Discussion related to commuter rail and rapid transit operations in the Chicago area including the South Shore Line, Metra Rail, and Chicago Transit Authority.

Moderators: JamesT4, metraRI

  by lstone19
I am just back from a week in Washington, DC where I rode Metro every day. When I compare the fare collection system there to Ventra and what the CTA et al. have done, I become increasingly convinced the CTA was sold a bill of goods.

CTA's justification for scrapping the old mag-stripe card / Chicago Card system was that the cards for Chicago Cards (and Plus) were no longer manufactured. And yet WMATA (Washington's "CTA") has essentially the same system from the same manufacturer (Cubic) and their solution was to find a new manufacturer for the cards. And they did. And it works just fine.

And I saw so much else that works better there. In Chicago, cards expire (about a year for mag-strip cards and four years for the Chicago Cards); in Washington, they don't. In Chicago, if your Chicago Card expired with value on it, it was a pain in the butt to get it moved requiring a phone call or a trip to the CTA office. If a mag-stripe card expired, the value was gone. To move value from a Chicago Card to a Ventra requires a visit to the Ventra customer service center or a "balance transfer event". In Washington, you don't need to worry about moving from SmarTrip (their contactless card) to the next version because as I said above, they found a new manufacturer. And if you have leftover value on a paper fare card, it can be transferred to a SmarTrip card at any fare vending machine.

I had a paper fare card leftover from a visit five (yes, FIVE) years ago with a dollar on it. Even if the card was still good (it was), I assumed it worthless to me since they now surcharge paper fare cards $1.00 (so my dollar would just go to the surcharge). Until I noticed that when you go to add value to SmarTrip, in addition to cash or credit/debit cards, the machine also accepts old paper fare cards and adds the value to your SmarTrip card. Wow! What a concept.

Anther thing (and I don't know how Chicago Card Plus or Ventra handles these so not comparing, just pointing out a good feature): I had a 7-day pass on my SmarTrip. On departure day (day 8), the pass was expired so it would be deducting money. Did it just start deducting? No. First tap, it warned that the pass had expired giving me the opportunity to go to a fare machine and buy another pass. Tapped again and it let me in. Back home now, card put away, but knowing the remaining value is there waiting for me to return whenever with no expiration.

Meanwhile, Chicago officials let themselves be convinced they needed a whole new system all because one vendor didm't want to make the old cards anymore. I wonder if they even looked at what other users of Cubic's systems did. I can just imagine the conversations:

Cubic to WMATA: We're not going to make the cards you use for SmarTrip anymore. You probably need a whole new system.
WMATA: OK, we'll see if someone else will make them for us. Yep, someone can. We'll just continue on as is.

Cubic to CTA: We're not going to make the cards you use for Chicago Card anymore. You probably need a whole new system.
CTA: OK, new system it is. How much do you want for a new system? To whom should we make the check payable?
  by E Runs
I thought there may be more Ventra related posts as the rollout has been an unmitigated disaster. Perhaps there aren't that many L riders on here. I had one of the contactless Chicago Cards that I'd use sparingly and was mostly in my wallet for emergencies. Like many I waited months after confirming my address for the card to arrive and when it did I was without the access code needed to activate it. Long story short I was told the system was having problems with ".net" email addresses. That's some bang up quality controll there! But here comes the best part, after getting the thing activated in person I had to fork over money to be put on it. Never mind I had over $30 sitting on my Chicago Card balance, that would take 72 hours to transfer over. Fabulous! So the CTA gets the luxury of collecting more money from people who need to use their newely activated Ventra cars ASAP due to them holding your Chicago Card money hostage for 72 hours. What a racket. And now to learn that a new system may not have even been nesessary....All I can say is are we surprised? No, no we are not.

Then again without a new system how could the CTA foist a fee laden debit card on people?
  by Passenger
For me the switch from Chicago Card Plus to Ventra was entirely painless. I also found their website easier to use.

As far as I can tell, the day to day deal for an end user is the same as ever and the readers seem to be more reliable (though that may just be that they are new).

But I notice it says "Mastercard" on the Ventra card, and I notice from the website it can be configured as a general debit card.

Question: How much of the revenue is now going to a bank rather than the CTA?

Yet another corrupt deal?
  by tytrain
I didn't have any problems getting, activating, and using my Ventra card, but most of my friends have had assorted issues. One friend is currently getting charged both from her general cash fare account and her 30-day pass every time she taps. Another got overcharged by waving his wallet in front of the machine, where it read both his Ventra card and his contactless Chase card (Ventra/CTA has now clarified that this will happen and recommends against it, but only after many people went through this confusion).

This morning my bus's Ventra read was down and the driver was just waving everyone on. Yesterday a woman had to tap about five times before getting the "Go" message.

I understand new systems will always have rollout issues. What bothers me most about Ventra is that the system is set up poorly.
  by sipes23
I had suspicions that this would be a disaster when I heard about it, but since I didn't use the CTA too often I didn't think too hard about it. Like Passenger, I was dubious when I saw the Mastercard logo. Nothing against the Mastercard folks, as they perform a valuable service, but it had the stink of bad Chicago politics about it. I'm fully expecting an exposé in the Trib or SunTimes about some backroom deal.

Now I've moved to the big, bad city and use the CTA more often. Ugh. I've got one of the old magnetic stripe cards that I'll keep using as long as Ventra is ironing out the bugs. From what I've seen, the Ventra system seems fussier than the previous system.
  by Tadman
My Ventra rollout was a disaster. I run a tech company, so I'm not exactly a little old lady from Joliet... What a joke.
  by lstone19
Ventra transition was a mess for me too. Since I had a Chicago Card, I received one of the pre-registered ones. But I never received (verified from my extensive mail logging) the magic email* with the login information, even after they were allegedly all resent so could not access it on-line. Finally called where whoever I talked to said no email had ever been sent to me - no idea why. Anyway, they did give me login information so it apparently is all set although I have not used it yet (ride CTA about once or twice a year).

* The magic email: what kind of idiot sends email with important account information in it with a spam-ish sounding subject of "Convenience is Coming!" Even if they had sent it to me, it most likely would have beed deleted unopened since from outward appearance, it was spam. And that assumes my spam filters didn't reject it before it ever hit my inbox.
  by Tadman
lstone19 wrote:* The magic email: what kind of idiot sends email with important account information in it with a spam-ish sounding subject of "Convenience is Coming!" Even if they had sent it to me, it most likely would have beed deleted unopened since from outward appearance...
Couldn't have said it better. I saw that asinine subject line and sh**-canned it before I thought twice. I only found it after copious searching. What a bunch of jamokes. Turns out technology is susceptible just as hardware is to the perils of "lowest bidder" and/or "whoever knows Daley or Durbin"...