Getting to Work With Ventra: An Uneventful Experience

Ventra press event
A Ventra single-ride ticket gets the "go" message.

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 is disabled. I sent my roommate on a mission Thursday to test loading cash onto a Ventra card, given to me by the Chicago Transit Authority, and use it to get to work downtown from Logan Square.

Brian* approached the Ventra vending machine and immediately accidentally mistook the cash receptor as a place to insert the Ventra card, not remembering that Ventra cards work without contact. That’s when a CTA customer assistant stepped over to take over operating the machine.

“The process of adding value was pretty simple,” he said. You can start the process of adding value to your “transit purse” by tapping your card on the target pad. Brian explained, “Once the machine read the card and the CTA worker pressed the ‘Add Transit value/pass’ button, the screen showed the $1 value on the card, and she pressed another button to ‘add value with cash’.” He fed the cash, “the value was added, I selected the option to get a receipt, and I was done.”

You can also add value with a credit or debit card, and you’ll be able to add value on the Ventra website with a credit or debit card. The Ventra machine cannot add value to your “retail purse,” for use at places where you see the MasterCard logo.

Ventra vending machine
Press "C" to start adding value to an existing Ventra card.

The Ventra card readers are on top of the turnstiles, next the slot where you dip magnetic stripe transit cards, which will be phased out in December. Brian’s experience with Ventra concluded with the reader giving him a green arrow pointing to the turnstile, showing “go” on the color screen, and giving “a pleasing ‘bong’ sound.”

Brian had the same issue with the vending machine I had. He wrote:

One thing that really surprised me was the old-style interface of the Ventra machine. I expected a touchscreen but they are like the ATM machines where you get options on the sides of the screen and you have to press the buttons adjacent to the option you want on the screen. The problem is if you are over 4-feet tall the buttons and the screen options don’t line up. I had to crouch to make sure I was pressing the right button and even the CTA worker hit the wrong button one time because it did not line up with the screen.

A worker for Cubic Transportation Systems, the company contracted to install and operate Ventra, explained to me during a press event that the machine is designed this way to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Chicago Card/Plus holders should be receiving their cards (if not already) and can use their card immediately after activating it. CTA has also started removing Express and Visitor Pass vending machines.

* Name changed

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