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Aldermen want council hearings on CTA’s Ventra card problems

A Ventrtransit card reader.

A Ventra transit card reader.

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Updated: December 6, 2013 6:26AM

Two aldermen Monday called for City Council hearings on the CTA’s problem-laden Ventra rollout, with one labeling the transit agency’s new fare payment system a “debacle.”

Meanwhile, a CTA spokeswoman conceded she gave wrong information to the Sun-Times on Friday, when she stated that Ventra call center representatives were only available Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and that “there’s never been a discussion to have call reps on the weekend.’’

On Monday, CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase did an about-face, saying that “live customer service representatives are available 24/7 and always have been.”

Chase said information on the Ventra website as of midday Monday — that had been posted for weeks — also was wrong. It incorrectly stated that the Ventra call center could only be reached Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. , but will be corrected, she said.

It was changed by Monday night.

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) said Monday he’s tried three times to get through to a Ventra call center operator — twice after 8 p.m. on a week night and once on Sunday — only to be disconnected or to finally hang up in frustration after waiting up to 45 minutes.

“I want to know how many lines they have and how many operators,’’ Fioretti said. “I’ve had constituents calling on it. They can’t get access. They haven’t been able to activate their card. . . .

“Here was a system that served the city of Chicago and now it’s completely broken.’’

Fioretti called Ventra a “debacle” and said CTA President Forrest Claypool and CTA board chairman Terry Peterson should appear before the City Council Transportation Committee to answer questions.

Cubic Transportation Systems, which won a contract worth up to $454 million to operate Ventra, and Omicron Technologies, which the CTA hired separately for up to $245,000 to do Ventra “courtesy calls,’’ also should be hauled in, Fioretti said.

Council Transportation Committee Chairman Anthony Beale (9th) said Monday that he plans to introduce a resolution next week to hold a hearing on Ventra. He said he wants CTA officials to “explain what’s going on with Ventra. There’s still numerous problems with it.’’

Beale said constituents have complained to him that they have been “double-charged” by Ventra and “when they tried to contact Ventra customer service, they couldn’t get a response.’’

A deluge of calls to Ventra operators — some of them with hold times of up to an hour — prompted Claypool on Oct. 9 to temporarily reinstate the sale of old magnetic striped cards. Meanwhile, Claypool ordered Cubic to triple its number of Ventra call center operators — from 100 to 300.

However, a Sun-Times staffer who tried to reach a Ventra call center this weekend after operators were tripled wound up disconnected after 17 minutes. On an earlier weekend, another staffer was disconnected after 45 minutes on hold.

In a statement released by the mayor’s office, Claypool will announce Tuesday that the CTA will call for increased accountability by the company and reiterate that the CTA will continue to accept both Ventra cards and existing fare systems like the Chicago Cards during the transition.

Social media has burned up with its share of complaints about Ventra, ranging from long hold times, to Ventra cards that have yet to show up in the mail, to fare readers not accepting Ventra cards. Ventra even became the butt of Halloween costumes, with one young woman donning a black eye and a mock-up of a Ventra card made out to “unvalued customer” for Oct. 31 festivities.

On Friday, Chase said Cubic was only staffing two Ventra call centers, in Tennessee and California. On Monday, after a Sun-Times staffer reached what a Ventra operator called a “message center” in Massachusetts, Chase conceded that call centers also were located in Massachusetts.

“Some call reps handled frequently asked questions while some handle complex, account-specific questions,’’ Chase said in an email Monday. “How many handle the frequently asked questions varies by time of day and call volumes.’’

Customers who press “O” for operator will get people equipped to handle frequently-asked questions to “reduce wait times to talk to a live person” for those with more complex questions about account issues, Chase said.


Twitter: @rosalindrossi

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