on the card, but its not showing up yet. I know Ventra is saying that it takes about 30minutes for the money to register, but some cards might take more time.

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    In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    What do we suggest they do? I suggest that the CTA should deploy a system that doesn't say "insufficient funds" when in fact there are funds available. If its system does not meet this standard, it should not deploy that system. It's not as though the system was handed down as an act of god, and now the CTA has no choice but to make the best of it. The CTA designed the system. The CTA had the system built. The CTA deployed the system. Any responsibility for its deficiencies lies on the CTA management. It certainly doesn't lie on bus drivers or passengers.

    The CTA can assert that this is rare as many times as it likes, but that doesn't make it true. It is not rare at all. It is routine, as anyone who rides a bus regularly can attest. It's happened to many people I know, in the past couple of weeks.

    Nor is the alleged reduction in tap times at all visible from this end, regardless of what their reports allegedly show.

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    In reply to Eli Naeher:

    Also, many times the funds are actually insufficient, but this is because the Ventra auto-load functionality--which worked perfectly on the Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus, and which has been advertised to work on Ventra, although it does not--has been broken since the very beginning of the Ventra fiasco. You set it to auto-load, and it simply doesn't.

    Once again: not the customer's fault, not the bus driver's fault. 100% the fault of the system designers. It is unacceptable that the end users, who bear none of the responsibility, have to bear all of the hassle.

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    In reply to Eli Naeher:

    I have had this exact problem on a number of occasions. This first time auto load at the beginning wasn't working. Fortunately I was at an el station. Another time on a bus it said I had insufficient funds. For some reason the auto load didn't work and it said there was an issue with the credit card. I was able to go online and add funds manually with that same credit card. Then it started working again.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    This isn't much different before, except now there is "technology" in between. People don't understand it, and so they blame it. Mag stripe cards also failed too. I've seen people scamming this when the Ventra was having issues. They would purposely scan the card in a way that caused it not to read over and over in hopes that the driver would waive them through. Now that the Ventra is working pretty well, they can't just waive every person through that has a problem.

  • In reply to chris:

    Again, if they are waiving the card in a way that can't be scanned, how is the reader getting a reading?

    I saw people put their hand over the slot of the fare box with nothing dropping. However, for some strange reason, CTA is not getting rid of the fare boxes, even though they lied that Ventra would eliminate handling cash.

  • In reply to jack:

    Partial reading. Just like if you swipe a credit card at a store and it says "Please swipe again". It knows you tried, but was unsuccessful in getting the info it needs.

    I don't understand your "hand over the slot of the fare box" comment.

  • In reply to chris:

    Driver's standing outside the front door for some reason, like maybe a smoke, at Union Station or Davis. Passengers come up to the farebox, and uncup their hand facing down, like they are dropping a handful of coins into the fare box. However, they aren't.

    IIRC, the GFI farebox dumps coins automatically into the vault if it registers a full fare. Driver gets back into the seat and doesn't find anything amiss.

  • In reply to jack:

    In that case, it's simply the driver not caring. You can easily hear the clinking of coins when they enter the machine and go into the vault.

  • In reply to chris:

    I'm merely saying what the scam was, and that I witnessed it. Note also I said that the driver was outside the bus.

    Whether prior administrations had the disciplinary response this one does is beyond my knowledge.

    Also, my point was that CTA isn't getting rid of the GFI fareboxes, even though they said they were obsolete 10 years ago. And certainly not for the reason of potential fare evasion.

  • In reply to jack:

    I'm suggesting it is less of a scam and more of a driver not caring. Like catcher indifference in baseball, it's not a stolen base.

  • In reply to jack:

    The only reason this is relevant is that someone got a free ride.

    Isn't that clear enough?

    Is the ride any less free because the driver didn't catch it?

    Similarly, isn't it still shoplifting, even though the store security officer didn't stop you? Or do WWE "rules" apply here?

