Chicago is the third largest city in the USA, and the Regional Transportation Authority is responsible for nearly two million passengers a day that travel on its buses and trains. The buses alone travel over 2,200 route miles. To confuse matters, the transport services come under different subordinate authorities. Some trains are managed by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), while others are operated by Metra. The situation with the buses is equally bewildering to the uninitiated, with most coming under the control of Pace while others are organized by the CTA. All the authorities used different methods for ticket payment. Ventra Chicago was setup in 2011 to bring order to the chaotic payment system.
It was believed that by having a single system, delays and confusion at ticket offices and points-of-sale would be reduced, allowing the millions of commuters to travel more easily and swiftly. Metra initially refused to take part and wanted to build their own independent payment system but recently agreed to accept Ventra app payments.
The Ventra Chicago system is operated by Cubic Transportation Systems. It is based on a contactless card using an RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip. The cards can be bought for single use, single day or in top-up varieties. Bank credit or debit cards that use RFID chips can also be linked, as can compatible smartphones. Disposable paper Ventra tickets are also available for single rides.
One benefit of the system is the ease with which the card can be topped up online. It is easy to see how removing the need for millions of people visiting an office for such payments would be a great saving on manpower and costs.
The trial run in 2013 was not without its problems and public confidence was damaged but valuable lessons were learned.
Ventra app launched
In November 2015, the Ventra app was launched and has already proved to be popular with travelers. Although only launched in November 2015, the millionth ride using the system was registered on 19th January 2016.
The app works across CTA, Pace and Metra, enabling the public to use mobile ticketing on all three transport authorities via their compatible mobile devices. Ventra cards can be topped up, and the balance checked and managed via the Ventra app. If the balance on the card is low or when passes are due to expire the app will send a warning. Metra is still not a fully functioning part of Ventra but the app allows passengers to buy Metra tickets.
A feature that commuters are finding invaluable is the tracker that allows them to view the arrival schedules for CTA, Pace and Metra transport on their phones.
At the moment, only Ventra cards or bank cards can be used for contactless payment. Plans are in place to enable mobile devices to be used for such contactless activity.
Ventra Chicago is an innovative new system that will make traveling on the complex and busy Chicago transport system much easier. Like many good ideas, there were delays and hiccups along the way, but these seem to be have been resolved. The commuting public now appear to be strongly behind this daring initiative.