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Bus union vents: Ventra could get you coming — and going

Ventrcard readers buses may actually charge customers as exit front doors bus unicomplains. | Sun-Times files

Ventra card readers on buses may actually charge customers as the exit the front doors, the bus union complains. | Sun-Times files

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Updated: December 9, 2013 11:08AM

As you exit a Chicago Transit Authority bus, you might not want to get too close to a Ventra payment card reader.

The CTA’s bus union warned riders they might be double-billed if they brushed up against or got too close to a Ventra card reader on their way out the front door — a possibility the CTA called remote.

“Keep your bank cards, credit cards in a secure spot, away from Ventra machine,’’ warned Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241 assistant trustee Keith Hill.

Any card with the right kind of chip “will deduct a fare. It’s not the driver’s fault,’’ he said.

Union officials said CTA bus drivers have complained that their personal credit or debit cards were charged after they apparently came too close to a Ventra reader during work. Several said their members were warned about such a possibility during Ventra training.

“Two operators told me their credit card was debited as they boarded the bus and programmed the Ventra device,’’ said another assistant to the trustees .

The latest possible wrinkle in the Ventra system emerged only two days after CTA President Forrest Claypool suspended a series of Ventra transition deadlines until contractor Cubic Transportation Systems improves its performance.

Any credit or debit card with a radio frequency identification (RFI) chip – the same “contactless” chip in Ventra cards – can be used to pay for CTA fares under Ventra.

However, CTA spokesman Brian Steele noted Thursday that such cards must be 1 ¾ inches or closer to a reader to register a payment.

The Ventra card’s “field-reading technology” is “virtually identical” to the current Chicago Card/Chicago Card Plus technology and in more than a decade the CTA has not heard complaints from those bus riders of being double-billed while exiting a bus, Steele said.

Ventra bus fare readers are “well above pocket level” and the 3-inch by 2-inch reader area would have to be in “exact alignment’’ with a purse or wallet, with the card angle “almost perfectly parallel to the target, ’’ in order to trigger a fare, Steele said.

“The chances of all these conditions being met in the half-second a customer passes a reader are extremely, extremely low,’’ Steele said in an email.

Steele also insisted that readers are turned off when buses are in garages or on their way to routes, “so there is no way drivers getting in and out of their seats could be charged.’’

However, even CTA news releases have urged riders to take Ventra cards out of their wallets and tap just those cards on readers if they have several cards with “contactless” chips in their wallets.

CTA officials also have conceded that riders could be double-charged at rail stations if they tap their Ventra cards on readers, do not get a “go” signal, and move to another lane and tap again. To discourage riders from changing lanes or double-tapping, Cubic recently began equipping readers with a screen that says “processing” to let riders know that their fares are in the process of being registered.

Also in the last month, CTA officials have encouraged any Chicago Card or Chicago Card Plus holders who have not received new Ventra cards in the mail to just go and buy a new Ventra card at a rail station or retail outlet. Through Dec. 13, they can transfer balances on old cards to new cards at a series of balance transfer events posted at


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