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CTA Reinstates Ability To Buy Magnetic Fare Cards

CHICAGO (CBS) -- After days of mounting complaints, jammed phone lines and missing activation instructions, CTA did a U-turn on Ventra Wednesday.

CTA President Forrest Claypool ordered vendor Cubic Industries to triple the size of its customer service staff dedicated to Ventra -- expressly not at the expense of riders -- and sent out 110,000 e-mails to frustrated riders explaining, in supposedly simpler terms, how to activate a Ventra card.

CTA Reinstates Ability To Buy Magnetic Fare Cards

The Ventra customer service line was flooded Monday. A CTA spokesman said roughly 20,000 calls got through, while untold thousands more never made it that far.

"Monday, we reached a tipping point," said CTA spokesman Brian Steele, who said the number of calls Tuesday dropped to 10,000.

Claypool said, because training the additional customer service representatives will take several weeks, CTA will continue to stock vending machines with the soon-to-be-phased out magnetic stripe farecards, and said riders will be able to continue recharging old Chicago Cards. Both had been officially "phased out" on Monday.

Both moves are temporary. CTA President Forrest Claypool said Wednesday he still expects CTA and Pace to meet the Dec. 15 final phase-out date for old fare media.

Aside from that, Steele said, CTA is generally satisfied with the performance of Ventra cards in the field. As of Wednesday, Ventra cards have been used to pay more than 12 million fares, and earlier in the week, accounted for 40 percent of the total number of "taps" (each tap representing a ride) on the bus and rail systems.

Ventra card readers on some CTA buses have proven to be balky. Steele said most have worked after minor re-calibration at bus garages.

Steele said many of the riders who were left on seemingly terminal hold Monday and other recent days have skipped the prompts riders encounter when calling the Ventra customer service line, instead dialing "0" for a live customer service representative. Steele said those who stayed with the prompts were able to complete the activation procedure in five minutes or less.

To date, CTA said, more than 900,000 Ventra accounts have been opened.

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