Randomness (r_ness) wrote,

Ventra and its issues.

Chicago's new Ventra card.

Chicago is having a rather difficult time rolling out its new Ventra fare payment system. Ventra is meant to replace its earlier Chicago Card. This is not going well.

I myself got a Ventra card to replace my Chicago Card.

One of the problems with giving your contactless fare card MasterCard debit card functionality is that it makes the activation process much more complicated. This is for understandable fraud prevention reasons.

As a result, however, the activation process is significantly more difficult than registering a new credit card. This is the case even if you never decide to active the debit card functionality at all.

Here's what I had to do:

Some weeks ago, I got email saying I needed to update my Chicago Card information before they could send me a Ventra card to replace my Chicago Card. I logged in to the Chicago Card site, verified all my information was correct, and waited.

Apparently this was not enough, because nothing happened. I checked online again and came to the conclusion that I actually needed to save a change in my information on the Chicago Card site before it would count as having being updated. I added something--all my information was still correct, so it's not like there was anything useful to change--and sure enough I soon got email confirmation that my new Ventra card was on its way.

That email confirmation included an automatically generated userid/password combination which I needed to use to log in to the new Ventra site. Once I logged in, I would need to create a four-digit account access code, distinct from the password.

What the email confirmation did not mention is that I would also need to create a security question and answer, as well as give my date of birth, or the Ventra site would not let me proceed. Not a big deal, but not documented in email.

I waited for my Ventra card to arrive, which it did within a few days.

In the meantime, I received more email from Ventra with instructions on how to activate the card once I got it. First, it reminded me to log into the site and set up my access code. Then, I would need to go through a procedure reminiscent of activating a credit card: I would need to call the toll-free number on the sticker on the card. It would prompt me for the card number (a standard sixteen-digit MasterCard number), the expiration date (I note that the system did not, in fact, ask me for that), and the account access code I set up earlier.

This went through without a glitch, and my account in the website updated as I was on the phone, which was reassuring and pretty efficient.

I then changed my userid and password on the Ventra site to something I created, which is a detail Ventra does not mention but which I recommend if for no other reason than ease of memory. Also, the temporary password they give is pretty insecure. In fact, it doesn't meet the site's own criteria for a new password.

This is a rather elaborate procedure to set up a transit farecard.

I am never going to set up the MasterCard debit facility on this card, not only because I have a bank account and a credit card, but because the fee structure is annoying (pdf). To be fair, it's probably not any worse than most standalone debit cards. But I'm not the intended market for the debit card: all I want is a farecard. So none of the above complexity is a direct part of setting up the debit card account, although I'm sure some of it exists so that the debit card functionality can exist.

I am an experienced Internet user with some understanding of security issues, and a transit geek who has proved in the past to be very willing to jump through elaborate hoops to get a transit farecard. I had little trouble with the process, which I completed without ever speaking to a human. But even I thought this process was a bit much just to get a transit farecard.

I don't have to imagine how this process has been received by other users, because it's been reported in the press.

From a story in today's Chicago Tribune:
CTA fare options that expired this week are back in place until the company that is being paid almost a half-billion dollars to manage the implementation of the new Ventra system fixes problems that have left thousands of customers frustrated, the president of the CTA said Wednesday.

The transit agency made the abrupt, if temporary, reversal in response to angry riders who this week overwhelmed a Ventra hotline in an effort to activate their new cards and in some cases have demanded their old, time-tested fare-payment choices back.

So until further notice, sales of magnetic stripe transit cards will continue at rail stations, and Chicago Card customers will be allowed to add value to their cards. But CTA President Forrest Claypool said Wednesday he is determined to stick to a Dec. 15 deadline to stop accepting the old fare cards on trains and buses.


"The security procedures, in retrospect, were a little too complicated with the access codes," Claypool said.

"That's why we are getting the confusion and that's why we got so many calls to the customer support system, which had insufficient numbers of operators," Claypool said after a CTA board meeting in which the issues with Ventra were not raised.

In response to questions on the issue, Cubic spokeswoman Kim Gregory responded: "Our policy with the CTA is to not answer media questions and refer them to the agency."
Yes, the operator is Cubic Transportation Systems. Yes, the CTA did pay $454 million for the new system.
Tags: transit
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