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Transit union: Postpone Ventra rollout until ‘kinks’ worked out

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Updated: December 2, 2013 12:48PM



The CTA should postpone its Ventra rollout until it can “work out all the kinks” in the new trouble-laden fare payment system, the head of the CTA’s rail workers union said Thursday.

Rail station employees already are “getting verbally attacked daily” about Ventra and could be put “in harm’s way” if the CTA goes through with some key Nov. 15 Ventra deadlines, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308 President Robert Kelly charged.

“Don’t use the riding public as guinea pigs,’’ Kelly said at a news conference.

“If you are not ready to go, 100 percent, foolproof, don’t institute it. You are only creating havoc and putting your employees and my members in harm’s way. “

Ventra glitches have already caused the CTA to postpone deadlines that were supposed to go into effect Oct. 7.

But another set of critical deadlines will hit Nov. 15, when old magnetic striped cards will no longer be sold; the machines that sell and reload them are scheduled to be deactivated; and Chicago Cards will no longer be accepted, the CTA’s current timeline indicates. By Dec. 15, magnetic striped cards will be completely obsolete.

Kelly charged that Ventra has caused long lines at CTA stations, has triggered longer wait times for “taps’’ to be registered as payments, and has prompted complaints to station workers that customers are being double and triple charged.

Rail station workers initially were “letting literally thousands of people through [turnstiles] a day” because their Ventra cards were not registering payments, Kelly said. However, Kelly said, a couple weeks ago CTA officials told union workers to stop letting customers with Ventra card problems through turnstiles.

Despite repeated requests, CTA officials Thursday would not respond directly to any of Kelly’s Ventra allegations, calling his comments an attempt to “deflect attention” from the “fact that an employee in his union was disciplined for endangering the safety of CTA customers” in September’s Blue Line crash.

But they did say that the CTA has not “announced” any additional changes to its Ventra deadlines.

Concerning double-charges, CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said previously that Ventra customers could be double charged if they tap a Ventra reader and get a “go” signal and then change turnstile lanes and get a second “go” signal. However, Ventra customers are not charged for “stop” messages, even multiple ones, she said.

Cubic Transportation Systems, which won a contract worth up to $454 million to manage and operate Ventra, was so inundated with calls in early October that, on Oct. 9, CTA President Forrest Claypool cancelled some Ventra deadlines. The move was intended to give Cubic time to triple the number of operators — from 100 to 300 — in its call centers and reduce the hold times of frustrated customers.

Despite Cubic’s hefty contract, the CTA recently hired Omicron Technologies for up to $245,000 to call Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus cardholders whose Ventra cards had not been activated.

As first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times, CTA officials said the tab was “unforeseen” but the total Ventra cost to date was under budget so the CTA was picking up the Omicron bill.

Omicron was providing “quality assurance” and being paid based on the number of calls it completed, the CTA’s Chase said. She did not know how many customers Omicron had been asked to call.

Board members did not vote on the Omicron contract because its amount fell just shy of the $250,000 needed to trigger a board vote.

Also Thursday, Kelly charged that the CTA unfairly suspended a switchman without pay for three days and put him on one year’s probation for leaving a train on and “keyed up” on Friday, Sept. 27, as the train waited for repairs.

Three days later, on Monday, Sept.. 30, the train barrelled, unmanned, into another train at the Blue Line Harlem Station, injuring 33 passengers. Kelly said union workers who cooperated in the investigation should have been told their comments could have subjected them to discipline and that leaving trains powered on was a long-standing practice.

In an email, the CTA called Kelly’s comments about the Blue Line crash “nonsensical” and said his Ventra comments were an attempt to “deflect attention” from the disciplinary action taken against the employee in his union.

Officials said the CTA is “in the process of pursuing discipline against a small number of employees it has determined played a role in the Blue Line incident — discipline bolstered by the facts in the case.’’

Email rrossi@suntimes.com

Twitter @rosalindrossi



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