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Actually, it did happen quite frequently at first, as the 'auto-load' function did not work. Many of us had passes expire without reloading, even though the auto-load setting was enabled. They appear to have corrected the issue.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    This is exactly what happened to me. The pass auto-load stopped working and it started using my transit value without my knowledge. I didn't know until I received a "low account balance" message on a bus. When I checked my Ventra account online, the pass auto-load was turned off, and I decided to leave it off, because I wasn't using my 30-day pass enough anyway, and just purchase transit value as needed. This was in November. On Jan 4th, I checked my transit value balance online, because I knew it should be low, and discovered that the pass auto-load had been reactivated without my knowledge and I had actually been using a 30-day pass since Dec 23rd. I had been out of Chicago for the entire time for the holidays and was out $100. I talked to dozens of people at CTA and Ventra for 3 months trying to explain the situation and get a refund. In the end, once I finally got them to perform a thorough investigation, a manager apologized and acknowledged that there was clearly a glitch in their system, but because it showed that my pass auto-load was "on" the whole time, the would never refund me any money. They need to change the card readers so that they also display whether transit value or a pass is used to pay each fare. Then situations like this can be avoided and CTA and Ventra won't be able to get away with theft.

  • In reply to beauluby:

    I don't understand; how can the auto-load be "on" if you had it set to "off"? Sounds like Ventra is scamming customers for extra dough. Were you ever refunded the money, beauluby? A hundred bucks doesn't grow on trees! I'm glad I keep my auto-load off, but I'll make sure to periodically check to see that it stays off.

  • In reply to mulder42:

    That was the glitch in their system. It showed that the pass auto-load was off on my account, so I just left it that way, and then apparently around Dec 20th the pass auto-load turned itself back on and bought me a 30-day pass without my knowledge. According to Ventra, their is no digital evidence of it turning off and back on, and even though the transit value charges between 2 30-day passes prove that the glitch occurred, a manager said that they would never refund me any money. In the 30 days that I had the pass, I used the equivalent of $11.50 in transit value, some without my knowledge and some because I had to go places, so I was only requesting $88.50 back.

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    In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    This happened to me last night and I was pissed. I had just put $40.00 bucks on the damn thing, it was 1am, and I had just gotten off of work. If the driver wasn't nice enough to let me ride I would have been fucked. Just because it's never happened to you, doesn't mean it never happens!

    So if their machine is broken why should I be responsible for having a cash fare, when I have 40 bucks on the damn card?!

  • I ride the bus (occasionally) and train (mostly) and I have never seen anyone with an insufficient fare. But if you don't have the money, why should you ride? This is the way it's been for the many years since mag strip cards and Chicago Cards have been around--why should it suddenly change? There's no question Ventra had issues last year, but they appear to be fixed. It's funny how some people now want to claim that *any* issue they experience is Ventra's fault.

  • In reply to sanderj80:

    "but they appear to be fixed." How do you know? Is Cheryl lying? Or have you retained an accounting firm to do an audit?

  • In reply to sanderj80:

    Because most of time, it is Ventra's fault. Money's on my card; card not read--Ventra's fault. If you really believe all the problems "appear" to be fixed, you're living in fantasyland, sanderj80.

  • Again, I don't see the insufficient funds message, I get the other one. The one that CTA spokesperson failed to address. Am I supposed to be carrying cash around so that if the card reader fails to read my card 3 times in a row I'll have to pay again for the ride? Because again, that won't be happening.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    Cheryl--and anyone else affected--you should probably spell the situation out again in detail as pertains to problems with monthly passes. Then we can ask the CTA PR people reading this blog if they are willing to directly address it without using the word "rare," because that's no help to the person it happens to, the person who has done what was required of them.

    If there was a problem due to factors that were fixed at some point in time, well, that would be a better answer. Knowing Ventra's history, vague assurances that no problem ever existed cut no ice with us. Truth could be refreshing. Why are they so stingy with it?

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    Because I am no longer on speaking terms with the CTA or Cubic.

  • I rode the #66 bus yesterday, and I could clearly see the driver's display from 10 feet back. The screen is normally black/gray with small text in white. When a passenger boarded the bus and swiped their card successfully, the screen displayed a green "Go" message for 1 or 2 seconds, which was clearly visible.

