Ventra oh-so-close to meeting benchmarks set by CTA
BY ROSALIND ROSSI Transportation Reporter December 20, 2013 1:07PM
Ventra's weekly performance metrics
Updated: December 20, 2013 6:56PM
Ventra is within a hairsbreadth of meeting three key benchmarks CTA President Forrest Claypool set on Nov. 5, when he pulled the plug on a full-blown transition to a Ventra-only fare payment system.
Despite the rosy data outlined in the CTA’s weekly Ventra update, the CTA Friday offered no clue as to when the agency would fully transition to Ventra, drop old magnetic-stripe payment cards and start paying its Ventra vendor.
“While many performance standards are currently being met, there is more progress to be made and CTA will continue to monitor Cubic’s performance closely,” the CTA said in a news release.
The Ventra performance update released Friday indicated:
◆ At least 99 percent of all rail and bus payment “taps” are registering within 2.5 seconds.
◆ Hold times at the Ventra call center are “consistently” less than five minutes.
◆ At least 99 percent of rail turnstile gates and bus readers are working properly.
The weak link in the benchmark lineup was the performance of Ventra vending machines, which fell fractionally below a target of working 99 percent of the time. They are operable only 98.7 percent of the time, the CTA report indicated.
However, bus readers are still taking almost twice as long to process payment taps as rail station readers. Bus taps are averaging 0.99 seconds compared to 0.56 seconds at rail stations, the report said.
The CTA’s $454 million, 12-year contract with Cubic Transportation Systems calls for tap times to average 0.5 seconds once the transition to Ventra-only payment is completed and old magnetic-stripe payment cards are abandoned.
Claypool stemmed a rising tide of Ventra complaints by announcing during a Nov. 5 address to the City Club of Chicago that he was suspending a Dec. 15 deadline to fully transition to Ventra.
He said he would not pay Cubic “a dime” until it met three key benchmarks involving 99 percent operable machines, 99 percent of taps registering within 2.5 seconds, and hotline call hold times of within five minutes.
Within a week, Ventra readers broke down at 60 rail stations, allowing rush-hour riders to stream through rail gates for free. The snafu occurred amid complaints about double-charges, long hotline wait times and promised Ventra cards that never arrived in the mail.
RTA Chairman John Gates Jr. was so worried about what he called Ventra’s “systemic failure” that he ordered the RTA to audit Ventra to ensure the CTA’s budget wouldn’t take an unforeseen financial hit from all the problems since Ventra’s September debut.
The RTA’s chief auditor this week predicted no significant loss to the CTA from Ventra snafus because of protective clauses in the Ventra contract. However, RTA officials said they were unable to pin down the CTA on exactly how long Cubic had to “consistently” meet performance targets before it can get paid and the old fare system can be dumped for good.
“What’s it going to take to get paid? That’s the thing we couldn’t get,” RTA Auditor Michael Zumach said. “At some point, they [CTA officials] have to start paying them. Cubic can’t run without getting paid forever.”
Even Friday, CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase could not explain how many days, weeks or months Cubic will be required to meet its three benchmarks before it can get paid.
“We have not yet determined the time frame and continue to closely monitor Cubic’s progress,” Chase said by email.
For the six-day period ending Dec. 14, Ventra comprised 73 percent of total taps, Friday’s report said. As of Dec. 17, there were 1.18 million active Ventra accounts.
Concerning the call center, Claypool has been emphasizing not only hold times but what he also concedes is the more “subjective” quality of the answers callers receive. To analyze quality, Friday’s report noted, the CTA recently launched a survey of customers who have previously called the Ventra hotline.