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RTA Orders Audit for Ventra Complications

Beverly Cook, a South Side Chicago resident, puts money on her transit card at Jackson Red Line train station.
Beverly Cook, a South Side Chicago resident, puts money on her transit card at Jackson Red Line train station Wednesday.

The head of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) ordered an audit to review problems with the rollout of the new mass transit fare system called Ventra Wednesday.

“Obviously, we’ve had an unacceptable and systematic failure there,” said RTA Chairman John S. Gates Jr.

The new system has been plagued with complaints and frustrations since riders started using it this summer. Some of the problems have included bad magnetic stripes, trouble with activation and double-charging.

Beverly Cook, a South Side Chicago resident, gave up using her new Ventra card to ride the train because it just wouldn’t work.

“It’s frustrating, so I ended up getting a day pass,” she said.

Riders like Cook, who was putting money on a plastic fare card at the Jackson Red Line stop on Wednesday, will still be able to use regular transit cards for another month.

“I’ll be waiting for them to get the bugs out before I try it again,” she said.

In the meantime, the RTA, which oversees the new system, is looking into the problems with Ventra.

Individuals that use transportation and are now using the Ventra card system should be aware that their debit or credit cards that have RFID technology could be charged by the Ventra reader, said a spokeswoman for JPMorgan Chase.

“Ventra charges the closest RFID card to the reader,” said Christine Holevas, a spokeswoman  for media and community engagement at JPMorgan Chase. If a customer doesn’t take their Ventra card out of their wallet to tap it, but just taps the wallet, a debit or credit card with RFID may be charged.”

JPMorgan Chase advises their customers to keep their Ventra card and other RFID cards separate to avoid unwanted charges.

“Customers should call us if their Chase card has been charged,” Holevas said.

Rosalinda Sotello, an elderly woman in her in 60s, said her Ventra card wasn’t accounting properly for the money she was putting on it.

“About two weeks after using it, money would disappear,” Sotello said. “I always put $10 on the card for the week, but it kept saying minus one dollar.”

Sotello said when taking the bus, she kept getting an error message on her card.

“He told me to turn it this way or that, and it wouldn’t help,” Sotello said. “It was all very embarrassing.”

While Sotello decided to switch back to the old card, some riders have decided to use day passes instead of purchasing a Ventra card. Dan Artwell, a resident of Rogers Park, is one of them.

“I haven’t had a problem with Ventra, but I know plenty of people who have,” Artwell said. “I don’t want CTA having access to my bank accounts.”

Artwell said he reloads daily or whenever he needs to travel, and he commutes on the train three times a week.

“For me it works because I get to upload my card with cash instead of having to use a credit or debit card,” Artwell said.

When not calling the Ventra hotline (1-888-YOUR-CTA), people are letting their voices be heard on the new app Ventra Fails. Ventra Fails, created by Michael Askew, allows you to make record of the time and place your Ventra card has failed. If your card fails, it appears on the map the next time you use it. Transit workers also are responding to complaints and concerns through Twitter at @cta and @chicagoventra.

RTA will hear about the transition for the Metra system next month.

“We’re going to be taking a deep dive into Ventra at the Dec. 4 meeting,” Gates said.

On Jan. 15, RTA will discuss whether to implement a universal card that could be used across Metra, Pace and CTA. In the meantime, RTA will be mailing  550,000 new Ventra cards by next week.

Danielle Dwyer, Jessica Wenck and Michael Snydel contributed to this story.

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