Move to Ventra-only fare system could resume by March

Move to Ventra-only fare system could resume by March

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CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire) -

Heads up, CTA riders. The transition to a Ventra-only fare payment system could resume by the end of the month, the Sun-Times reports.

That was the word Wednesday from CTA President Forrest Claypool, who also added that riders probably will be given more than a month's notice before old paper fare cards are dumped in favor of new plastic Ventra cards with special "contactless" chips.

"We'll probably be ready to announce a transition schedule at the end of the month," Claypool told reporters following the CTA's monthly meeting Wednesday.

Elimination of the old fare payment system "is not going to be overnight, that's for sure,'' he said. "We'll give people plenty of time.''

A steady stream of complaints about Ventra led Claypool last Nov. 5 to temporarily halt what had been a bumpy march toward a Ventra-only fare payment system.

The move came shortly before CTA was preparing to haul old vending machines out of stations and just over a month before all magnetic-striped cards were due to become unusable.

Claypool announced three benchmarks — involving Ventra hotline hold times and functioning Ventra machines and readers — that he wanted the system's vendor to meet before resuming the Ventra transition. The vendor, Cubic Transportation Systems, has been meeting those benchmarks since Jan. 1, but Claypool said he wants to make sure the last round of fine-tuning, involving new fare reader messages, takes hold before resuming the transition.

Riders this week should have noticed clearer or more detailed messages about their cards when they tap Ventra readers. For example, at least three messages have replaced "Stop, check account.'' One warns users that their cards hold an "insufficient fare,'' another alerts them to "see customer service" if their card is damaged, yet another warns that a paper ticket has expired.

At the time the transition was halted, about 55 percent of rides were being purchased with Ventra cards. The final move to Ventra should be much smoother, Claypool said, because far more customers have since started using Ventra cards. By the time the transition resumes, about eight out of 10 customers will be using Metra, he said.

Also Wednesday, the CTA board approved awarding a $25.6 million contract to F.H. Paschen, S.N. Nielsen and Associates to rehab three CTA stations as part of the first stretch of work on the "Your New Blue" Line project.

Upgrades should begin next fall at the Damen, Western and California stations. New "bells and whistles" will include CTA train tracker screens and state-of-the-art security cameras, Claypool said.

The stations, originally constructed 120 years ago, also will receive painting, tuck-pointing, window and door replacement, and sidewalk improvements.

The work is part of a $492 million "Your New Blue" plan announced in December by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn, which also will include track improvements, signal upgrades and the rehab of 13 stations on the line that whisks travelers in and out of O'Hare Airport.

However, during the four years of work, riders should only face sporadic overnight and weekend track work and temporary station shutdowns, CTA officials said.

The project should shave up to 10 minutes off the trip from O'Hare to downtown, CTA officials say.

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