    A 2nd passenger swiped, and the display showed a red "Stop" with very small white text below it. It was hard to read, but appeared to say "Insufficient Funds".

    I did not see a passenger swipe unsuccessfully, so I don't know what is displayed in this scenario. I will keep an eye open for it, but I have to assume it will display the "Card Not Read" message.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    And what was the ratio of cards that were successful versus unsuccessful (for any reason) on your #66 bus yesterday?

  • In reply to chris:

    Only the one rider had insufficient funds. They quickly reached for their purse, and pulled out cash, so I assume they knew they were reaching a low finds situation.

    OTOH, yesterday morning almost all the early morning riders boarding the #66 eastbound at the Larrabee/Chicago stop had problems reading the card, including myself. This area has p*ss-poor wireless reception, and reader problems occur on a regular basis.

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    The spokesperson says "It is an extremely rare scenario in which a Ventra card holder with a pass would receive an “insufficient funds” message" I use a U-Pass ventra card and continually receive messages at random from the card reader indicating I have a low account balance. My card is a pass for the entire semester, why would the account balance pertain to the card/pass?

  • In reply to Kevin Brouillette:

    I have seen this happen when a friend of mine uses his U-Pass. It generally happens when he uses it multiple times in a short period. I thinks it's just how the system is programmed. There may be some unseen deductions followed by unseen reloads, so if the U-Pass is used again before the system has time to cycle, it displays a "low account balance" message. I went to IIT and am friends with a lot of CS students and we agree that while Ventra has some positive aspects (e.g. boarding efficiency...sometimes), the people at Cubic aren't very good programmers. It's 2014 and Ventra still isn't a live system, just like the Chicago Cards weren't on a live system.

  • In reply to Kevin Brouillette:

    You're "rare." Don't you feel special now? Problem all gone?

  • (e.g. boarding efficiency...sometimes)

    In other words, it just plain stinks at everything it was supposed to improve.

  • This scenario hasn't happened to me yet, so far. Before I leave for work and before I go home, I always check my Ventra account balance online to make sure I have enough funds on my card to cover the fares. When I put money on my card manually (Currency Exchange, Walgreens, Jewels, etc.), I always carry my receipt with me so in the event that this does occur when I board the bus and tap my card on the reader, I will have evidence that I placed money on my card.and the receipt will show the amount added to my card and the total amount on the card. I personally don't use the auto-load feature or the 30-day pass feature at all. However, I personally think there are still some glitches on the card readers that's still causing the cards to be scanned improperly, so it's not the passenger's fault at all.

  • In reply to edwinwilliams:

    But one shouldn't have to babysit their account for system glitches. Do you constantly check your bank and credit card accounts? It's the same thing, none of these accounts should require so much attention and effort. If Ventra was a live system like banking and pretty much everything else in this century, we wouldn't have most of these problems.

  • In reply to beauluby:

    Right now, it seems like we do have to keep a close eye on our accounts, otherwise Ventra will rob us blind.

  • In reply to mulder42:

    And that's the sort of deal the current leadership of the City of Chicago will get for us, every time. Good to know.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    Although I have to check various other types of accounts on line to make sure I am not taken, the reports here seem endemic. Note, though, that unlike September and October, where there was a new outrage every day, the mainstream media isn't finding any 6 months later.

    However, so long as Claypool is perfect and Tammy Chase is there to spread that gospel, you are correct.

    I mentioned elsewhere that I am still waiting for the Messiah. Some Cubs fan thinks Theo is already it.

  • Buy a second card. Run it down to one or two rides. Write a big "X" on it white permanent marker. Use your other card normally. As soon as there is a glitch go into action. Immediately use the X card for this ride.

    In the scenario above where the auto reload option was turned on by Ventra immediately turn off the auto reload. Wait a day and turn it back on. Then notify Ventra of the loss and demand that they show you their audit trail of when the auto-load was turned off and on. If they can't show you it because there isn't one then demand your money because they have no proof that you turned it on (or off). That is a mal-practice on their part. If they can show you, well, you'll have to figure out whether they are lying and made up a report for you or you were mistaken and they were right. My guess is they don't have an audit trail of when you turn on and off your auto-load and from what ip-addess you do it from. They can do that and if they are not then it is proof of an inadequate software.

