CTA ends sales of old fare cards as Ventra transition continues

Written By BY ROSALIND ROSSI Transportation Reporter Posted: 06/02/2014, 06:07am

Chicago Transit Authority magnetic-stripe fare cards moved closer to becoming a relic Thursday, as the CTA stopped selling new ones during its march toward a Ventra-only payment system.

Also starting Thursday, customers will no longer be able to auto-load or reload Chicago Card Plus or Chicago Cards. By June 1, magnetic stripe reloads will end.

And by July 1, a transition that began last August — only to be temporarily halted by glitches last fall — will be complete.

CTA officials insisted Wednesday that the bugs have been wrung out of Ventra but some drivers and riders said multiple taps are still common. Some bus operators worry they will face increased rider abuse due to a requirement that they request cash payment after two card readings of “insufficient funds.’’

The CTA’s March count indicated the new plastic cards are taking an average of 0.83 seconds to register payment on buses and 0.50 seconds at rail turnstiles. Overall, bus and rail readers work more than 99 percent of the time, officials say.

“The system has far exceeded our expectations,” CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis said Wednesday.

Any mulit-tap problem was not one of “reader functionality” but of “customer education” on the right way to tap the card, Lukidis said. Some riders tap too quickly or at the wrong angle, she said.

Charles Paidock of the transit group “Citizens Taking Action for Transit Dependent Riders” said the faster boarding promised with Ventra has yet to materialize and his monthly pass is not accepted on the first tap almost half the time.

“How complicated can this be that you gotta take a lesson in this?” Paidock said. “Just blame the passengers. That’s the easiest thing to do. ‘We’re just incompetent at tapping.’ What are you talking about?”

Some bus drivers say they fear verbal and physical abuse when enforcing a requirement that after two “insufficient fare” taps, they must ask a rider to pay cash — and write a “theft of services” report if they don’t.

They cited the bus driver who was beaten Feb. 14 by two teens after he warned one of them that their Ventra card had “insufficient” funds, according to prosecutors. The driver suffered injuries to his eye socket and needed reconstructive surgery, union officials say.

“That’s the chance you take nowadays,’’ said one driver who asked to remain anonymous. “Considering the violence in the city, you just never know what’s going to happen.’’

“Asking for a fare is going to be a problem to some riders. They want you to accept what’s on their card,’’ the driver said.

“A lot of our drivers are scared because it is putting them in a hostile situation,’’ said Keith Hill, second vice president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241.

“I think the CTA is trying to rush it,’’ said CTA bus operator Herb Kwilinski. “There are still problems with the Ventra system and they are trying to sweep the remainder under the rug.’’

Lambrini said Ventra has been “performing well for months,’’ although she conceded it “has a perception problem in some areas — which is a hangover from the issues that arose last year and have since been fixed.’’

Every Ventra reader has been upgraded and Ventra has “met all of our performance standards and transaction time” for months, she said.

Said Lukidis: “Most customers are using Ventra with no issues.’’

Those who haven’t made the Ventra switch can do so at Ventra vending machines located at 145 CTA rail stations, at more than 1,000 Chicago area retail locations, online at ventrachicago.org; or over the phone at 877-VENTRA-NOW.

Those still holding a bunch of magnetic stripe cards with amounts that don’t add up to a full fare should add the difference at a machine before June 1 so they can use the card one last time before transitioning to Ventra, officials said.

Or customers can transfer unexpired balances from up to five magnetic stripe cards holding a combined minimum value of $5 every Tuesday from 3 to 7 p.m. at CTA headquarters, 567 W. Lake Street.

In addition, balance transfer events will be held Thursday, May 8, at the Jefferson Park Library, 5363 W. Lawrence Ave., from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and on Saturday, May 10, in the cafeteria of Curie High School, 4959 S. Archer from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

June transfer events are listed at ventrachicago.com.

One-day, 3-day, 7-day and 30-day CTA passes are exempt from balance transfers.

Later this spring, the CTA will be announcing details on how customers can mail-in unexpired magnetic stripe cards to transfer balances. Pace customers can use a mail-in option now. Details are available at PaceBus.com/Ventra.

Contributing: Rummana Hussain

Email: rrossi@suntimes.com

Twitter: @rosalindrossi

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