Ventra: What You Need to Know

Ventra is the new payment system for Chicago transit that will eventually allow customers to use a single fare card for regional transit throughout the Chicago area.  Unfortunately, the card comes linked to a prepaid debit card that could leave you on the hook for hidden fees and unpredictable charges.  To help keep you from getting ripped off, this resource includes: What “Ventra” is What will Change from the Current Fare System Fees Associated with the New “Ventra” Transit Card Fees Associated with the new Mastercard Prepaid Debit Card Tips to Avoid Paying Fees What You Should Know About Prepaid Debit Cards


What “Ventra” is:

Ventra is the new payment system for Chicago transit that will eventually allow customers to use a single fare card for regional transit throughout the Chicago area.   

There will be three ways to pay for transit with this new system:

The Ventra Card

  • The Ventra Card will function similarly to the Chicago card, in that the physical card can be used for transit and can be loaded with multiple day passes and linked to a bank account. 
  • The Ventra Card will be available at over 2,000 locations throughout the city and can be purchased for $5. The initial $5 purchase cost will be added to the value of the card once the card is registered as a Ventra transit card. 
  • The Ventra Card can also be registered to be a “Money Network Prepaid Debit Account” Card that can be used for everyday purchases wherever Mastercard is accepted.  The card needs to be registered separately in order to function as a prepaid debit card. These cards are issued by Metabank – a national bank that is FDIC insured,[1]but they come with a slew of hidden fees and unpredictable charges that are largely unregulated.

Ventra Tickets 

  • Ventra tickets will function similarly to the current CTA paper tickets. They will be good for a single ride and one day pass. The one day pass will be the same price as the current one day pass, but the single fare ride ticket will increase from the current $2.25 to $3.00, reflecting a $.25 transfer fee and $.50 fee to cover the cost of the physical card.
  • With personal, bank-issued credit or debit cards If your card hasthis symbolon it, it means your card is contactless and can be used to pay as you go on transit. You can also register your personal card for a Ventra Transit Account to add transit value or a transit pass on your card. Then you will be able to tap your card to board CTA and Pace trains and buses.

In addition, the CTA will continue offering special fares and multi-day passes, including 30-Day and 7-Day Passes, and will still accept cash on buses. You’ll also, eventually, be able to use compatible mobile phones to pay for rides on CTA and Pace.


What Will Change From the Current Fare System:

  • Credit or debit cards with tap technology (recognizable by this symbol) will be able to be used to pay for fares – no card necessary, saving many riders time. 
  • Fares for single rides will go up from 2.25 to $3 – reflecting a .25 cent transfer fare and a .50 cent charge to cover the cost of producing the actual paper card.  Fares for one day passes will remain the same.
  • Re-usable “Ventra Cards” will be available for purchase at 2,000 locations across the city for $5, instead of having to order the card online. This value is added to the card once it is registered, which must be done within 90 days of buying the card. 
  • The plastic Ventra Card can also be registered to be used as a “Money Network Prepaid Debit Account” card, issued by Metabank, a bank that is FDIC insured, and licensed by Mastercard, meaning that they can be used wherever Mastercard is accepted.  Money can be uploaded on to these cards at physical locations, as well as online. There is a fee associated with uploading money using cash in person, but not for adding money online. These cards come with an additional slew of hidden fees and unpredictable charges that are largely unregulated.


Fees Associated with the New Ventra Transit Card:

Initial Card Purchase Fee

Transit Account Dormancy Fee

Card Replacement Fee

Limited Use Media Fee (price of disposable tickets)

Fees Associated with the New Mastercard Prepaid Debit Card:

Load Cash at Participating Reload Agent Locations

Domestic ATM Withdrawals

International ATM Withdrawals

Bank Teller Over-the-Counter Cash Withdrawal

Foreign Transaction Conversion Fee

Transfer Funds to a Personal Bank Account

Monthly Maintenence Fee (applies after 18 months of inactivity)

International ATM Balance Inquiry and Decline

Balance Refund Check

Customer Service and Balance Inquiry Through Live Operator (fee waived in certain cases)

Lost or Stolen Card Replacement

Lost or Stolen Card Replacement – Expedited Delivery
$15.00 ($5.00 for card, $10.00 for expedited delivery)

Periodic Monthly Paper Statement (optional: view online at no charge)


How to Avoid the Fees on the Prepaid Debit Card:

Read the Fine Print, often – Unlike conventional debit and credit cards, prepaid cards like this one have no fee disclosure requirements, meaning they can change their fees at any time without notice. Make sure to keep up to date on what they’re charging you.

Do everything online – upload money online, look at your statements online, look online for help. This will save you from the $2 fee for paper monthly statements, the $2 fee for customer service, and the up to $4.95 fee for loading the card with cash at reload locations.

Make sure you only load money on the card if you want to spend it using that card – You’ll be charged $2 to move money online to another account. You’ll also have to avoid using the card at an ATM or getting cash from a teller. If you ask for your money back, that will cost $6

Don’t let the card sit idle – After 18 months of non-activity you’ll be charged $2 a month for not using the card (separately from the $5 a month you’ll be charged for not using the transit card)

Don’t lose the card – You’ll be charged $5 for replacing it and if you try to buy a single fare ride while you’re waiting for your new card you’ll pay a $.75 premium above the usual $2.25 one way ride rate.

What You Need to Know About Prepaid Debit Cards:

Prepaid debit cards are currently unregulated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, meaning that unlike conventional debit and credit cards. In addition:

  • The fee schedule can be changed at any time without disclosure
  • There is no industry wide standard for fee disclosure, and the disclosure of fees is unregulated federally
  • There are no federal regulations that require limited liability when cards are not used with the authorization of the owner, meaning that if your card is stolen and used you may not get the money back
  • Unlike conventional checking and debit accounts, which have a .25% cap on fees charged to retailers for processing, there is no cap on processing fees for prepaid debit cards (meaning that many retailers will also be on the hook for higher fees).

For more information on how these cards differ from conventional debit and credit cards, check out the FDIC’s prepaid card comparison chart here, and the CFPB’s fact sheet here.