DOWNTOWN — Satisfied with the recent performance of its new payment system, the CTA set new deadlines Friday to complete the transition to Ventra.
The CTA plans to complete the transition by July 1. It set a series of deadlines Friday establishing May 1 as the day it will stop selling the current Chicago Cards and magnetic-strip cards and June 1 as the day riders will no longer be able to reload money on them. By July, all CTA riders will have to use Ventra.
Chicago Card Plus customers who reload their cards tax-free through their employers and the CTA's Transit Benefits program will shift over the first week of April.
The CTA also plans a series of "balance-transfer events" throughout the city over the next three months, where customers will be able to bring as many as five old cards with at least $5 combined on them to have them shifted over to Ventra.
"For the last three months, Ventra has performed well overall, and is used by more than 1 million riders each day," CTA President Forrest Claypool said in a news release. "We have worked closely with our vendor, Cubic, to increase the reliability and convenience of the system."
The CTA estimates that 81 percent of its riders and 60 percent of suburban Pace bus riders have shifted to Ventra, with 1.5 million Ventra accounts active.
The CTA began the formal transition to Ventra in September, but scuttled end-of-the-year deadlines in November as the payment system suffered a series of problems, including undelivered cards, poor performance at the turnstiles and on buses and long waits for customer service over the phone.
At one point in a systemwide breakdown, CTA bus drivers and station workers were waving thousands of riders through, and a CTA audit estimated that $1.2 million in fares had been lost by the end of last year. It assessed payment for those fares to Ventra's corporate owner, Cubic Transportation Systems.
The problems made riders irate and, in one instance, prompted a rap song in an attempt to find some humor in the debacle.
In November, Claypool insisted that Cubic would not be paid on its 12-year, $454 million contract until it had achieved a 99 percent operation rate at train stations and on buses, cut response times on card taps to 2½ seconds and trimmed phone wait times for customer service to less than five minutes.
Ventra has been meeting those requirements, according to the CTA's weekly status reports, and last month Cubic received its first payment of $2.4 million for rides from last year, according to CTA spokesman Brian Steele.
"Cubic will soon receive payment for taps for 2014, amount still to be determined," Steele added. "Also, the CTA and Cubic are still determining the start of the base contractual payment of $2.5 million per month. With the transition restarting, those payments are anticipated to begin soon, likely in the next few weeks."