Recent CTA Upgrades I Appreciate, and Other Aspects That Can Use Some Work

James Porter on the 'L'.
James Porter on the 'L'.

As a person who takes public transportation on a regular basis, from one end of town to another, I’ve actually seen plenty of improvements to the CTA bus and train system over the last fifteen years or so. The addition of screens with real-time announcements of when the next buses or trains should be arriving is a major plus, as is the ability to access this same information online through the Bus Tracker and Train Tracker features. Most of the time these predictions are fairly accurate, making it easier to plan your trip. for example, they help you decide when to leave your home in order to minimize your wait at the bus stop or ‘L’ platform, meaning less time out in the heat, rain, or snow.

However, if I was running the CTA, one thing I definitely would change would be to add 24-hour service to bus lines where it is needed. For example, I live in Chatham and the 87th Street bus is the closest route for me to take to and from the Red Line. In the past the #87 ran all night, but in recent years the overnight service was cut. So if I’m coming home from the Red Line late at night, I have to ride the 79th Street bus, which means a longer walk from the bus to my house.

Now, it certainly makes sense for the #79 to offer around-the-clock service, because it’s the busiest bus route in the system, with an average of 24,300 boardings per weekday in 2017. But the 87th Street bus is nothing to sneeze at either, with 11,838 boardings per weekday on average, so it seems like 24-hour service would make sense on that line as well. It would certainly be more convenient for us Chatham residents who live further south.

Another pet peeve of mine is the Ventra card. This has to be the most cumbersome fare payment method ever devised. If you’re going to be riding a bus and want to know how much money is left on your card and add value if necessary, you have to stop beforehand at a Ventra retailer, like a currency exchange or a drugstore.

And while ‘L’ stations have Ventra machines, they take an ungodly amount of time to recharging your card. Several times I’ve approached a Ventra machine, only to find that the previous user didn’t finish their transaction. They may have gotten their card recharged, but likely no one had time to wait around for the receipt. It would have only taken a few seconds, but you don’t have a few seconds to spare when your mind is on catching the next train. And, heck, at least with the CTA’s old magnetic strip Chicago Card, you got a reading of how much money was left on your card right at the turnstile — Ventra doesn’t even do that.

Those grumbles aside, it’s good to live on a city where, depending on you live, it’s fairly easy to get where you need to go using public transportation. But, of course, there’s definitely room for improvement.

  • Mike Harris

    If you’re going to be riding a bus and want to know how much money is
    left on your card and add value if necessary, you have to stop
    beforehand at a Ventra retailer, like a currency exchange or a

    Or just install the app on your phone:

  • kastigar

    Or just sign up for automatic refill: When my (Seniors Ride Cheap) Ventra Card falls below $10, it automagically adds another 20 bucks from my bank account.

  • Daniel Joseph

    The #87 bus has an “Owl” overnight from the Red Line to Western. From 87th and Western to 91st and Commercial the #87 operates from 4:00 am to !:00 the next day.

  • MelCrawf

    Not everyone can afford a smartphone or the data they gobble. Many people who use public transit do so because it is the
    most affordable option on limited resources. It’s not an unreasonable request to be able to see a card balance without being able to invest in those options, or to spend so much time at a vending machine. Not everyone has a credit card they can tie to their account, or a full bank account that they never have to worry about overdrawing. It’s always good to look outside our own experience and try to understand how other people live, and to appreciate our own privilege, which we often forget.

  • Combin8tion

    Then you’ve never heard of lifeline cell phone service provided to people who may qualify by participating in:

    – Food Stamps/SNAP
    – Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
    – Veterans Pension benefit or Survivors Pension
    – Medicaid
    – Federal Public Housing Assistance or Section 8

    Or qualify by income at a 135% of federal poverty guidelines depending on household size.

    Recipients of the phone receive 2GB of data per month, free unlimited texts and 350 voice minutes per month.

    All of which people of privilege pay for. So don’t give us the line that these resources are unavailable to people without means. It’s BS.

  • Anne A

    Getting an update on card balance was a VERY useful feature when I was using Clipper card in the San Francisco area recently. Immediately after swiping on a bus or swiping out at the end of a BART trip, the display showed my current balance. I kept wishing that we had this useful feature on Ventra.

  • david vartanoff

    given that ventra and clipper are from the same vendor,it would appear CTA dropped the ball when writing the bid specs.

  • Anne A

    On the flipside, Clipper doesn’t have an app. Also, fare $ added to the account online doesn’t show up in real time, but only after an overnight processing cycle. We have the advantages of real time processing and an app with Ventra (though Ventra does have its quirks).


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