CHICAGO

Ventra Card Debut: Mass Rollout Of New CTA Payment System Starts As Confusion, Questions Persist

09/09/2013 11:59 am ET

A new payment system era blows into Chicago as Ventra cards are rolled out to the masses Monday.

Depending on who you ask, however, some commuters say the new Ventra system simply blows.

An early rollout for students was plagued by glitches and despite a months-long awareness campaign, the confusion over Ventra still persists as current payment options -- magnetic strip cards, the Chicago Card -- are phased out and a variety of new options -- prepaid debit cards -- crop up.

According to the Sun-Times, plenty of users ignored the Ventra system altogether during the Monday morning rush, despite Ventra staffers dotting stations to encourage riders to switch over and answer customer questions.

Starting Monday, commuters can buy a Ventra Card online, over the phone, at CTA rail stations and at participating Ventra retailers such as Walgreens, Jewel and Dominick's.

Eventually, commuters will have the added option to pay fares with their smartphones. Transit officials told the Tribune Metra has plans for a pilot project within a year.

While several sites have pulled together handy guides (and Ventra has its own FAQ for whatever good that does already fed-up users), here are some key Ventra rollout dates to remember (also see our Ventra timeline below):

Sept. 9:

  • Ventra cards on sale to the public
  • CTA stops issuing new Chicago Cards
  • Online orders for magnetic stripe cards cease
  • CTA begins removing Express fare reload machines and visitor pass machines for the magnetic strip cards

Oct. 7:

  • CTA ends sales of new magnetic strip cards everywhere
  • Chicago Card and CCP users can't add any more money to cards

Nov. 15:

  • Cutoff date for Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus; balances for both can be rolled over to Ventra card until March 2014
  • All vending machines compatible with magnetic strip cards system removed from rail stations

Dec. 15:

  • CTA will stop accepting all forms of payment tied to previous system (Chicago Cards, magnetic fare card)
  • Pace starts issuing new Ventra transfer passes to riders
  • $5 new Ventra card purchase fee kicks in (until then, users can have the fee put toward fare total if they register the new card)
    • Balance on cards from old payment systems goes inactive but users will be able to mail in their old cards between January and March of 2014 to have balances transferred

Passes for one, three, seven or 30 days are not transferrable, so it's use it or lose it before CTA cuts off that option for good.

While there's been considerable vitriol for the new system (as a quick Twitter search for the term "Ventra" confirms), Ventra is going through the same "awkward new kid" phase the system's ubiquitous reloadable magnetic strip cards underwent 15 years ago.

When the CTA move to ditch its token system in 1997 before eliminating them altogether in 1999, the reloadable card system didn't have such a smooth start, either. Common gripes: incorrectly encoded start dates, confusion on fees and user error.

So remember Chicago: The more things change...

Ventra Card Hating Is All The 'Rage'

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