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Ventra deadline looms for CTA, Pace; suburban bus riders slower to switch

VentrCards Use. Chicago Sun-Times

Ventra Cards in Use. Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: August 1, 2014 6:15AM

Chicago Transit Authority and Pace customers will board a Ventra-only world starting Tuesday as the CTA completes its transition to a Ventra payment system that will end up costing up to $454 million.

Magnetic-stripe fare cards will no longer be accepted, though multiple mag-stripe cards with balances adding up to at least $5 can be mailed in for Ventra credit through Sept. 1.

And, until July 7, riders can still buy Ventra cards at more than 1,300 retailers and not be charged a $5 one-time new card fee.

After months of glitches, followed by months of relative peace, more than two million CTA and Pace customers have already purchased Ventra cards that allow them to merely tap a fare reader to register their fares.

“Contactless” credit and debit cards, with radio frequency identification chips, also can be used on the same readers under the next nine years of the Ventra deal.

All Ventra cards work as regular transit passes. But riders also can activate a “debit” side and use it as a typical debit card — though they will end up paying additional fees if they do.

Metra riders currently can only use the optional “debit” side of Ventra cards, but Metra is working to change that.

“I truly think it’s amazing that I wave a card at a circle [on a fare reader] and it recognizes it,’’ said CTA rider Jacqueline Von Edelberg, co-founder of the 1871 digital startup Youtopia. “It’s a little sticky but it’s working.”

Many miss not easily seeing their balances at fare readers. Some say they occasionally — or even regularly — must tap two or three times before fares register.

That includes Charles Paidock of the transit advocacy group Citizens Taking Action.

“This was supposed to be the Big Rock Candy Mountain. We were going to be in transit heaven,’’ said Paidock. “Instead, we got the real world, which isn’t quite as idyllic as we were led to believe.’’

Others with contactless bank cards don’t like having to pull their Ventra cards out of their wallets before tapping fare readers to ensure the right card is charged.

But Purple Line rider Matthew Seelig solved that problem, buying a silver protective sleeve for his contactless debit card; now he can tap his wallet with confidence.

Since then, “It’s been pretty positive,’’ said Seelig, 35, of Rogers Park. “I like everything I can do online with it.’’

CTA officials estimate more than 98 percent of CTA rides are being purchased with Ventra cards. But Pace suburban bus riders — used to paying with cash on buses — have been slower to jump on the Ventra bandwagon.

As of last week, only about 70 percent of Pace rides were being purchased with Ventra cards, Pace officials said. And about 3,000 Pace customers were still paying with cash for transfers, said Pace spokesman Patrick Wilmot.

As of Tuesday, those cash transfers will evaporate and cash-paying Pace riders will have to pay full freight — $1.75 — for any connecting rides. Pace staff has been riding the 50 biggest cash-paying routes, alerting riders to that wrinkle, said Wilmot.

An alternative is to purchase a ride with a transfer or load transit credit in advance at a Ventra vending machine using a contactless credit or debit card. That would allow a Pace rider to pay the typical $1.75-plus-25-cent transfer rate, good for one ride plus up to two connections within two hours.

But if Pace — or even CTA — riders bypass the vending machines and merely tap their contactless credit or debit card on a Ventra reader, they will be charged full fare for any connecting rides.


Twitter: @rosalindrossi

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