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RTA considers funneling calls to automated system

Although new study indicates public transit use overall inched up last 5 years Metrsuburban rail Pace suburban bus CTA bus

Although a new study indicates public transit use overall inched up in the last 5 years, Metra suburban rail, Pace suburban bus and CTA bus service all saw rides decline between 2008 and 2012. | Sun Times files

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Updated: February 21, 2013 4:26PM

Call the RTA’s Travel Information Center between 5 a.m. and 1 a.m. and guess what? You’ll probably get a human being — but maybe not for long.

Regional Transportation Authority board members Wednesday discussed making an automated system the first point of contact to citizens who call the center for information on how to get to from point A to point B in the six-county area via public transportation.

RTA spokeswoman Diane Palmer contended that 70 percent of the phone calls to 773-836-7000 (or most area codes in the six-county area using the same last seven digits) are from people wanting to know when their bus is due to arrive next at their stop. Many are from Chicago, she said.

“They call every day. It’s the same people,’’ Palmer said.

Often, operators merely wind up looking up bus arrival times in the CTA’s bus tracker website — something tech-savvy folks can get on an iPhone, wireless device or computer, RTA officials said.

One proposal under consideration, Palmer said, is using an automated system to route callers to either automated bus and train information or to the right human being.

Operators could function during more limited hours — perhaps the 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. common among peer transit agencies, Palmer said.

In other hours, only an automated system would answer.

With some 30 operators per shift answering 5.3 million calls a year, 20 percent of calls end up abandoned when they are not immediately answered, Palmer said. An automated first point-of-contact could reduce the inflow to real operators and reduce caller hang-ups.

RTA Board member John Frega of Riverside asked if there was any way the RTA could ensure that the vendor who wins the contract for the new automated system is “a local firm and not somebody in India who will answer our calls.’’

RTA attorneys said the RTA is not allowed to limit contenders to Illinois-only companies, but it can demand “requisite knowledge’’ about the six-county area.

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