By Jaclyn Driscoll and Nicole Capone
Posted: Friday, Nov. 29, 2013
Rush-hour commuters who arrived at the Merchandise Mart CTA stop on Nov. 13 were greeted by a surreal scene -- open gates, overcrowded platforms and Ventra card readers that weren't working. Again.
CTA officials had no option but to open the gates at the stop and dozens others across the city that night, giving away nearly 15,000 El train rides that totaled nearly $35,000 in revenue. The CTA passed those costs along to Ventra, which was stuck with the tab.
Despite all of the issues with the new Ventra card in its first two months, some CTA riders and employees helping them remain on the fence about the new fare system. With difficulties still surrounding the transition from previous fare options, the CTA is attempting to resolve lingering issues regarding Ventra.
Recently the CTA suspended switchover deadlines due to the increasing problems from the $454 million Ventra system. Issues range from the riders having difficulty obtaining their Ventra cards to card readers failing to recognize the card, in which case the CTA employees allow riders to board the trains and busses for free.
Danny Papovic, a 26-year-old visual effect major at Tribeca Flashpoint Academy, said he relies on the CTA for traveling to work and school everyday. Papovic said he switched to the Ventra card after his school made it mandatory, but admits to being bothered by tedious errors that come with the new system in comparison to the previous CTA pass.
“I’m not necessarily partial to either one,” Papovic said. “The only thing that really bothers me about the Ventra card is that I have to swipe it about four times before it actually lets me onto the train. With the CTA card there was never a problem. The Ventra card you have to swipe it multiple times.”
CTA employee Tomica Goodwin, who assists riders at the Jackson Red Line stop, said she prefers the Ventra cards.
“Actually I think the Ventra card is more convenient,” Goodwin said. “We don’t have a lot of people waiting in line to put their transit card in so it’s actually faster, you tap and go.”
Goodwin added out that some of the problems she sees are attributed to impatience by CTA riders.
“We have a few people come in and have problems with it,” Goodwin said. “My view of the problem is if you keep tapping your Ventra card upon the thing, if it says stop just stop. If it says processing, let it process first before you go to the next machine and hit your card.”
Goodwin discussed a “glitch” when the system began, but says her experiences with the cards are improving.
“When we first started there was a glitch,” Goodwin said. “But they have a new system out where as it’s telling you when it’s processing so therefore they have less mistakes.”
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, CTA President Forrest Claypool told the City Club that he will no longer pay the Ventra contractor until the system meets new benchmark standards: “99 percent of calls to Ventra must be answered in no more than five minutes, 99 percent of vending machines and readers must work, and 99 percent of payment taps on readers must register in no more than 2.5 seconds.”
Allison Stevens, a waitress at Tre Soldi in Streeterville, did not recognize much of a difference between the fare systems.
“I’m honestly kind of indifferent about it, I really think they’re pretty much the same,” ‘Stevens said. “I really don’t see the difference except that it’s more permanent, I add value to it just the same (as the CTA card). I haven’t connected it to my debit card, but it’s pretty much the same, just a more durable card.”
Although some people interviewed said they do not have problems or preference when it comes to Ventra card versus the old CTA card, Ventra still isn’t a foolproof system yet.
According to the Chicago Tribune, California-based Cubic Transportation Systems Inc. have told business leaders they cannot say when Ventra cards will begin functioning properly.
Although Mayor Rahm Emanuel has defended the switch, he has publicly acknowledged the difficulties surrounding Ventra.
“The fact is, it’s not working the way it needs to work, and they won’t get paid until it does do that,” Emanuel said in a public statement on Nov. 6, a week before the system crashed.
CTA employee Eric Bonds, who helps travelers at the Grand Red Line stop, agreed with Mayor Emanuel.
“Since it’s a new system I think they have to work out the glitches because they have a lot of problems with the card and the transactions,” Bonds said.
“I would recommend the transit card. It’s simpler to use and it’s been in the system longer that people don’t want to switch over,” Bonds said.
According to Chicago Magazine, the CTA is planning to fully transition to the Ventra system by the start of 2014. Payment options for Ventra riders will include the Ventra card, Ventra tickets, and personal bank issued credit or debit cards.
Despite multiple attempts to contact the CTA for information regarding Ventra, no response was provided.
On Tuesday’s CTA board meeting, many people came to protest against the Ventra system.
Alderman Bob Fioretti (2nd) said he believes that the CTA should dump the Ventra system after a major technical problem occurred this past Wednesday.
“We’re getting awfully close, with these kind of errors and problems with the system, that we ought to let them go,’’ Fioretti said to the Chicago Sun-Times.
On Nov. 3, the CTA waived riders’ fares due to a “back office service failure” which caused Ventra card payment readers to breakdown for 15 to 90 minutes at 60 stations.
After this malfunction, Cubic Transportation Systems installed a “software patch” to fix the problem and there has been no issues with the Ventra system since this fix which was made on Wednesday at 6 p.m.
In result of the budget hearing, CTA board members unanimously approved a $1.38 billion operating budget that has no fare increases and no service cuts in the next calendar year.
Despite various public outcries and recent flaws surfacing within the new fare system, Ventra will remain in operation.
“Once you learn how to use Ventra,” Goodwin said. “It shouldn’t be a problem.”
Audio: Two Chicago comedians did this parody rap about the Ventra card:
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