The availability of many locations to add value to the cards across the CTA service area in Chicago and almost 40 suburbs, and about 500 additional locations in Pace's service area, should help transit riders who prefer or need to maintain small card balances and reload the cards often to pay bus and train fares and avoid the new $3 CTA rail cash fare, officials said.
"Ventra customers will be able to go into a corner store and reload," said Eric Reese, the CTA director of revenue.
It will be important for Ventra customers to register their cards -- and not just for the convenience of receiving the $5 credit and for being able to replace lost or stolen cards without losing the value on the card, Reese said.
Ventra card owners who register will receive notices if their cards haven't been used for 18 months. The notices request that the card owners use the card at least once to avoid paying a $5-per-month "dormancy fee." Using the card essentially restarts the clock for another 18 months, officials said.
CTA officials defended the dormancy fee, saying it is more forgiving than existing policy governing the CTA magnetic stripe transit cards, which after 15 months of non-use expire and all money on the cards is forfeited.
Transit officials said the goals behind the new open fare-collection system are to give commuters more flexibility and convenience when paying for their rides, and to save the CTA millions by getting it out of the business of operating like a bank.
Officials are hopeful that commuters will flock to the new contactless Ventra card, which will work like a prepaid debit card and can be used to manage up to two accounts -- one for transit fares and the other for other retail purchases.
But there will be no requirement to go the Ventra route.
The CTA and Pace also will start accepting credit cards on buses and at CTA rail stations. The only condition is that the credit cards are the contactless type, which is depicted on each card in the form of a radio antenna image. (If you have an older-generation computer chip or magnetic strip card, ask your bank or credit card company to provide a card with the new technology.)
"Our hope is that more and more people will use the Ventra card or their personal debit or credit card with the new system," Reese said. "You won't have to come to CTA to buy fare media. You can use whatever payment method you are comfortable with."
The CTA Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus will continue to be valid until an as-yet unspecified date in 2014, officials said.