CTA Ventra card "progress" depends on who's making the assessment

If you asked all the people who have emailed me desperate for help with various Ventra issues whether the rollout was “on track,” I suspect they would disagree with that very assessment from a Cubic bigwig.

“A great deal of progress has been made already,” said Matt Cole, executive vice president of strategy and business development at Cubic, in a phone interview Friday with the Tribune. “The publicized schedule was always to start in the summer, which we did, and complete by the end of the year, and we still think we are on track. That’s the goal.”

Of course, the folks at Cubic Transportation Systems are looking at the bigger picture, beyond individual complaints. They see these stats, released Friday by the CTA:

  • “More than 63 percent of CTA rides are via Ventra. Every day, hundreds of thousands of riders use Ventra.
  • “Call Center performance has improved, but more improvements and better performance is needed.
  • “Rail tap times are meeting most performance standards, but improvement is needed. Software upgrades installed over the past two weeks have reduced tap times.
  • “Bus tap times are well below performance standards. The same software upgrade already in place on rail has shown improvement on the initial 50,000 transactions, and the upgrade is being rolled out to all buses.”

They don’t see the many senior citizens who have written me, begging for help, for information, just wanting to get their reduced fare card and use it. Or the folks sharing problems getting the Ventra card to work under their transit benefits program.

The Tribune story also notes that the standard sought by CTA Prez Claypool of a Ventra tap transaction taking less than 2.5 seconds “is quite slow, certainly much slower than the Chicago Card that Ventra is replacing,” said an expert on public transit fare collection. The CTA did issue a progress report on that front, according to the Trib.

The new tap response time data released by Cubic and the CTA — a three-day snapshot taken from Tuesday through Thursday — showed that 59 percent of the more than 2.8 million Ventra taps on the CTA rail system took a half-second or less, 35 percent took up to 1 second, 5 percent took up to 2.5 seconds and 0.3 percent took more than 2.5 seconds.

CTA officials acknowledged that tap-speed performance on buses was much worse, but the transit agency only provided data for approximately 200 of the system’s more than 1,800 buses — about 50,000 taps. The Ventra card readers on those 200 buses have received software upgrades while the remainder of the fleet is awaiting the new software patch, officials said.

Even after the upgrade, just 54 percent of Ventra taps on those buses were processed in the contractually required one-half second or less, the data show.

So, there’s still work to be done before Cubic starts getting at least $2.5 million per month on the $454 million contract that CTA signed with Cubic.
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  • The inherent problem noted by Hilkevitch was that the statistics CTA published were Cubic statistics, apparently not audited by CTA. Sure Cubic is going to doctor the numbers. The most obvious one was using a 24 hour average for hold times, when it should be obvious that the metric should be number of calls on hold for more than 5 minutes or cut off during business hours. The average is certainly going to go down if calls not during business hours go immediately to voice mail.

    Also, Cubic saying that they say that the project will be done on schedule on Dec. 15 ignores that the prior deadlines have already been missed.

    The only thing I can take from the statement that 100% of the CC and CCP customers had cards mailed to them is that if you didn't receive a card in the mail, you won't. This also has to be read in light of that Cubic claims this, not that it has been audited.

    Of course, the senior problem is that they are supposed to get their cards from the RTA, not the CTA. That's another testament to the messed up governance structure around here.

  • I have never had a problem on train turnstile. Hardwired seems to be fast. Bus system is intermittent at best and I think network issues come into play more so than software. Even when it says GO it does not mean the charge shows up on your online statement. Whether that charge is correct is another issue. I think I am breaking even between mis-charged and uncharged rides. When I feel I am down I will whine louder.

  • In reply to Petrd1:

    Bingo. I'd say 99% of my train rides have been problem free. I recall only one case where the tap took nearly 15 seconds to register. The bus, on the other had, is very problematic. I can't imagine that Cubic, or anyone at the CTA, drove to *every* bus stop in the city to measure the wireless signal strength. As anyone with a cell phone knows, areas of the city can have little or no coverage. I don't believe any wireless carrier is completely free of dead zones.

