Latest stats show more CTA Ventra improvements in key areas

In the latest Ventra performance report, the CTA notes improvements in many key areas, but that “more progress is to be made.”

A key development is that software upgrades on bus card readers have been completed at all seven bus garages. A a result, bus tap times for Ventra cards have improved. About 99.95 percent of all bus taps were processed in 2.5 seconds or less, the performance level required by the CTA. About 40 percent of bus taps took 1.1 to 2.5 seconds for processing.

12-13 bus tap times

Meanwhile, 99.9 percent of rail tap times since Nov. 11 have been processed in less than 2.5 seconds. Almost 96 percent of rail taps were processed in less than 1 second.

12-13 rail tap times

In this performance report, the CTA provided a boatload of more performance metrics regarding the Ventra call center, including total calls received, percent of call answered without being placed on hold, average hold time per day, and average hold time by hour.

Some call center findings:

  • Average hold times are now below 5 minutes throughout the daily operating period.
  • On December 10, less than 1 percent of customers elected or were directed to leave a message.
  • For a four-day stretch in the first week of December, more than 90 percent of calls were answered without being place on hold.
  • The number of calls received dropped below an average of 10,000 per day starting Dec. 3.

The report shows a continuing climb in adoption rate of the Ventra card, with 1.14 million active accounts as of Dec. 10. That’s a 27 percent increase since Nov. 11.

Ventra cards were used to pay 69 percent of all fares during the first week of December.

The CTA gave no indication of when it would lift the “hold” on the rollout.

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  • That makes them liars.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    Cheryl, please don't start sounding like Scoooter.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    I demand an apology as you're the one always demanding civility!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    I apologize for being civil and demanding it from you.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    No. They're probably correct that 99% of these things are below 2.5 seconds. Unfortunately, that's entirely too long for a "tap." Payment should be being processed in under 100 ms. When they get it down to 99% in under 100ms, then we can give them a pat on the back.

  • Exactly. I'm not sure why they're bragging about that. 2.5 seconds when there are 10 people getting on a bus is not quick, especially when I'm still getting "Stop" messages on the first tap somewhere between 25 and 50% of the time.

  • Lies, damn lies, and statistics.

  • Nice numbers. Of course, they can be fudged pretty simply by just having the Ventra reader display "stop" or "go" after a certain amount of time regardless of whether it had the time to actually accurately process the transaction.

    But the numbers don't measure the people who tapped five times and their cards didn't register at all. They don't measure the people who had to tap five times getting a "stop" each time and then got a "go" on the sixth try (as long as each "stop" came in under 2.5 seconds). They don't measure all the people who signed up for automatic reloads and didn't get automatically reloaded. They don't measure all the people who added money to their accounts but got a "stop" on the bus anyway (as long as the "stop" took less than 2.5 seconds to display). And as long as the machine wasn't taken completely out of service, they don't measure all the machines that refuse to accept credit cards or charge credit cards but don't credit the account. They don't measure the card readers that were down long enough to reboot or just didn't operate for a few blocks. And they don't measure all the missed trains, late buses, and people waiting out in the snow to board as the folks ahead of them struggle with their cards. They don't measure the stress and ill-will on the part of riders and CTA employees. They don't measure the bewilderment and frustration of out-of-town visitors trying to figure out how to pay their train fare at the airport.

    You get what you measure. Sure, they can drive the numbers down to 2.5 seconds or less per tap. But that doesn't fully reflect the functionality of the system.

  • In reply to Olaf1:

    Olaf, in fact I'm fairly certain that the system DOES register the failures in processing the card.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Not from what Kermit says, in that the news article says that CTA will be looking at security camera recordings and the like when determining what compensation will be sought from Cubic.

    I mentioned a couple of ways CTA could calculate it, which weren't even mentioned by Charley Horse.

    I doubt that the observation in the article is limited to major portions of the system being down.

    For that matter, they do have the data on how many cards were charged twice in the same second, but they haven't said that they have properly credited all those accounts without the need to sit an average of 5 minutes on the phone being told by a recording how valuable your call us.

