Ventra vending machine line

The line to buy a Ventra card at the Grand Red Line stop on the Near North Side on July 18. (July 24, 2014)

For tourists trying to board the Red Line to a Cubs game at the Grand stop, the lines for the Ventra ticket machines recently have been, well, less than grand.

RedEye has observed long lines during evening rush hour at the Grand stop on Cubs and White Sox night game days over the past week as tourists navigated Ventra, which completely replaced the old CTA fare card system earlier this month.

During Wednesday evening rush hour at the Grand stop, dozens of riders waited in line at three Ventra machines to purchase their fares. A fourth machine was sold of out of the popular $3 single-ride tickets.

Andrew Zuchelli, visiting from the Philadelphia area, said it was his first time in Chicago and on the CTA. He waited about 20 minutes to get his single-ride ticket to take the Red Line to the Cubs game Wednesday. He said he has taken transit in the New York area.

Zuchelli, 24, said ticket "lines haven't been this long" in New York but the CTA "looks much nicer" than the New York subway.

For its part, the CTA had staff on hand helping riders get through the Ventra lines, which at times snaked in front of the turnstiles to the platform. On Friday evening, RedEye observed the ticket line reach the stairwell of the southwest entrance in front of Rock Bottom.

"We do have extra staff when we do have some big event," CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said, pointing out that during tourist season long lines are common across the city. "We do try to be proactive on those things."

A poster next to the Ventra vending machines informs riders that if ticket lines are too long, they can visit the Jewel-Osco store around the corner at 550 N. State St., or nearby Walgreens locations.

But retailers do not offer the popular $3 single-ride ticket, which is only sold at rail stations. The $3 ticket is a new fare card the CTA began offering with the implementation of the Ventra system.

The $3 ticket includes the standard $2.25 rail fare, a 25-cent transfer (even if the rider doesn't need it) and a 50-cent processing fee that goes to Ventra vendor Cubic Transportation Systems.

Previously, riders could add $2.25 onto a disposable card for a rail ticket. Cash still is accepted on buses for riders who don't want to purchase any type of ticket.

The CTA said it is planning to add an extra Ventra vending machine at the Grand Red Line station because that Near North Side stop, near many tourist hotspots and hotels, has experienced a 13 percent ridership jump this year through April compared with the same time last year.

Also the agency plans to hang posters reminding infrequent riders that they can use their personal bank cards with contactless chips to pay fares so they won't have to wait in line.

Personal bank cards cannot yet be registered with the Ventra system, so riders who do not set aside money or load unlimited passes on their bank cards will pay full fare, non-transfer prices with each bank card swipe.

For riders who get to their station only to see long lines, mobile banking is an option. Ventra has a mobile site, and the CTA is planning to release a Ventra app.

But the tourists Wednesday at the Grand Red Line stop purchased their tickets the old-fashioned way: by waiting in line at the Ventra vending machines.

Chris Lambert and Justina Barone, both in town from Texas, were headed to the Cubs game. Both said they are originally from the Northeast and are familiar with the New York subway system. Lambert had taken the Chicago trains a few times in past trips.

CTA "ticketing is slower while [New York] subways are faster," said Lambert, 33. But the CTA "seems cleaner. Looks nice."