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CTA's fare-card woes all in the details

  • CTA President Forrest Claypool answers questions at an Illinois House Mass Transit Committee hearing Monday. (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune)
CTA President Forrest Claypool answers questions at an Illinois House… ((Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune)…)
April 01, 2013|By Tracy Swartz, @tracyswartz | RedEye

Here's the gist of Monday's state hearing about CTA's Ventra system: The public transit agency is not doing a good job of educating the public about the details of its new fare collection method, which is scheduled to roll out within months.

The CTA said it plans to launch this month an extensive outreach campaign about transitioning to Ventra, which may start as early as "early this summer," CTA President Forrest Claypool said at Monday's hearing, which was attended by CTA, Metra and Pace officials.

The campaign, which plans to showcase buses with Ventra equipment and meet with community groups and block clubs, is long overdue. Chicago Card Plus users will receive an email about transitioning to Ventra within a month, the CTA said.

For weeks, CTA riders have raised a litany of questions and expressed confusion on Twitter and Facebook and via email about the Ventra payment options, which include a contactless card that can be registered and a prepaid debit card option.

State Rep. Deborah Mell (D-Chicago) said she held the hearing of the state House's mass transit committee after hearing complaints and questions from her constituents.

"In terms of public relations, it's not going well," Mell said about the CTA outreach on Ventra. "They have a lot of work to do."

CTA spokesman Brian Steele said the agency has been educating the public about its open-fare payment system since the system was approved by the CTA board in November 2011.

Last fall, after the agency picked the name "Ventra," the CTA launched ventrachicago.com to inform riders about the changes coming this year.

But it wasn't until a week ago, after Tribune reports about potential fees associated with the prepaid debit card option, that the CTA added information to the website about the possible fees, which include $2 for a monthly paper statement and $6 for a balance refund check.

"The CTA has always planned an extensive, detailed marketing campaign for Ventra. Our plan was always to launch that as Ventra got a little closer to going live. Our plan was always to do this spring 2013," Steele said.

"We had been talking about the Ventra system for well over a year and believed that many people were aware of what the system was about. Of course we knew that further outreach and education was absolutely imperative to ensuring customers knew the details of Ventra."

Steele said riders have been getting their information about Ventra from ventrachicago.com and media reports.

But part of the problem is that agency officials have been giving conflicting information to the media and in public meetings. The CTA said last week that it gave incorrect information about potential fees to the Tribune.

At Monday's hearing, CTA revenue director Eric Reese told state lawmakers both Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus users will be able to transfer their balances to Ventra.

He told Going Public last month that Chicago Card Plus users can transfer their balances but Chicago Card users had to spend their balances before the transition.

Steele clarified Monday after the hearing: Chicago Card Plus users and those with registered Chicago Cards can transfer their balances to Ventra cards but riders with unregistered Chicago Cards cannot transfer their balance.

Like everything with Ventra, it's all in the details.

Stationary

A weekly dispatch from a CTA station of note

This week: Kedzie Brown Line stop

Just call it glass transit. One of the hallmarks of this Brown Line stop in Albany Park is the kaleidoscope-like art on the glass of the stationhouse. The six-year-old installation by California artist Anne Marie Karlsen shows historic images of the station and train cars, according to the CTA.

Next up: Merchandise Mart Brown and Purple Line stop

tswartz@tribune.com

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