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Metra hoping to jump on the Ventra bandwagon by August

A Ventrtransit card reader.

A Ventra transit card reader.

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Updated: December 10, 2013 6:07AM

Metra hopes to jump on the Ventra bandwagon by August with a trial run at handheld devices for train conductors that would accept Ventra cards as payment on trains, an advisory board was told Friday.

But at least one member of the Metra Citizens Advisory Board was wary of the current state of Ventra -- a payment system with so many kinks that the Chicago Transit Authority this week indefinitely continued old fare payment methods on CTA buses and rails.

“Til they get their ducks in a row, I’d stay away from it,’’ Metra advisory board member Bill Molony said Friday. “There’s so many bugs in the system that my thoughts are that Metra needs to hit the pause button until the CTA straightens the bugs out.’’

However, advisory board member Ray Campbell reported that he has had “no problems’’ transitioning to Ventra. Plus, Metra, CTA and Pace are under a Jan. 1, 2015 legislative deadline to develop a “regional fare payment system” that also accepts contactless credit and debit cards.

So far, the CTA and the suburban bus agency Pace have put their faith in Ventra to fulfill that mission.

Ventra, operated by Cubic Transportation Systems, allows anyone with a pre-loaded Ventra card or a bank card with a “radio frequency identification” chip to merely tap on a Ventra reader to register payment.

For months, Metra had been coy about signing up, but the suburban rail agency sent CTA officials an Oct. 3 letter saying it wanted to participate in Ventra.

The challenge is getting Ventra cards to register the correct Metra payment for fares that vary by distance, said Metra spokesman Michael Gillis. The CTA, in contrast, charges the same flat fare for all bus or rail rides within its system.

“You can’t just tap a Ventra card on a reader because it won’t know where [a Metra rider] got on and off,’’ Gillis said. “That information has to be programmed.’’

Another challenge is ensuring that, on moving trains, conductors don’t encounter connectivity “dead zones” that prevent retrieval of information required to charge the correct fare payment, said Metra Strategic Capital Planning chief Lynnette Ciavarella.


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