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Speed up replacement of busted Ventra bus readers, auditor tells CTA

A  Ventrfare card reader Pace bus |  Sun-Times files

A Ventra fare card reader on a Pace bus | Sun-Times files

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 RTA Audit

Updated: January 20, 2014 8:10AM

To address nagging problems with broken Ventra bus readers, the CTA should follow the example of suburban Pace and change out malfunctioning equipment while the bus is still in service, rather than at the end of the night, the RTA’s top auditor said Wednesday.

Instead, broken CTA bus readers have remained in “non-operating status” until CTA buses return to their bus barns at the end of the night, RTA auditor Mike Zumach told RTA board members.

Zumach said he recommended to the CTA that it adopt Pace’s “pop and drop” technique: When a Pace bus reader turns problematic, Pace drivers radio a dispatch office, which sends out a worker to meet the bus on its route, “pop” out the malfunctioning reader, “drop” in a new one, and take the old reader in for repair.

“Pace has a much better system,’’ Zumach said during his summary of an RTA audit of the CTA’s new Ventra fare payment system.

Zumach’s comments shed some light on riders’ observations: Despite recent CTA bus reader upgrades, riders have still been waved on board without registering a “tap” on bus readers.

Charles Paidock of the transit group Citizens Taking Action said Wednesday that during his one-hour CTA bus ride this past Saturday, he repeatedly saw riders hop on board without registering a tap.

And, “It’s not an isolated incident,’’ Paidock warned. “After you tap two or three times, they just say ‘Go.’ ”

Zumach’s audit contained a big nugget of good news for the CTA. Zumach found that Ventra revenue is on target for this year and the CTA has enough protections in its contract with Cubic Transportation Systems to prevent significant impact next year.

Those protections include ensuring that the CTA gets paid for every tap — even if it doesn’t register a “go” signal — and that Cubic meet three performance targets before it gets paid. Those targets involve Ventra call center hold times, tap times, and functioning readers and vending machines.

The RTA supported the decision of CTA President Forrest Claypool to suspend a Dec. 15 total switchover to Ventra until those performance targets are met, Zumach said.

“If you’re not quite there, you gotta stand up and say, ‘We’re not quite there,’ ” Zumach said.

Bus tap times have so lagged behind those of CTA rail station readers that the CTA may have to wind up allowing longer processing times for buses, Zumach said. Last week, the CTA said bus tap times were averaging 1.04 seconds — nearly twice as long as the .58 seconds at rail station readers.

RTA chairman John Gates Jr. ordered the Ventra audit Nov. 20 after a rail reader meltdown at 60 CTA rail stations allowed thousands of riders to pour through turnstiles for free. At that time, Gates called Ventra a “systemic failure,’’ although he later was impressed by improvements outlined by Claypool during a special presentation.

CTA spokesman Brian Steele said Wednesday that the CTA has been switching out some broken bus readers during routes “for several weeks,’’ but could not immediately say if the change-outs followed questions raised by RTA auditors. And, Steele said, the CTA is looking for ways to do more en route change-outs.

Also Wednesday, RTA board members agreed to name Leanne Redden, senior RTA deputy executive director of planning, as acting executive director after Joe Costello retires from the executive director spot Feb. 18. The interim appointment will allow the RTA to do a national search to replace Costello.

Asked Wednesday by reporters if she’d like the job permanently, Redden said: “This is a trial period for me and the board and we’ll see how it plays out.”


Twitter: @rosalindrossi

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