The CTA’s Ventra-Sized Problem

Over the past two weeks the Chicago Transit Authority has been dealing with a backlash and revelations regarding their new fare system, Ventra. At first glance, Ventra seems like a great idea since it would cover both CTA and Pace, potentially making the use of the suburban buses more appealing to Chicago residents who want to visit the suburbs. Ventra also allows for use of debit and credit cards to pay for fares.

Tracy Swartz of RedEye revealed single rail rides using Ventra would cost $3. On the CTA’s page for misconceptions about Ventra, they address this with the following sentence:

CTA vending machines currently do not provide change, so those without exact change are already paying $3 for a single ride.

The CTA later says that only the card costs $3, but apparently people already pay $3 for a single ride so it’s no big deal.

Swartz also reported fees which would be tacked on for people who would use a reloadable Ventra card. To get the Ventra card, one must first pay $5, which will be refunded as transit funds after the card is registered. If a user of the Ventra card does not use their card for 18 months, $5 is deducted for every month it is not in use.

The more troubling news about Ventra came from Jon Hilkevitch at the Chicago Tribune. Hilkevitch reported on numerous fees added on if users of the Ventra card also use it as a prepaid debit card, a feature the CTA has been touting on their website.

The clear option CTA users have is to try to reject the debit card option, use a 30-day pass or use their own debit card or credit card to pay for fares. Although a 30-day pass recently went up to $100, it’s still a cheaper option for people who regularly use the CTA for more than commuting to work.

The CTA meanwhile has to roll out a campaign for damage control after the recent articles. For the people who still read the Tribune and RedEye, they’re aware of this and it might make them wary of using Ventra. The potentially bigger problem with this situation is the Ventra system is no longer looking like a great situation. The fare system already had numerous options that were confusing to some users. I was recently talking to a friend and we discussed how confusing Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus can be. This was a system rolled out in the mid-2000s and it’s confusing for people from the Chicago area. Imagine how confusing Ventra will be if the CTA doesn’t properly educate the public about the program.

Time will tell if the CTA and RTA regret using this program–both systems are using the fare system, but I imagine this will affect the CTA more. There’s no turning back, but the CTA has to think fast to not have this turn into an even bigger disaster for them.

I’m mostly annoyed because I just replaced my Chicago Card.