By Jon Hilkevitch
9:27 PM CST, November 6, 2013
Passengers exiting CTA buses have always been encouraged to use the rear door for efficiency's sake, but bus drivers on Wednesday warned that departing through the front door now could carry an unintended financial penalty thanks to the new Ventra fare system.
They are telling riders to beware, or Ventra will charge you coming and going.
The CTA bus drivers union, which has been critical of the new fare-payment system, didn't characterize the frequency of the alleged phenomenon, which may help explain why some bus riders who monitor their Ventra accounts online are learning they've been charged twice on a single trip.
Multiple charges are a problem that the transit agency acknowledges has occurred and will be remedied by upcoming software changes.
CTA officials said it's "not impossible" that fares could be inadvertently charged during front-door exiting, but they maintained it would be "extremely difficult to occur."
"A Ventra card or contactless bank card must be 13/4 inches or closer to be read by a Ventra reader," CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said.
CTA bus drivers said they first noticed that Ventra card scanners are sometimes registering fares when no riders are boarding.
Upon closer scrutiny, they said, it turned out that Ventra and credit or debit card customers who exit through the front door risk paying an extra fare by brushing against or even passing too close to the Ventra scanner mounted near the door, according to officials with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241.
All it takes is a backpack, a purse, a wallet in a pocket — anything containing a Ventra card or any other contactless money card — being in close proximity to a Ventra card-scanning device, union officials said, adding that such conditions are common on crowded buses during peak travel periods.
"We were told by CTA as part of our Ventra training that there are protections built into the system to prevent overcharges on the Ventra card," said Herb Kwilinski, a veteran CTA bus driver and an assistant to the union's trustees.
The measures are designed to reduce the likelihood of excess fares being charged in cases where the card is tapped more than once against the Ventra reader during boarding, according to the Ventra contractor, Cubic Transportation Systems Inc.
But the protections apparently do not extend to riders who are already on the bus and then exit via the front door. A clock essentially safeguarding against overcharges during a limited number of minutes resets itself, apparently before some riders reach their stops.
"After a specified time has passed, if you get too close to the Ventra reader, it can deduct a second fare," Kwilinski said.
Bus drivers also have fallen victim to being charged fares while getting in and out of their seats, he said.
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