For Some College Students, Ventra Rollout Begins Today

Ventra press event
Reese stands in front of a Ventra vending machine at Clinton/Lake.

The Chicago Transit Authority’s revenue director, Eric Reese, hosted a gaggle of reporters on Friday to show off the Ventra “outreach bus” and demonstrate, for the first time, a Ventra vending machine. Ventra is set to replace the current fare media for CTA and the Pace suburban bus system, including all passes, Chicago Card/Plus, and reduced fare cards. The new technology will enable faster boarding — speeding up buses especially — and lower the CTA’s costs.

Ventra machines won’t be accessible to the general public until September 9, but U-Pass holders can use the turnstile Ventra card readers starting today, and students at at least one local college can take advantage. Westwood College starts classes on Wednesday, so they will have active Ventra cards earlier than students at colleges with a later start to the school year.

Ventra press event
The Ventra card reader works just like Chicago Card/Plus readers, but the device gives much better visual feedback, clearly telling riders whether the card was accepted. ## images##.

Ventra vending machines will eventually replace all transit card vending machines and express vending machines. They operate much like ATMs, with instructions in English, Spanish, and Polish. At the press event Friday, I asked why touch screens weren’t used and an employee of Cubic, the contractor that developed Ventra, explained that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires physical buttons and Braille. (Touch screen transit vending machines are ubiquitous in Europe and riders who can’t operate them see a ticket agent.)

Ventra press event
One of the two Ventra outreach buses outside CTA headquarters.

DNAInfo implied today that Ventra and Divvy will be “connected,” but the fact is there are no plans to link Divvy membership to Ventra, only that cardholders can use the “retail purse” on their account to pay for anything that accepts MasterCard, “including Divvy,” Reese said.

The Ventra outreach buses are converted CTA buses that will be stationed around town to get the word out about the new fare card. The schedule is now online; outreach buses will be visiting Garfield Park and Bridgeport tomorrow.

  • Fred

    I hate the sentiment that “if it can’t be built ADA compliant, it can’t be built at all.” I have no problem with ADA compliance, and if something can be reasonable built/designed ADA compliant, then it should be. But why not have both a touchscreen for those who can use it, and physical buttons for those who cannot/do not want to? There’s no reason they can’t coexist.

    Looking at the vending machine, I see no reason why they couldn’t have built Ventra card registration into it. It already appears to have a number pad, why didn’t they include a full keyboard? #EpicDesignFail

  • So Ventra will work with Divvy … if you activate the prepaid debit card, with all its massive fees, and use THAT money for Divvy? Fail. Divvy should come out of the ‘transportation’ side of the card. :-/

  • A touchscreen interface could host an entire keyboard

  • I don’t think a connection like that is that obvious for useful.

    For some people, the transportation side is filled by the employer’s HR department with a pretax benefit that cannot be used to pay for bike sharing.

    Additionally, the Divvy user agreement requires a credit card so that the user can be billed if they do not return the bike

  • Joseph

    They could also make the touchscreen have haptic or audio feedback, the way touchscreen phones and atms are used by blind or vision impaired persons.

    At some point though, why? What does a touchscreen give you besides looking sleek?

  • bartm

    Do you really want to stand in line while somebody hunts and pecks their name/address/bday/phone/email into the Ventra machine? How about when a family of tourists from Germany does it?

    I wish that at least at the sorts of places that merited a Pass (1-, 3-, 7-day Pass) dispensing machine that they would replace the Pass machine with a kiosk for registering your Ventra cards. Of course, I would love that at all ‘L’ stations, but I set realistic goals.

  • Joseph Musco

    In 2010 there were new rules issued regarding ADA and Information Transaction Machines or ITMs (which includes fare machines). You had until March 2012 to comply. I think the relevant section is 707 Automatic Teller Machines and Fare Machines.

    The Cubic employee didn’t tell the whole story. ATMs have touchscreens all over the US. They also have tactile interfaces. One does not preclude the other. It’s a design challenge to have both interfaces in one machine but that challenge is overcome every day by the banking industry. It’s CTA/Cubic’s choice to not include a touchscreen. They shouldn’t blame ADA.

  • Divvy should have been more integrated. I’m assuming the divvy key is RFID. Putting divvy on Ventra would have made it more obvious as a connection with the CTA.

  • The whole point of Ventra was getting RID of RFID in the CTA’s tapcards, because from their point of view RFID is an undesirable technology. They moved to NFC from RFID on purpose.

  • Well that explains how clueless I am about wireless chip technology! I thought the two were the same… Thanks!

  • The/a relevant factoid here is that you can’t read them with the same doohickey — they use different wavelengths. So anything that can take both, needs two completely separate sensor technologies. And I’ve heard (hearsay alert! [citation needed]!) that the manufacturer of the rfid-reading part of the CTA turnstiles, the Chicago-Card sensor, has gone out of business or isn’t making them anymore or something, making the switchover kind of imperative — without parts, they can’t fix ones that break.

  • It’ll be possible to register via hotline or website.

  • I don’t think he was blaming the ADA, but pointing out that this is the basic required interface. A different interface would pose different costs.

    I believe that before 5 years is up, half the Ventra vending machines will no longer be needed because so many people will be adding money to Ventra at the thousands of retail outlets and online.

  • What should really happen is allow the use of a Divvy FOB in place of the Ventra card.


You Might Already Be Ready to Use Ventra

Ventra, you may have heard, is the new fare payment system for Chicago Transit Authority and Pace. (Metra will not be joining the Ventra system, and is currently testing other fare payment methods.) CTA is switching to Ventra to save $5 million per year on maintaining outdated fare collection technology, according to spokesperson Lambrini Lukidis. […]

Getting to Work With Ventra: An Uneventful Experience

The multi-week Ventra rollout ramps up this week as thousands of college students have received their U-PASS-enabled Ventra cards. The same card will be with them through their entire enrollment at 41 participating colleges. Outside the semester, though, students can load cash or passes onto the Ventra card to give them transit access when U-PASS […]

New Ventra App Takes Small Step Towards Transit Fare Integration

The forthcoming smartphone ticket app for Metra will also make it possible for Chicago Transit Authority and Pace customers to manage their Ventra transit accounts on their phones, the CTA announced last week. Even though the three agencies will spend $2.5 million on the app (plus nearly $16,000 in monthly fees), the Ventra app won’t at […]