Disclaimer: This is my experience with the new Ventra card and mine alone. I do not suppose to speak for all CTA customers, nor do I claim that my experience with Ventra and the CTA is common. I’m sure there are lots of different perspectives on the new Ventra card – both positive and negative, and this is just a representative of one voice in the debate.
I was going to hold off on getting the Ventra card for as long as I could. Like many Chicagoans, I was wary of the debit card aspect of the service, and I was perfectly content with the fare cards. I was also pretty resentful of yet another public service moving toward privatization. Chicago recently felt the burn of the terrible contract the city signed with a company that took over the parking meters – among the fine print was the clause that if the city had to close off the streets for festivals, the city had to pay the company that owned the meters compensation for lost income. I believe the city owed the company over $2 million last year.
So I wasn’t all that thrilled with the Ventra card. But I was forced into getting one, when I didn’t have any change and I was ready to board the Red Line on Jackson. The credit card machines and the ATMs were taken out by this time to usher in the Ventra machines, so I didn’t have a chance to reload my card, and instead bought a Ventra card.
My initial experience was fine. I was okay with the charge to buy the card and it was easy to use the sensor on the turnstiles once I got the hand of it. And my Ventra card worked for two weeks. And then it stopped. First it was at the Clark/Division stop – my home stop. I tried going through different stalls and neither worked. I spoke to the attendant in the kiosk, and she checked my balance at the machine and saw I had about $7 and said it should’ve worked. I agreed, and she went through each sensor – none worked. She let me through and suggested I call Ventra. I emailed CTA and got a prompt response that I should email Ventra and was given a link to the customer service online form, which I filled out to the best of my ability, but never heard a response.
I took the train to work and called the number on the back of the card and was informed by the recorded voice that my wait time would be 32 minutes. Being at work, I couldn’t just sit on the phone for that amount of time, so I decided to try again later. Later on, I tried the card at the Jackson stop and it worked – so I just figured it was a glitch with the Clark/Division stop. The next day I tried it at the Clark/Division, and it didn’t work again. Again, I was let through. That evening I tried with the Jackson stop and it didn’t work again. Again, I spoke to a gentleman at a kiosk, and he suggested I call the number at the back of the card.
Later on, I was meeting a friend and we wanted to catch the number 36 bus, and again my card didn’t work. I realized that I had to just suck it up and call the number. That morning, I bought a fare card with cash because I didn’t want to keep stealing rides from the CTA and went to work. Once at my office, I called the number and was informed that my wait time would be over 30 minutes. I waited on hold while going to the Ventra Website’s customer service form. The email form didn’t allow for me to write over 3 lines, so I couldn’t get my whole complaint on the line. While waiting for the call – for about 15 minutes, I got dropped. I tried this another 3 times, each time being hung up on after about 15, 20 minutes. I even left a voice mail at one point during my desperate attempts at speaking to someone.
I finally called on my cell and tried again, getting through to a person after about half an hour of waiting. The woman was very nice on the line, and what I learned from the operator was very interesting. I told her about how difficult it was for me to get through – we were approaching my third hour of trying to get in touch with someone. She apologized and was very sympathetic. I also told her about the fat that no one at the stations was able to help me with my requests – I suggested that either the folks at the kiosks get trained on Ventra or that they have direct access to a customer service agent. The woman on the line told me that the CTA workers at the stations are trained but that it’s up to their discretion if they’d like to go beyond letting someone through, and that Ventra couldn’t enforce the rules. I asked for an address to complain, which she supplied, and for my troubles she credited me $5 on my card, which for some reason, had been suspended.
My card has been working fine, since – except on Friday while trying to get on the Brown Line on the Monroe stop, the machines seemed backed up – it appeared as if they were behind one card, and every person that tried to walk through was let through by the person behind – so when I went through the sign said “Go” even though I couldn’t go through, but the lady behind me thought I could go through, and she already tapped her card, and then it let me through – I gave her my card, and she used that to get through, but then the same thing happened to the person behind her, creating a tiny clusterfuck. Oh, and only two stiles of the four were working.
I went online to look at other’s experiences, and many had similar and worse complaints than I. Some people waited weeks for their cards, while others complained of their bank balances being overcharged. The constant consistency was the difficulty in getting in touch with customer service.
I also wondered how social agencies would be adapting to the Ventra card. I worked at a nonprofit that serviced homeless teens. We would hand out fare cards that lasted 7 days, and the kids were able to use them and then come back for another card at the end of the week. We would buy decks of these cards from the CTA – with this new system, I wonder how social agencies will be able to cope.
What are your thoughts about the Ventra card?