Backpack, check. Books, check. Ventra card, double check.
It's school time, and in Chicago that means an influx of college students navigating new classes and dorms as well as figuring out how to use the CTA.
It’s been more than a year since the CTA began its transition to Ventra, which replaced the previous CTA fare payment system in July. College students last year were among the first to try Ventra, distributed by their colleges as U-Passes, which provide unlimited rides during their school term.
Sixty schools are enrolled in the discount U-Pass program, up from 50 schools in 2009. Nearly 129,600 students will use U-Passes in the fall, the CTA said.
Some students experienced problems last year during the initial stages of transition. Some reported they had to tap their card multiple times for entry while others said their cards reported low balances, even though their cards allowed for unlimited rides.
The CTA last year slowed its transition to Ventra so Ventra vendor Cubic Transportation Systems could address those and other glitches that the CTA says have been fixed.
For those who have just moved to Chicago, Ventra and the CTA will be unfamiliar. The Regional Transportation Authority, the funding arm for the CTA and suburban Metra rail and Pace bus systems, says the CTA is an easy, convenient way to get around town.
“We have a world-class public transit system that offers students with safe, convenient and affordable transportation,” Acting RTA Executive Director Leanne Redden said in a statement.
If you are new to Chicago, here are RedEye’s tips for riding the CTA and using Ventra.
- Always be aware of your surroundings. Avoid listening to music so you can hear what is going on around you. If you encounter suspicious activity, tell a station customer service agent or bus driver immediately. If you are on a train, press the call button in the car to alert the train operator.
- If you have a smartphone, be careful where you take it out on the system. There were 228 incidents of electronics thefts systemwide from January through March, according to Chicago police statistics. This represented a 36 percent decrease from the same period in 2013.
- Stay away from platform edges while waiting for trains. If you drop something on the tracks, don’t try to retrieve it yourself. Tell a CTA employee immediately.
- Don’t throw away your U-Pass. The pass is good for up to five years and automatically reactivates when the next full-time term begins. The replacement fee for lost Ventra cards is $50.
- Take your Ventra card out of your wallet to tap it. The CTA operates on a contactless system, which can scan some personal bank cards. Make sure to take the Ventra card out so you are not getting double charged for CTA rides.
- U-Passes work during school terms only. Between school sessions, students are responsible for loading their cards with money or passes. Check balances online at ventrachicago.com. If you have a negative balance at the start of the semester, U-Pass riding privileges will be suspended.