WEST LOOP — The Chicago Transit Authority announced Wednesday it has pushed back the deadline to phase out its magnetic stripe cards and Chicago Cards as it makes the transition to the new Ventra system.
Speaking after the CTA's monthly board meeting, CTA President Forrest Claypool said riders will be able to buy magnetic stripe cards for the next "several months."
Riders with a registered Chicago Card or a Chicago Card Plus also will be able to reload their cards for the foreseeable future.
The original deadline to begin phasing out the existing cards was Monday, but the CTA was inundated with calls from riders struggling to switch over to the Ventra cards.
The majority of people experiencing problems have been the 17 percent of riders with a Chicago Card or a Chicago Card Plus, Claypool said.
The vendor hired to manage Ventra, Cubic Transportation Systems Inc., was overwhelmed with about 20,000 customer service calls on Monday and had less than 100 customer service assistants to field the calls, CTA said.
In response to the influx of service calls, the CTA directed the vendor to triple the number of assistants, and CTA officials said they are sending out 110,000 emails to Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus holders with simplified instructions of how to make the changeover.
The CTA expects it will take "several weeks" to train new customer service workers. In the meantime, agency officials decided to extend indefinitely the time frame during which people can buy magnetic stripe cards or continue to use their Chicago Cards, Claypool said.
"We want all the fare payment options to remain in place until the customer support center can accommodate these unprecedented levels of calls that are coming in," Claypool told reporters Wednesday.
On Monday, CTA began phasing out the magnetic stripe card, the Chicago Card and the Chicago Card Plus.
CTA had announced that riders with registered Chicago Cards would no longer be able to reload their cards. Riders with Chicago Card Plus or the magnetic stripe cards could reload existing cards until mid-November, but CTA would allow the existing stock of magnetic cards to run out without replenishing them.
Despite the problems, Claypool said he expects the transition to Ventra to be completed on time, by Dec. 15.
He also said magnetic stripe card riders have made the transition to Ventra "extremely well" and defended the system, saying it is working well.
"I think it's important to distinguish between functionality of the system, which has gone remarkably well, and the customer service problems affecting Chicago Card customers," Claypool said.