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Ventra arithmetic: $10 + Ventra vending machine = $40 in CTA fares?

Updated: December 28, 2013 6:29AM



Joseph Meier isn’t a magician, but he says he managed to squeeze $40 in CTA fare credit out of a single $10 bill at a Ventra vending machine this month.

Meier says the same $10 bill was rejected three times before the Ventra vending machine finally accepted the bill.

But when Meier later checked the balance on the new Ventra reduced-fare senior card he had loaded for his wife, like magic, the balance was $40.

Except, it wasn’t magic. It was the latest glitch with Ventra, the Chicago Transit Authority’s new fare payment system.

“It was one $10 bill, put in four times,’’ said Meier, 76, of Oak Park.

A CTA attendant at the Blue Line Oak Park station even helped Meier insert the bill after it was rejected, Meier said Tuesday. It was finally accepted after someone else used the machine for a Ventra transaction, he said.

Later that same day, Meier double-checked his wife’s balance at a retail outlet and even looked on the internet as recently as Tuesday. Both showed his single $10 bill had grown into a $40 balance, he said.

“They are losing money and stealing money,’’ Meier said. “They [Ventra officials] don’t seem to know what they are doing.”

If rejected currency is registering fare credit on other Ventra vending machines, Meier said, “This could be massive.’’

Asked who would be losing money on the magic bill — the CTA or its Ventra vendor, Cubic Transportation Systems — CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski said “Before we can answer that, we need to look into this situation.’’ She offered to follow up personally with Meier.

The glitch comes after CTA President Forrest Claypool on Nov. 5 suspended all Ventra transition deadlines until Cubic shapes up and meets three performance targets.

Since then, the CTA estimated that 15,000 CTA customers got free L rides during a evening rush-hour reader meltdown at 60 stations. The CTA says the “server failure” reader problem was fixed within 90 minutes and they will seek reimbursement from Cubic.

Other snafus include customers rolling through L turnstiles for free, despite owing money on their Ventra cards — a courtesy the CTA says Cubic plans to end soon.

Also Tuesday, Hosinski said the Chicago office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a notice to its employees not to use employee ID cards as a substitute for Ventra cards.

The notice was issued after an EPA employee noticed that an EPA identification card she accidentally tapped on a Ventra fare reader registered a “go” signal. The EPA ID card apparently has a number that “trips” Ventra into thinking it is a bank card with the same kind of special chip contained in Ventra cards, Hosinski said.

A software update fixing the problem was expected to be completed Tuesday, Hosinski said, and “We are unaware of any other ID card with this configuration.’’

Meier says he also has beefs with his own reduced-fare senior card. Despite numerous phone calls and at least six hours on the phone, Meier said, he’s been unable to get Ventra or the CTA to transfer by phone the $18.25 remaining on his old CTA senior-fare card to his new Ventra reduced-fare senior card.

Instead, he’s been urged to attend “balance transfer” events downtown — an inconvenience for him as a senior, especially in such cold weather.

“They might as well tell you, ‘Why don’t you go to Nome, Alaska,’” Meier said. “It doesn’t make sense that I should have to go downtown to make a transfer on something I had no control over.’’

CTA officials say another option not mentioned by the Ventra operators Meier talked to is for Meier to transfer his old balance by mail. However, due to the suspension of all Ventra transition deadlines, the CTA has yet to say when they will open the mail-in window.

Meier says he just hopes he won’t have to use his Ventra card before then.

Said Meier, “Why should I have to put in more money when I already have money on my old card?”

Email: rrossi@suntimes.com

Twitter: @rosalindrossi



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