  • At 2PM today, I was exiting at Granville.
    As I was at the bottom of the stairs, there was a woman trying to use a Ventra card at the east turnstile. She tapped it at least 5 times & it didn't work. As I walked through the other turnstile to exit, I told her it never works correctly & to use the one I went through.
    She entered that turnstile on a single tap!
    And still, they won't replace the reader at the east turnstile at Granville!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    I don't think I've ever used the east one with a Ventra card. It makes sense to me to keep to the right and let exiting people use the one on our left, their right. Not but what the general publilc seems to be using their grip on the "keep to the right" concept.

  • Please try the left [east] one occasionally.
    I'd like to hear if others have the same problem.

  • It amazes me how many people still have problems with Ventra. Maybe I'm just lucky but I don't seem to have any problems anymore. Just hold the card in front of the reader until it says go. It's as easy as that. I watch people all the time barely go near the screen with their cards thinking the scanner will be able to read it. I for one think it's user error at least half the time.

  • In reply to RFlores80:

    I see people put their cards directly on the reader & get a "Try Again" over & over.
    It's not their fault, it's Cubic's fault & the CTA is letting them get away with it.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Maybe some Ventra cards are "defective" or the readers are. I haven't had any problems lately, but there's always that one time when I have to tap the card again, usually at a train station for some reason. I think its a conspiracy! :evilgrin:

  • In reply to mulder42:

    If you've read my previous posts on this, it's the readers that are no good, because I repeatedly have problems on the same L station readers, but the next one over works every time.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    I'm with you, Scooter. Maybe RFlores is just lucky. Maybe what your eyes see counts for something. Maybe there were some serious problems with the Ventra system and maybe they are not all fixed.

  • My Ventra card is connected to my moms bank account and refills itself but it is not working for me now. My brother has the same card under my mothers bank account and his works. This is really bugging me because my card should work.

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    I'm from Boston and I visited Chicago last week. Leaving O'Hare, I had to pick up a Ventra card, which was new to me. I wasn't a fan of the $5 fee just for getting Ventra card, so I hoped I could load enough fare onto one card for both my wife and I.

    The 7-Day Pass seemed like the best value for our time there, so I added one to the Ventra card. Now, in Boston, whenever you use a weekly train pass, it can't be re-used for 10 minutes afterward - this is to keep people from handing the pass over to a limitless number of friends. So after letting my wife through the turnstile, I had the brilliant idea to add a SECOND 7-Day Pass to our Ventra card, thinking my wife and I could use them interchangeably. (There was no CTA employee present at the O'Hare station turnstiles, naturally, so I had no way of verifying) Lo and behold, when I tapped the card a second time, it said GO, and we were on our way.

    Partway through our third day, after I tap the card for my wife to go through, I tap again and am told I have INSUFFICIENT FUNDS. I go back to the Ventra machine to check the card and I have a -$12 balance. The second 7-Day Pass which I had thought was working as I had hoped was actually a SUBSEQUENT 7-Day pass, and would not be effective until the current 7-Day Pass was expired, AFTER I had left Chicago. Only now that I had hit the arbitrary balance of -$12 was I learning this. Now I'm out 30 bucks.

    If the turnstiles provided more valuable information than STOP or GO I might have been able to deduce more about the status of my Ventra balance. And if the Ventra card didn't accept passes with a negative balance, I would have known about this much sooner. And if there was an employee around at O'Hare (O'Hare, for chrissakes! The confounded tourist's gateway into Chicago!) I might have been able to better understand what actions I should have taken. I'm not saying I'm completely blameless in the assumptions I made, but come on. I'm a tourist, I just got here, I wanna leave the airport, and all I have to go on are previous public transit experiences, so please don't make me learn a new language with no guidance just to get into the city - a language that apparently people who already live there don't even like themselves.

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