Ventra Is Ditching Prepaid Debit Option, Adopting a Groovy New Card Design

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Picasso-inspired. Mid-Century Modern-influenced. Harlequin-esque. Psychedelic. Pointy. Fallout shelter.

All these phrases come to mind when I gaze at the hypnotic new design of the CTA Ventra fare payment card, which will be available for sale starting Monday, December 18. The new fare cards are also being mailed to customers who have previously registered their cards at and whose current cards are expiring.

“The Ventra card’s new design is inspired by the Ventra ‘V’, featuring a repetition of geometric triangles to create a pattern in varied hues of blue, a nod to Lake Michigan,” the transit agency said in a news release. Whatever, the new design is a huge improvement over its dreary, gray predecessor, which resembles a boring bankcard. That’s no coincidence, because the image makeover coincides with the transit agency phasing out the optional prepaid debit card function of the original Ventra cards – more on that below.

In 2013 the Ventra payment system began to replace the CTA’s magnetic strip cards in a rollout that was so glitchy – remember having to tap your Ventra card seven times on a bus before it registered? – that someone recorded a NSFW rap song about the problem. In one aspect, Ventra still isn’t as functional as the Chicago Card, which told you how much value was left when you swiped it at a turnstile.

But the bugs were eventually worked out, and a major advantage of the Ventra system, intended for use on all three regional transit networks, materialized in 2015 when the Ventra App debuted. This allows customers to skip Metra ticket windows and machines and pay on the train with out the usual onboard payment surcharge.

The first Ventra cards, issued in 2013, will begin to expire on December 31, 2017, through 2022. Ventra will send email notifications to registered customers two months before their cards expire, asking them to confirm their current mailing address so they can receive a free replacement card through the mail.

The agency is also encouraging Ventra holders who haven’t yet registered their cards to do so now. Not only do you get a refund for the $5 cost of the card in fare credit after you register it, if you lose the card you don’t lose your stored fare value.

As part of the switch, the new Ventra cards will no longer offer the prepaid debit account feature that was an option when the system launched in 2013. “After analyzing customer preferences and habits, CTA determined that there wasn’t significant demand for this feature in part because of the numerous prepaid debit products in the marketplace and electronic payment options like Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay, which have become more accessible and provide consumers with increased financial options, including the ability to pay their Ventra fares,” the CTA stated.

The prepaid debit function will become unavailable at the end of the year. Customers who have opened prepaid debit accounts as a part of their Ventra accounts can transfer funds to new prepaid cards offered by Money Network, which has administered the debit feature for Ventra. Customers can spend down their prepaid balances, transfer their funds to a new prepaid debit card, or have their funds returned to them via check from Money Network.

Arguably it’s a good thing that the Ventra prepaid debit card is going the way of the dinosaur. The debit card function debuted with a long list of fees that had the potential to siphon of much of the money stored on the card, including:

  • A $1.50 ATM withdrawal fee
  • A $2 fee to speak to someone about the retail debit account.
  • A $6.00 fee for closing out the debit balance
  • A $2 fee for a paper statement
  • A $2.95 fee to add money to the debit account using a personal credit card
  • A $10 per hour fee for “account research’’ to resolve account discrepancies
“These fees were probably not any different than other bank cards offered by Money Network or Meta Bank or other predatory banks,” says Streetsblog Chicago’s Steven Vance, who reported on the issue at the time. “But it was shameful for the CTA to be aligned with that.”

After a backlash, most of these fees were reduced or eliminated, but CTA retail outlets were still allowed to charge Ventra card holders a fee of up to $4.95 to load cash on the debit sides of their cards. So maybe it is for the best that the CTA is getting out of the bank card business.

  • bdickus2001

    Make no mistake, it’s purely financial. If they were making any 💰 off it, they wouldn’t eliminate it.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Glad to see the CTA is exiting the predatory financial products business, but as others have noted it’s probably because participation was low enough that they weren’t making money. The CTA seeming to endorse a high fee debit card rightfully just added more controversy and backlash to the botched Ventra rollout. Lets hope that the customers who signed up for the debit cards aren’t hit with fees trying to get their money back when the system shuts down.

    Ventra still hasn’t fully implemented some of the promised features. When the app initially debuted being able to use your phone as a virtual Ventra card was announced as a coming soon feature. Two years on I guess they didn’t mean that soon. Also the app still has some odd visual quirks and takes a very long time to display your ticket if you switch to another app after launching it, or your lock screen comes up while you’re waiting for the conductor to come around.

  • John

    I never understood the switch from the ChicagoCards to Ventra. ChicagoCard worked on Pace, so Metra was the only missing link there. And as far as the limited/one-time use tickets are concerned, there’s been really no appreciable change for riders – you still get issued disposable tickets that the entry-stalls have to process – whether its an RFID or a magnetic strip is meaningless on the user’s end.

  • CIAC

    And your point is?

  • DanielKH

    The pay-with-your-phone feature has been available for a while now! I’ve done it several times.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Ventra has support Apple Pay and Google Wallet for fare payment for a while. When the app debuted they discussed at some point in the near future having your phone work as a virtual Ventra Card that would let you tap your phone at a turnstile and access your pre tax transit benefits and passes for fare payment.

  • Chicagoan

    The graphics of the card is so 2017.

  • johnaustingreenfield
  • elevtechlift

    Systems like Octopus in Hong Kong, EasyCard and iPASS in Taiwan, Suica in Japan, and many others are successful in both transit and prepaid debit payment system as the systems are independent from credit and debit payment networks. Also no fees are charged for using those cards in stores and other in-person transactions.

  • Alex

    Mind explaining how to do this? Do you actually pay with your Ventra card on your phone or are you using a CC in your Apple wallet? If it’s the latter will it recognize transfers or will there be any additional fee?

  • what_eva

    ChicagoCard was bespoke technology. Costs to maintain it were only going to go up as the few other systems that used similar technology switched to something more like Ventra.

    Ventra is commodity technology (based on contactless credit cards). The really nice thing for visitors is that you can tap a contactless credit card and avoid buying a Ventra card altogether. That was not possible with ChicagoCard’s tech


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