CTA and PACE roll out Ventra Cards, how would this affect your travel in Chicago?

A new payment system was introduced in September 2013 for Chicago area transit riders to pay for rides on Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and Pace. The payment system, Ventra allows customers to use a single fare card for regional transit throughout the Chicago area.

The Ventra payment system looks to eliminate multiple magnetic-stripe cards and the Chicago Card/Chicago Card Plus currently used for fare payments. Ventra payment system relies on NFC technology to enable transactions at transit. Customers are able to pay for CTA and Pace bus and train rides with cashless payments such as:

i. Contactless Ventra Card which is a transit and prepaid debit card that can be used for transit and everyday purchases.

ii. Disposable contactless paper tickets available at CTA rail stations for 1 Day pass and single rides.

iii. Personal, bank-issued contactless debit or credit cards.

The customers need to ‘tap’ their payment card at ‘L’ stations or to board any CTA or Pace bus. Cash will still be accepted on buses. According to CTA, customers will still be able to purchase passes like the 1-day, 3-Day, 7-Day, 30-day and other reduced and free passes. The fares will be loaded onto the new pre-paid Ventra Cards with cash or tied to existing bank accounts (in order to use their personal credit/debit card, or their NFC, payment-enabled phone).

Customers can buy Ventra cards at rail stations and over 700 retail locations. They can also be ordered online or by phone. Ventra cards have a onetime fee of $5 which is refunded as transit value as long as the customer registers within 90 days. Ventra cards can be reloaded through an online Ventra account.

Customers can also link a Ventra Transit card to their personal card and add transit value or purchase unlimited-ride passes for use with that card. The single ride paper ticket is charged $3.00 (Including $2.25 for rail, 25 cents for transfer, plus the 50 cents limited use fee). The CTA does not believe the onetime $5 purchase of transit value with a Ventra Card will be a barrier to anyone. Especially, those using public transit when a bus round trip fare is $4 minimum and a rail round trip which costs $4.50.

While all this is good, post release of the cards, a number of problems associated with the Ventra cards have been reported from users. Passengers could not register to use their own debit or credit cards. The long waits and dropped calls with the 1-800-VENTRANOW line caused frustration among customers. Some of the other reported problems include – double billing, problem purchasing Ventra cards from retailers, activation problems, etc.

Speaking on the phased release of Ventra Card, Brian Steele (VP - Communications and Marketing, CTA) said 'The main reason we opted for phased rollout is to identify the issues. We understand it’s a big change. But once you go through process you realize it’s not much different from the Chicago Card/Plus. The overall process is an easy one for users once they start using Ventra.

Ventra Cards are made available at multiple locations throughout Chicago. Users also have an option to get balances transferred from their existing cards to Ventra cards, at no cost. Existing non-Ventra card users can see what it means for them to make a switch from current CTA/PACE fare to Ventra Card.

[caption id='attachment_1097' align='aligncenter' width='928'] Source: Chicago Transit Authority[/caption]

Similar cards used in USA for transit purposes include Clipper card in California, SmarTrip card in Washington, Freedom card in New Jersey, etc.

LTP View: The Ventra system may provide a unique opportunity to combine transit and retail accounts in one card. Which would enable customers to leverage benefits associated with cashless payments. CTA and PACE have plans to phase out the existing payment system by December, 15th 2013. The public outcry of malfunctioning of Ventra Cards, may also have an impact on its acceptance rate and affect the deadline to make the switch.