    The solution is a more sophisticated reader. If the reader detects a weak signal, then the card should be waived through, and the request queued and sent at a later time. Sure, a handful of people might get a free ride on an expired card, but it sure beats having a dozen people standing in line in the rain waiting to board a bus.

    Speaking of boarding a bus, does anyone happen to know if there's a city ordnance prohibiting smoking in bus shelters? I'm fckn sick to death of waiting in the shelter with a pack of chain smokers blowing smoke in my face. At some shelters, the homeless make camp, and hang around drinking, smoking, and chatting away.

  • Add this clown to the list of people who really ought to be fired.

  • 11/23/2013
    11:43:31 PM Use 77 Belmont Transit Value -$2.00
    11:43:31 PM Transfer 77 Belmont Transit Value -$0.25

    System is much better. Ventra charges me for fare and transfer same time same bus. I'll have to e-mail this one to the black hole which is Ventra customer service.

  • Does anyone know when the RTA is going to send out the Senior or Ride Free passes?
    They were all supposed to be sent out by the end of this month, but as far as I know none have been sent out.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    There was a story about a week ago that a dead woman received a card, and her daughter in law a day later.

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    For an honest comparison against the scan times for the mag-stripe/Chicago Card/Chicago Card Plus cards, the Ventra scan times should include the total time taken for all of the three, four, five, or more attempts that it routinely takes (on buses) before the reader will accept your card.

  • Progress has been made by the CTA in putting about the story that everything is entirely Ventra's fault and implying that none of it could have been foreseen and they are shocked, shocked, angry, disappointed, even more so than the rest of us...poor babies....

    Little progress has been made in getting CTA management to acknowledge the question "what are you guys getting paid big bucks for, if it was not your responsibility to oversee Cubic's execution leading up to the rollout?"

    Regress has happened, in that on Sunday, for the first time, I had trouble getting my Ventra card to register on the bus. I still don't know if it charged me more than once. Will find out next time I'm in an L station.

    Question to other readers: How many times should one attempt to pay one's fare on the bus before giving up, telling the driver "Hey, I tried" and proceeding to take a seat?

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    To clarify, I should have said "Cubic's fault" in that first sentence.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    I'd say once.

    I'm curious why the system allows multiple transactions within a short time frame. The software should ignore/reject any transaction made within (n) seconds/minutes of a charge. If they wanted to allow multiple boardings on a single card, they should have designed the reader with a hard/soft button that requires a user to confirm a 2nd/3rd charge.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Most of that is supposedly because of the "enhanced passback" which allows (and has allowed on a mag stripe cards) up to 7 riders at a time.

    1.Media reports have indicated that the driver is to authorize it, which in effect is your last point.

    2. That wouldn't explain petrd's post that he/she was charged for both a ride and a transfer in the same second. If the passback theory were correct, he/she would have been charged $2.00 twice.

  • Warning to everyone: Yesterday I wanted to buy a Transit Card to last me at least through the end of December. I put in my money and got my card.

    The card expires 12/15/13.

    The last time I bought a card it expired 4/15/14 and underneath it said "use by 12/15/13." But despite the fact they have put off the transition until further notice, they are screwing Transit Card buyers by shortening the expiration on Transit Cards.

  • And now comes the latest in a long, long series of Ventra idiocies!
    Some federal IDs let them ride for free. About one out of ten times, a federal ID will let someone ride free!
    I have a sneaking suspicion that Cubic isn't going to get many fare collection contracts after this. Watch for them to sell the division off at a loss in 2014-15 & let the new company take all the blame, which will then go bankrupt, leaving the CTA up s&^t creek without a correctly working fare system!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Yeah, the stories just keep getting wackier.

    How on earth does a federal ID get mistaken for a Ventra card? I assume the ID has a 16 digit number that was withing the range of the Ventra cards. I can't imagine that there's no other tag on the card indicating the *type* of card.

