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Article updated: 9/10/2013 5:23 AM

Using Ventra on CTA, Pace will get better, officials say

We bought a Ventra card from a vending machine, but then we needed customer service reps on the phone to help us register it.

We bought a Ventra card from a vending machine, but then we needed customer service reps on the phone to help us register it.

 

JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

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There are still some bumps in the road as Pace and the CTA move to Ventra, the new fare system that debuted Monday.

The Daily Herald conducted a test run of Ventra and found some glitches in the system. Officials said they will be corrected over the next three months.

Riders now can use old passes and magnetic cards, but those will no longer be accepted as of Dec. 15, when the game-changing reform that allows CTA and Pace users to transfer seamlessly between systems is official.

On Day 1, we found some positive steps and a few hiccups, starting with acquiring a new card. Passengers can obtain Ventra cards online, by phone, at CTA stations and at numerous retail locations. To find retailers, a locator service is offered at www.ventrachicago.com/retailers/locations/.

But several attempts to locate suburban retailers offering Ventra, such as Jewel/Osco, Walgreens and CVS, were unsuccessful because of technical issues with the website.

After the online search failed, a check of several Jewel/Osco stores in the DuPage County suburbs determined those stores weren't supplying Ventra passes on Monday.

Pace spokesman Patrick Wilmot said the retail network is gathering momentum with 700 vendors participating now and 2,000 vendors expected by 2014.

"It's still a work in progress," he said, noting that even if a store doesn't offer Ventra now, "it doesn't mean it won't be added later.

"Customers who don't currently have a retail location nearby should consider ordering a card and adding passes or transit value via the online system or by phone," Wilmot said. "They should also check regularly for updates to the list of retailers as only about one-third of the eventual number of retailers are currently set up to handle transactions."

After obtaining a Ventra card from a vending machine at a CTA station, our initial attempts to register the card failed. Attendants at the customer service line (877-NOW-VENTRA) were helpful, although there was a five-minute wait to talk to a representative.

A second try resulted in a quick card registration.

Another feature of the new system is that riders can use their credit or debit cards to board trains or buses, provided they are contactless -- featuring a symbol resembling a wave on the back. Tapping a credit card on the Ventra card reader on a Pace Route 834 bus Monday morning worked seamlessly.

As far as costs go, fares remain the same. Cash will still be accepted on buses.

The agencies are waiving a $5 card purchase fee through Dec. 15 if you purchase a card online, by phone or at the Ventra customer service center, 165 N. Jefferson St., Chicago.

A $5 fee applies for Ventra cards bought elsewhere, but it will be refunded into your account for transit use upon registration.

Customers are encouraged to use up balances on existing magnetic stripe cards or unregistered Chicago Card cards in the next few months. Balances can also be transferred from existing cards to Ventra throughout the fall at these locations and dates: 4 to 7 p.m. Sept. 30 at Pace headquarters, 550 W. Algonquin Road, Arlington Heights, and 4 to 7 p.m. Oct. 17 at the CTA Rosemont Blue Line station.

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