I recently attended a Ventra balance transfer event at Marquette Park. At these community events, CTA staffers are on hand to read the balance on residents’ existing farecards and transfer it to a Ventra card. It was an enlightening experience – but not in a good way. Critical bits of info about the transition process are missing or easy-to-miss on the CTA and Ventra web sites, and the opportunities to use existing fare media continue to dwindle. Yesterday was the last day to buy new reloadable magnetic stripe cards.
Balance transfer events [PDF] are only for plain Chicago Cards (CC) or reloadable magnetic stripe cards, not for Chicago Card Plus (CC+). One of the first steps is scanning your old card on a reader like the ones you see in ‘L’ stations to confirm your current balance. An event staffer records the balance on a form, then sends you to another station to transfer the balance to your new Ventra account. If you haven’t already registered your Ventra card online, the CTA will ask you to complete a registration form first and they’ll register you online. I saw a few cases where cards were unreadable. The guy said “Sorry, if we can’t confirm a balance, we can’t transfer it.”
I was told at the event that the Ventra card the agency mails to you is linked to your CC+ account for the purpose of balance transfer. The CTA has no process in place for doing a balance transfer from CC+ in any other way. Balance transfer is supposed to happen automatically from CC+ to Ventra after you log in to the Ventra site to confirm your account details and make a phone call to activate the card. The agency won’t let you circumvent the process by buying a Ventra card from a machine or store, then transferring the balance at one of their events. If you have a CC+ balance and you never get your Ventra card in the mail, it looks like you’re out of luck for transferring that balance under current procedures.
What if your CC+ card runs out of money before your Ventra card comes in the mail and is activated and balance transferred, or if your new card doesn’t arrive before the system stops accepting CC+? You may have to buy another Ventra card elsewhere.
Except for a few employees at the event, no one seemed aware of how to distinguish a Chicago Card (two-tone blue, says “Chicago Card”) from a Chicago Card Plus (yellow and blue, says “Chicago Card Plus”) or was aware that they couldn’t scan CC+. It took several conversations with staffers for me to find someone who was aware of the difference. She appeared to be a supervisor.
I suggested to her that the online information should boldly emphasize that CC+ is excluded from these events. It is in the info about balance transfer events, but I missed it. Therefore, this turned out to be a wasted trip, except as a learning experience about the Ventra transition. A guy in line with me also missed the info and wasted a trip all the way from west-suburban Westchester. Employees working there should all understand the visual and functional differences between CC and CC+.
A few days ago I bought a Ventra card from a machine as a backup in case I didn’t get the one the CTA mailed soon enough to have it working before my CC+ either runs out of money or stops being accepted by the system. I’ll either cancel it later or keep it as a spare for guests. Guess what I found in my mailbox when I got home from today’s event!
After doing a bit of searching, I found the email with the user name and temporary password for my Ventra account. I was able to log in, change the password and confirm account details without any difficulty.
The card itself had a sticker on the front giving a toll-free number to call to activate the card and start the process of transferring the balance from CC+ to Ventra. I went through several phone menus and finished the call in less than five minutes. A few hours later, I logged into the account and found that the balance had been transferred. After reading comments on Ventra’s Facebook posts about lost emails, balances that didn’t transfer and other problems, I felt lucky by comparison.
I’d be curious to hear about your experiences with the Ventra transition. Below are upcoming balance transfer events this week.
Monday, October 07, 2013
4pm – 7pm
154th St & Park Ave.
Harvey, IL 60426
Tuesday, October 08, 2013
4100 N. Long Ave.
Chicago, IL 60641
Wednesday, October 09, 2013
100 N. Central Park Ave.
Chicago, IL 60624