    I wonder if some poor sap, errr, CTA rider, got dinged for the rides, or whether a bug in the Ventra software simply gave blanket passes to the federal IDs.

    So, how soon until we start seeing stories about forged Ventra cards?

  • Well, Ventra screwed up on my 2nd auto-reload. It didn't work again and so after calling and them calling me back, it worked. Except I got charged twice.

    So, I called them about that and they told me to challenge it at my credit card and said if they were to try to reverse the charge it would take 3-4 weeks! That's nuts!

  • In reply to chris:

    You are a brave person to let these goons into your wallet like that.

  • In reply to chris:

    1. As Petrd1 suggests, turn off auto reload. Folks at Cubic or CTA figure that you'll get around to using that value eventually. That didn't do much good for the homeless poster, however.

    2. Proves again that if a consumer complains, one will be screwed over twice as bad. Banks usually do this, but you don't have a private banker at Cubic to straighten it out.

    3. The complaints with regard to the Chase Blink Card indicate that the more effective means is to complain to the bank, or in your case the credit card company. They have ways to charge it back. Of course, Cubic may be like Microsoft (on a Best Buy scam) and lie that the charge is legitimate. But, in any event, complaining to the credit card company takes it off your account for 60 days.

    4. I said about Sept.9 that the CTA/Cubic combine was engaged in massive consumer fraud in the sense of deceptive practices, and stuff like the double charging reenforces that. If it were a currency exchange, or even Comm Ed, Lisa Madigan would be all over their posteriors (or claim to be) but since this involves politicians, apparently it is all fine.

    5. But apparently the telephone hold time issue has improved, if you got two calls through.

  • In reply to jack:

    The hold times are practically non-existent at this point. I've called 3 times and each time someone picked up within a minute which is about as good as it gets. But, the downside is that someone answers your call and essentially takes a message. You don't get to talk to anyone and they just call you back. So, they've traded the hold time for leaving a voicemail and calling you back. Perhaps this makes people feel better.

  • In reply to chris:

    Do they actually call people back?

  • In reply to jack:

    If I turn off auto-reload, then how will I ride when my 30 day pass expires?

  • In reply to chris:

    Usually stick some payment medium into a Ventra vending machine in a train station or over the counter at a CVS, Jewel, or similar store, with $100 on it.

    Also check the Ventra site if there is a way to charge a credit card on a one time basis.

    I assume that after you put $100 of transit value on your card, you still need to do something to convert it to a pass.

    Look over the Ventra FAQ to see if you can get an answer.

  • A tale of two bus drivers / Or keep your story straight:

    First bus driver is telling people to go even if it says STOP because you might get charged twice. Gets testy with people that tap twice.

    The next bus I get on I saw the driver made a guy tap seven times until it said GO.

    On the bright side my card took first time both buses.

    CTA. At least give your employees clear information.

  • In reply to Petrd1:

    Until I find out whether all the extra taps I had to do on the bus on Sunday resulted in extra charges, I'm going to the one-attempt-and-take-a-seat rule, on the basis that the free rides I get if the single attempt didn't take may be necessary to make up for the overcharges. Driver on the bus I took last night seemed OK with it.

    I sure miss the feature of the Chicago Card, where you got to see your new balance instantly, even on the bus and no going to a special machine as long as you watched for the display. Sigh. Geniuses. /sarc

  • I got on the #66 eastbound bus at Chicago and Larrabee this morning. The guy in front of me took nearly 30 seconds to get a 'Go' on his card. My card took less than 1 second. Sheesh. Don't know if it was a crappy wireless signal, or an overloaded server. Either way, that's totally unacceptable when you have a dozen people lined up to board.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:


  • I figured out how to set up the transit benefit via HealthHub (formerly Payflex) as per instructions from Payroll. Then I decided to not re-sign up for the transit benefit. I'd rather pay cash for a 30 day pass each month than trust Cubic to get it right.

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