The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Ventra Mobile App Announced. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

By Chuck Sudo in News on Oct 16, 2014 2:00PM

Image courtesy Chicago Transit Authority.

Chicago Transit Authority and Pace Suburban Bus lines went through significant growing pains transitioning from magnetic strip fare cards and Chicago Cards to Ventra, while Metra is playing catch-up before a 2015 deadline to switch over to the much-maligned shared fare system. One would think the area’s three transit agencies would want to ensure the system works near-flawlessly before introducing a Ventra smartphone app.

Yet smartphone owners could be faced with the possibility of pulling their hair out and screaming at bus drivers and train station attendants all over again starting next year. CTA, Metra and Pace announced a Ventra smartphone app would launch next year, allowing users to buy and add value to Ventra passes, check account balances and add funding sources for accounts, view account history and set up customized account notifications for low balance and expiring passes.

Oh, and you can still use it as an optional debit card, which remains one of the criticism of the system. This app will not make carrying a Ventra card an option. When the test pilot program begins, CTA and Pace riders will still have to use their Ventra (or contactless credit and debit cards) to pay their fares.

There are some silver linings here besides Metra finally being on board with the program. The $5 fee tacked on to every Ventra card purchase will be waived if the buy is made using the app. Eventually, tablet computer devices with the proper chips can be used to tap readers and pay for fares. As for Metra, which still seems stuck in the mid-20th century, they'll be testing out a program where riders will buy fares using the app, then conductors will use mobile devices for fare validation and collection.

This is the 21st century. We don’t have teleportation or mag-lev automobiles yet, but we can still get death stares from bus drivers because the transit pass that doubles as the debit card we can buy coffee with can’t be read by the electronic reader. It's nowhere near the universal fare system it's supposed to be, but it's a start.

Progress, not perfection.