Metra/Ventra Woes

On the Metra this morning, I ran into an error.

A few things were going on. Metra’s ticketing app is run by Ventra, a vendor that handles payment for not just Metra, but the CTA as well.

Today (February 1, 2024)… there was a rate hike on Metra. So this meant that tickets were potentially more expensive than they were, previously. From a code/software perspective, this adds a decent amount of complexity: a ticket (from A to B) has a certain cost today… but has a different cost if it was purchased before today.

For me this morning, the Ventra app crashed a few times. And when I tried to “enable” the tickets I had purchased previously… those tickets were not displaying (and result in the error message, above).

Other riders in my train were experiencing the same thing. And it slowly dawned on everyone that our ability to “pay” for our tickets was compromised. We heard an announcement talking about the app issues, and everyone basically got to ride the train for free.

What struck me was that this was like a mini-Y2K event for Metra/Ventra. The February 1 timeline resulted in a significant before/after shift, and perhaps they could have done a bit more QA before the big day.

I write code for a living, so I have a strong deal of empathy. The devs at Ventra are probably having a really, really bad day.

To make things worse, Metra recently planned to shut down all their staffed ticketing windows, choosing instead to redeploy those staff members to customer support. The timing of this shut down also coincided with the rate hike, so also effective today… nearly every staffed ticketing window was also shut down.

Hindsight is 20/20, but perhaps some buffer could have been built in here. A lot of changes were slated for the exact same day, with the expectation that everything would break right. But without a lot of planning for contingencies, should things break bad.

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