End is nigh for old CTA, Pace cards

Deadlines loom for riders who haven't switched to Ventra

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Almost 9 out of 10 CTA trips are now paid for using the Ventra fare system, but with the first of three deadlines looming this week for riders who haven't yet made the switch, breaking up with the old fare cards can be hard to do.

On Pace, which is also transitioning to Ventra, about 60 percent of fares are currently paid using Ventra, the suburban bus agency said.

There have been more than 153 million Ventra card taps to date on bus fare box readers and rail station turnstiles. What's unclear is whether that reflects public confidence or resignation over the new fare system, which was plagued during its rollout late last summer by technical glitches and poor customer service in resolving problems.

The failures by the Ventra contractor, Cubic Transportation Systems Inc., prompted the CTA to delay the full transition originally set for December from the old fare system to Ventra. Cubic, which was awarded a nearly half-billion-dollar contract with the CTA to launch and manage Ventra, has consistently met most of the performance standards in the contract since January, CTA officials said.

The transition is moving full speed ahead toward a July 1 deadline, after which point transfers of remaining balances from old transit cards will no longer be allowed onto Ventra cards, officials said.

Starting Thursday, CTA and Pace customers will no longer be able to buy magnetic-stripe cards, or add value to Chicago Cards or Chicago Card Plus cards, according to a revised Ventra transition schedule announced in March.

Then on June 1, magnetic-stripe card customers lose the option to reload those fare cards, which represent 12 percent of all rides on the CTA, agency spokeswoman Tammy Chase said Friday.

In addition, both types of Chicago Cards, which account for 2 percent of CTA rides, will no longer be accepted by the CTA and Pace effective June 1.

Ventra now accounts for 86 percent of CTA rides, Chase said.

Finally, on July 1, all remaining CTA and Pace customers will be transitioned to Ventra. The last piece of the phaseout of the old fare system means that the transit agencies will stop accepting magnetic-stripe cards, and Pace customers paying with cash will no longer be issued a transfer.

Jennifer Bradley has had a committed, long-term relationship with her multiday pass magnetic-stripe cards, and she plans to maintain it for as long as possible, she said last week after inserting her card into the slot of the fare box on a CTA bus in Evanston.

Asked by your Getting Around reporter when she planned to buy a Ventra card, Bradley, 38, a nursing assistant who rides the Red Line and buses daily to her job in Rogers Park, said she was aware she would need to use up her old fare card soon.

Bradley, giving the reporter a sideways glance, rejected the suggestion that she might be a procrastinator, explaining that she pays her bills on time and files her income tax returns early each year.

"I see the people fussing with the Ventra cards and my card always works, so why do I want that trouble?" she said. "I love my (CTA) pass."

CTA and Pace customers who have not spent down the value on old transit fare cards can transfer the balance to Ventra cards until July 1. Customers can transfer balances from 3 to 7 p.m. every Tuesday at CTA headquarters, 567 W. Lake St., Chicago. Balance-transfer events are also being conducted elsewhere. A schedule is available at http://www.ventrachicago.com.

Chicago Card Plus customers can transfer balances to Ventra cards by going to the Ventra website, officials said.

Help is also available at those events for riders who have been issued Regional Transportation Authority Ventra reduced-fare and ride-free permits, officials said.

About 500,000 new RTA Ventra permits have been issued to senior citizens as well as disabled and low-income individuals since last year, said Susan Massel, an RTA spokeswoman.

RTA reduced-fare permit holders must bring in their new RTA Ventra reduced-fare permit for a balance transfer at the events, officials said.

Customers may bring a maximum of five eligible cards with a combined minimum of $5 in transit value to the balance-transfer events, officials said. Eligible fare cards include CTA and Pace stored-value magnetic-stripe full-fare and reduced-fare cards and Chicago Cards. Unlimited-ride one-day, three-day, seven-day and 30-day passes, reduced fare passes, and passes sold in bulk cannot be transferred to Ventra cards and must be used up before July 1. Expired fare cards will not be accepted, officials said.

Ventra already sells single-ride paper tickets at CTA stations, and its card can be loaded with multiday passes. Single-ride rail tickets cost $3, which is 75 cents more than the regular fare with a Ventra card. Bus riders can pay with cash.

Pace will soon announce Ventra card distribution events to be held at transit centers and suburban transfer locations at which customers can receive a free Ventra card, Pace officials said. More information is available at http://www.pacebus.com/ventra.

Later this spring, riders also will be able to transfer unused balances on Chicago Card and magnetic-stripe fare cards to registered Ventra cards, officials said.

Meanwhile, Ventra cards are available at http://www.ventrachicago.com and at Ventra vending machines and many retail stores in the Chicago area, officials said.

The $5 fee to buy the card is being waived through July 7 at about 1,000 retail outlets. Customers who pay the $5 fee, including at Ventra vending machines, can receive the $5 back in riding value by registering the cards, officials said.

Contact Getting Around at jhilkevitch@tribune.com or c/o the Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611; on Twitter @jhilkevitch; and at facebook.com/jhilkevitch. Read recent columns at chicagotribune.com/gettingaround

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