Cutting through the information fog on the CTA’s new fare system.
By Jake Malooley|
Ventra sounds like some sort of prescription blood-pressure medication. What exactly is it? It will be the standard way to pay for transit on CTA and Pace. Ventra is a derivative of the Latin word for wind (ventus)—a riff off of the tired Windy City tag.
I’ve seen those “coming soon” Ventra vending machines sitting in CTA stations for months. Is the system ever going to be activated? The CTA says it plans a summer launch, with system-wide adoption by 2014. An agency spokesperson adds the system is currently being tested, with newly installed Ventra card readers giving off their blue glow at select stations and bus lines.
How is the Ventra card different from my Chicago Card? The system offers three types of “contactless,” tap-to-board payment options: longtime-use cards, limited-use tickets and a bank-issued credit/debit card, which can be linked to Ventra. Activate the debit account and add funds, and you can use it as a MasterCard for nontransit purchases. Funds can be loaded online or at vending machines in rail stations.
This transition is annoying! Did the CTA really have to switch fare systems? The move is necessary, according to CTA chief Forrest Claypool. Next year, the Chicago Card manufacturer stops producing the chips that allow the card to function. The CTA projects savings of $50 million over the ten-year contract by outsourcing fare-collection processing.
I heard some chatter about insidious fees associated with Ventra. What’s that all about? Aside from an “initial purchase fee” of $5 (refunded as a transit credit if a rider registers the card within 90 days), Ventra cards carry a “transit account dormancy fee” of $5 per month, which is deducted if a rider goes 18 consecutive months without using the card. For disposable tickets, an additional 50 cents is added to “offset production costs.” Going the debit route brings more potential fees, including up to $4.95 for loading cash at participating locations.