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'Complicated' Ventra System Could Frustrate CTA Riders, Board Member Says

Ventra, a new system of paying for transit, will be phased in during the summer after approval by the Chicago Transit Board Wednesday.

A new CTA payment system will combine transit cards with debit cards and widen access to Pace and suburban buses. It may also be a pain for some riders.

The system—given the go-ahead by the Chicago Transit Board on Wednesday—launches in the summer and is expected to save the program $50 million during 10 years by reducing the costs of both maintenance and handling cash, officials said. 

The open fare program replaces the magnetic stripe and Chicago Cards. Coined "Ventra," it is centered on cards that will be available at more than 2,000 locations. 

Navigating the intricacies of Ventra is complicated, CTA board Vice Chairman Jackie Grimshaw said Wednesday, sharing Chicagoan's concerns that riders will be confused and frustrated. Some of that confusion is associated with fees for the cards themselves.

After a price hike in January, the fare structure will remain unchanged, according to a release from the CTA. But the new cards come with a $3 charge if riders buy a single-ride paper ticket.

The change will mainly affect people who pay with cash—the poor and social service agencies, the Chicago Tribune reported. At a public hearing, riders said many people would not be able to afford the Ventra cards and do not have existing credit or debit cards.

“There is no $3 cash fare,’’ CTA President Forrest Claypool told the Chicago Tribune. “The $3 is if a person chooses a disposable, one-ride ticket. It has nothing to do with cash.’’ 

Each card also comes with a $5 fee, but by registering that card, the fee becomes a credit. Or, by putting money on the card, it will become part of the balance. 

Not using the card for 18 months will cost riders $5 each month until their money is depleted or the card is used, CTA officials said.

The old Chicago Cards will be phased out over the course of 2013 and eliminated completely by 2014.

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