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Metra: We Already Comply With Ventra (Except They Really Don't)

By Chuck Sudo in News on Oct 16, 2014 10:00PM

Metra is the most nakedly unscrupulous of the Chicago area’s three transit agencies; need we remind you of the Alex Clifford affair? Would you be surprised to discover the rail agency has the chutzpah to claim they’re already compliant with Ventra, even though they have not laid any groundwork in place (or went through the very public trial and error) to accept the shared fare payment system the way CTA and Pace did?

Of course you wouldn’t. But that’s exactly what Metra spokesman Michael Gillis told Streetsblog Chicago’s Steven Vance recently. Gillis said Metra already accepts Mastercard debit cards, presented in person to cashiers, at any of their 140 staffed locations. As Vance notes, the majority of those stations, including damn near every station not located in downtown Chicago, never have agents on duty.

Metra is playing semantics here. Per Vance:

By that definition, Metra complied with the law and accepted Ventra even before Ventra existed, since Metra first installed credit and debit card readers in 2010. Or, by a similar token, Metra customers can already “use Ventra” for fares aboard Metra trains - by using their debit cards to withdraw cash from an ATM beforehand.

This mentality is Metra in a nutshell. They’re the Delta Air Lines of public rail transit—they merely get you there. Whether they do so safely or with a modicum of good customer service and trust is another matter. If you’re reading this and wondering what Metra will do to comply with Ventra before the mandated 2015 deadline to do so, don’t get too optimistic they’ll do anything beyond implementing the Ventra smartphone app announced Wednesday.

Metra Executive Director Don Orseno told the CTA board of directors they plan to begin testing out the smartphone app on all of Metra’s rail lines beginning in February, and expect the transition to be completed by the end of the year. But how that will be accepted makes it sound more like an honor system.

Once the app is activated on Metra, customers will present their smartphones, loaded with one-ride tickets or passes, to conductors. The conductors will use mobile devices to validate and collect the fares from the phones, which will serve as "virtual Ventra cards," officials said.

Oy vey! Even knowing the public rocky road CTA and Pace traveled to transition to Ventra, Metra seems hellbent on making it harder on themselves.

As we wrote this morning, expect progress, nor perfection.