Getting Around: Ventra rollout may take some users for a ride

Ventra cards will go on sale the week of Sept. 9 at Ventra vending machines and at some retail locations. Cards can also be ordered online starting Aug. 12, officials said. The cards would then be mailed in about a week and they can be loaded at Ventra vending machines, officials said.

Q: Are the cards free?

A: Not really. The cards cost $5, but if owners register their cards, the $5 fee is credited toward future transit rides. Registration carries benefits, including the replacement of balances if the cards are lost or stolen.

The CTA is also providing a limited number of totally free Ventra cards at promotional events, but the agency isn't providing details on how to get a free card.

Q: What about balances that are remaining on registered Chicago Cards and Plus cards?

A: Customers' balances or fare products such as passes will be automatically transferred to Ventra upon activation of the new cards, officials said.

Q: Do I need to get a Ventra card?

A: No. Once the general introduction of Ventra begins during the week of Sept. 9, a personal credit or debit card with contactless technology can be used to pay CTA and Pace fares. Contactless cards use a technology called radio-frequency identification for making secure payments. To determine whether your credit or debit card has RFID, look for a symbol on the card that looks like a radio wave. If it doesn't, ask your bank to provide a contactless card. Cash will still be accepted to pay fares on buses and to buy CTA rail single-ride tickets, but why pay 75 cents more per train ride?

Q: Will I still be able to purchase multiday passes?

A: On Ventra, yes. But the CTA will phase out the current multiday pass cards (one-day, three-day, seven-day and 30-day) and sometime in December they will no longer be accepted. Any value on those cards can be transferred to a Ventra card through March 2014, officials said. But CTA officials are advising customers to spend down the balances on the old cards and make the switch to Ventra.

The non-Ventra transit card vending machines will start to disappear from rail stations in September, as will express vending machines and visitor pass machines, officials said. By the end of October, Chicago Card customers will no longer be able to add value to the cards at vending machines, but balances on the cards can still be used or transferred to Ventra.

Q: How will customers using the RTA version of the Ventra card transfer balances from their old cards?

A: The RTA is encouraging reduced-fare and ADA paratransit customers to spend down the balances on their current permits. If that is not possible, those customers can transfer balances to their RTA Ventra cards at select locations starting in September and continuing through next March, officials said.

RTA Ventra customers can contact RTA customer service at 312-913-3110. Applications to the RTA reduced-fare, free rides and ADA paratransit programs can be obtained at the phone number above; at rtachicago.com; or at the RTA customer service center, 165 N. Jefferson St., Chicago.

Q: What about commuters who participate in pretax transit benefits programs?

A: Customers who received their Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus through those programs from their employers will receive notification in September of the switch to Ventra, officials said.

Contact Getting Around at jhilkevitch@tribune.com or c/o the Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611; on Twitter @jhilkevitch; and at facebook.com/jhilkevitch. Read recent columns at chicagotribune.com/gettingaround.

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