Earlier this year, the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) moved to using the Ventra card for reduced fair customers, those that are disabled or low income. Though Ventra has solved the problem of giving free rides on the buses and trains, it still allows negative balances on your card.
This is where Ventra gets you.
I started using my RTA Ventra card to ride the bus. It worked great and I was quite relieved after all of the press about how bad it was. But unlike the old Chicago type cards, that told you the balance left on it when you swiped it on the bus, the Ventra card doesn't display this information, and herein lies the problem.
Not certain how much was left on the card, I swiped it on the bus and it was denied. I was ready to pay the full fare in cash just in case, and I did.
I was certain I had $.05 on the card, and when I went to reload it, it showed a negative balance that was the $.05 cents I had, plus the remainder of the fare.
I loaded $5 and it displayed my balance as $4.20. It deducted the negative balance though I had paid the full fare in cash.
In effect, I paid twice. It also deducted the $.05 that was left on the card.
When you go to the Ventra site, it tells you what you loaded, and what you used, but it doesn't give you a balance.
Not happy, I filled out the complaint form on the Ventra website and heard nothing. Not even an acknowledgement that the complaint had been received.
I kept loading the card and riding the bus. And then it happened again. I was $.20 short this time and paid the full fare. When I loaded the card, sure enough it again showed a negative balance and again deducted the negative amount.
In fairness to the bus driver, he has no way of knowing how short you are, so he has no choice but to make you pay the full fare if you want to ride.
This time, I called Ventra customer service to complain.
The customer service agent was quite nice and explained that yes, Ventra does allow negative balances on the card. I patiently told her that I had to pay the full fare twice because the bus driver has no way of knowing just how negative that balance is.
I asked why they allow that at all. It isn't like a bank with overdraft protection.
She explained that usually if you swipe the card several times, on the first negative balance it will go through eventually, but if you try it again on another ride your card will be suspended.
What she didn't say was if it would increase the negative balance each time you swiped it.
That is how they solved the free ride issue with Ventra cards.
I explained to her that unless you swipe your card daily, or keep track of the amount you've spent, you will never know how much is on the card, and since bus drivers don't give receipts, you will never be able to prove that you paid the full fare.
She said that was just the way it was and offered to refund $1 back to my card, but assured me that this was a one time service.
The Ventra problem was not solved for the customer, just for the transit agencies that accept them.