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Adventures with Chicago’s new Ventra Card

Chicago’s new Ventra transit card is rolling out now to replace the Chicago Card, promising to become a single payment card for Chicago’s three independent transit systems. At rollout, it supports the CTA (city trains and buses) and Pace (suburb buses), with the Metra (long range suburban trains) scheduled to hop on board in 2014.

It has a lot of potential. Right now, it’s an embarrassing, frustrating wreck.

After Monday, October 7 (the day after I wrote this post), Chicago Card owners can no longer add funds to those cards. Come November 15, Chicago Cards are scheduled to stop working altogether. This has been my journey since our Ventra Cards arrived Thursday:

  • Attempt to register the first of our four new Chicago-Cards-turned-Ventra-Cards. Three arrived on the same day early last week, the fourth (one of our two guest cards) is MIA
  • System prompts for an access code, we were never given any such codes through this entire process. And don’t start with me, I document the crap out of this stuff
  • Forced to use the we’re-totally-not-talking-down-to-you “I forgot access my code” option to reset the access code we never received in the first place
  • Email arrives with a new access code for—yep, you guessed it—the only card that hasn’t arrived yet
  • There is no way to choose a code for a different card
  • There is no way to create an account online to manage all our cards without getting at least one card registered
  • First time I call in to reach a human being, my hold will supposedly be 5-10 minutes. After 11:32, the system hangs up on me
  • Second time I call in I get past the automated activation system and reach a human being. She says she can’t help me, but she can “get me to someone who can.” I am transferred… back to the automated activation system where I began
  • Third time I call in, I get another rep who can’t help me but promises to “transfer me to the Ventra department” and stay on the line to help me reach someone (side note: who the hell have I been talking to when I call the number on the front of our Ventra cards?!). To her credit, she does indeed sit in the line…………… as she transfers me back to the main customer service system that asks me to press 1 for English.

When I am mayor of Chicago I will ensure that everyone who had anything to do with Ventra Card is banned from planet Earth.