Thousands of commuters embrace Metra's ticketing app debut

 
 
Updated 11/20/2015 9:06 AM
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  • Metra's new Ventra app debuted on Thursday.

      Metra's new Ventra app debuted on Thursday. Marni Pyke/mpyke @dailyherald.com

More than 20,000 transit riders had downloaded a smartphone app allowing virtual ticketing on Metra before the evening rush Thursday, officials said.

The Ventra app debuted after weeks of testing and allows riders to purchase and display tickets or passes and to check the status of trains.

While one Metra rider told the Daily Herald she had difficulties downloading the app, Union Pacific Northwest Line regular Craig Ibbotson, who boards in Crystal Lake, sailed through.

"All in all, a great success. (I'm) very happy that I can finally get rid of the paper tickets," he said.

After following the instructions, Ibbotson "boarded the train, activated my ticket, and then used my phone for a few other things. When the conductor came by I pulled up the app and the activated ticket, and he had me push the app to verify it was active."

Metra offered demonstrations of the app at downtown stations Thursday morning.

"The response we've received from customers has been overwhelmingly positive," Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said.

In response to a question from a rider about conductors being a little slower collecting fares Thursday, Gillis said he wasn't aware of any problems.

However, "one issue affected a small number of customers' abilities to log in to the app, which we believe was related to older operating systems on those users' phones," he said

"We immediately began troubleshooting and believe we have the issue quickly resolved."

More than 9,600 Metra tickets were ordered and more than 5,000 new Ventra accounts were established, officials said late Thursday afternoon.

Metra, Pace and Chicago Transit Authority riders can use the app to purchase tickets, manage Ventra accounts and search train or bus times.

The CTA and Pace share a Ventra card system that acts as a ticket or pass on buses and trains. The app is Metra's first significant foray into Ventra; railroad officials said it would be too expensive and complicated to introduce Ventra cards into its system.

Eventually, Pace and CTA commuters will be able to use the app with smartphones as virtual tickets, but it will require newer smartphones with near-field-communication technology that communicates with Ventra readers on buses and in stations.

Ibbotson is looking forward to that stage.

When "we don't need separate Ventra cards it will be an (almost) seamless system. Now a new challenge -- we all need to make sure our phones have enough battery life to last the ride home," he said.

Riders can load the free app on Apple and Android smartphones from the App Store and Google Play.

Fares can be paid for using a credit or debit card or a Ventra account. Officials said it's worth creating an account because it expedites buying passes or tickets, and fares can be recovered if the phone is stolen or lost.

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