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Pace delays full switch to Ventra until July

Round Lake Wednesday Mar 21 2012 Pace North admin Frank Cervantes of Beach Park shows Maria Garcia of Ingleside how the card reader works inside of the bus during Pace Community Transit Days. Cervantes said the presentation was good for community members who get nervous about taking transportation and can have their questions answered about riding the bus.| Michelle LaVigne~Sun-Times Media
Monica Garcia, of Joliet, exits a Pace Bus near the new shelter at Jefferson St. and Springfield Ave. in Joliet, Illinois, Thursday, November 29, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun Times Media
Lincolnwood Monday 08.20.12. A commuter boards a Pace route 210 bus at the Lincolnwood Town Center on Monday, Aug. 20, 2012 , in Lincolnwood. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media

Pace bus riders holding out from Ventra cards will be able to use cash transfers and 10-Ride Plus tickets for a few more months.

While the transit agency had originally planned to fully transition to Ventra by December 15, it decided to delay some fare policy changes. According to Pace spokesman Doug Sullivan, the delay came in response to rider feedback, implementation issues and the fact that, a month before the transition, most riders weren’t using Ventra.

Pace hopes that the extension will allow it more time to address those issues. But if the riders who spoke to Pioneer Press are any indication, the agency has work to do.

Pace originally planned to completely transition to Ventra on Dec. 15. As part of the transition, all 10-Ride Plus tickets would no longer be accepted — even if they hadn’t expired. And, in the most dramatic change to Pace fare policy, cash-paying riders will no longer be able to get transfers.

But when it came time to approve the changes, the board decided to hold off on some of them. According to Sullivan, it came down to several reasons.

“The board has heard feedback from the public [about the changes] at our public hearings,” he said. “We felt that, with Dec. 15 quickly approaching, the customer base as a whole wasn’t adopting Ventra at a rate we were comfortable with.”

Right now, about 30 percent of Pace riders are using Ventra cards, Sullivan said.

There’s also the matter of infrastructure. Over the past few months, Pace has been working to make Ventra cards available for sale in as many retail locations as possible. While it planned to have at least 500 locations by December, progress has been slow.

“We don’t have even 300 retail outlets right now,” said Sullivan.

CTA’s decision to hold off its own switch-over until issues with Ventra cards could be resolved was also a factor, he said.

Under the modified plan adopted at the CTA’s November board meeting, cash-paying riders will be able to get transfers until July 1, 2014. After that, they will have to pay $2 per trip, while Ventra users will continue paying $1.75. Pace justified this change as a way to bring its fare policies in line with CTA, which already charges cash-paying bus riders extra 25 cents.

While Pace already stopped selling 10-Ride Plus tickets, the modified plan gives riders more time to use up the tickets they already bought, extending the deadline from December 15 to July 1.

Sullivan said that Pace is confident that its costumer outreach was working — they just needed more time to make headway. The extended deadline gives them just that.

“We really feel that [our customer outreach] is starting to make a dent in adoption of Ventra by Pace riders,” said Sullivan. “The numbers continue to grow each and every day.”

Sullivan admitted that, like CTA, Pace had to deal with Ventra card reader malfunctioning. But he insisted it wasn’t a serious issue.

“We have had sporadic instances of card readers not functioning,” said Sullivan. “But I think the vast majority of customers haven’t had any problems.”

But Pace riders paint a less optimistic picture. Agnes Cassiere, of Park Ridge, had only used Ventra for a day when she spoke to Pioneer Press, and she wasn’t impressed.

“I don’t like it,” said Cassiere. “It doesn’t tell you how much money you have left on your card. The old [magnetic strip] card, you put it in, and it showed you.”

Otto Reinisch, of Glenview, hasn’t had any problems with Ventra in the month he’s been using it. But he remains skeptical.

“I count myself lucky,” he said. “I’m not sure what problems they solved with [Ventra]. My ChicagoCard worked just fine.”

Jessica Smith, of Park Ridge, uses cash to pay for Pace, and she often uses transfers. The prospect of switching to Ventra doesn’t appeal to her.

“For me, using cash is easier,” said Smith. “I don’t have to worry about how much money I have on my card. And I don’t have to worry about refilling it.”

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