    But, aside from the logical trap noted yesterday, instead of being fairly certain, you could ask.

  • It's also wonderful that they got the average call time down under five minutes. But the fact that the system is so complicated and error-prone that so many thousands of people have to take time out of their days to call to resolve problems is not being addressed in the statistics.

    Are there any breakdowns of what these people are calling about? What is being done to fix the problems they have to call about?

  • In reply to Olaf1:

    I'm pretty sure the contract doesn't require the latter.

    However, what seems bogus is that the metric is average call wait, including when the call center is down, when it should be that 99.99...% calls were actually answered in 5 minutes, with a 0.0... % drop rate.

    From what you said about the replacement mag cards, apparently the cutover isn't going to be at least until mid-March.

  • I discovered a new problem the other day.
    The screen isn't bright enough.
    It was a bright sunny day & I had to wear sunglasses & I couldn't see if the reader registered my tap as it was noisy & the single ding isn't loud enough. My sunglasses made it impossible to read the green "Go" screen.
    In fact, it shouldn't be a ding, it should be "Thank you", "Paid" or another word that means it worked.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Problem is, you don't know what the Polish word to use at Montrose-Kennedy, Korean word for Kimball, Vietnamese word for Argyle, etc. Maybe Gracias works on most of the system.

  • Here's my lovely experience from yesterday. I received my card back in mid-October, activated it, and set up auto-load on my 30 day pass. The remaining days of my CCP 30-day pass appeared to have carried over OK. The Ventra card worked fine, and on 11/8 it correctly auto-reloaded my 30 day pass. I used the card without issues until 12/11, and then went out of town for a few days. Yesterday morning, I try to use the card on the bus, and it won't give me a 'Go', after a few attempts, the driver waives me through. I figured it was a faulty reader.

    I get to the rail station, and again the card won't read, giving the error message 'Check account', or something like that. The station attendant directs me to the Ventra machine, and we tap my card, and it shows a negative balance of $2.25. Huh? How does a card with a monthly pass get a negative balance. She tells me to feed in $2.25, and the card them allows me through the turnstile. I assume that maybe I was charged for a 2nd fare, and decide I'll call Ventra to get a refund.

    Later that day, the card works fine at the rail station on the way home, but the transfer on the bus does not. WTF.

    When I got home I called customer service, and got through in less than a minute. Nice. I describe my problem, and she asks me my name. I tell her, and she says, "Sorry, but the account is not in your name." For some stupid reason, the switch from CCP to Ventra put the account in my wife's name, and not mine. Even though I'm logged into the Ventra website, and looking at the account, she refuses to help me further. I ask her to ask me the standard security questions, but she refuses. I tell her that I'm simply going to hang up, redial, and talk to another agent using my wife's name. She continues to refuse to help me, so I hang up and call again. Sheesh.

    I reach the next agent in less than a minute, so the wait times do appear to be down. We then spend the next 15 minutes looking at my transaction and order log trying to determine why the system apparently reset my auto-load setting. The card should have auto-loaded on 12/8, but didn't. That would have left me with no balance. However, the card continued to work fine through 12/11. Also, the both of use couldn't figure out why the reader yesterday morning showed a negative balance, when the balance was in fact zero. Adding the $2.25 simply allowed me to get through the turnstile. In addition, we had no idea why I was allowed through the turnstile in the PM, as the balance should have been zero again. The balance in the evening was once again showing negative $2.25, which is odd. Why does the system allow rides that would cause a dip below zero?

    Having a negative balance prevented me from purchasing a new 30 day pass. The agent worked some magic on his end by giving me a $10 credit, so now I had a positive balance, and we walked through the process of buying a 30-day pass, and setting the auto-load option.

    While I was on hold, I changed the name on the account to myself, and the update appeared to take. However, when I navigated off the page, and back on, only the first name and birth date were updated. The last name did not. So, it appears to be another bug in the website. I mentioned this to the agent, and he performed the update on his side (w/o giving me the third degree about me not being me), and the update stuck.

    So, it a nutshell, the system software appears to still have significant bugs, starting with the fact that cleared the auto-load setting, and allowed me to take numerous rides with no balance, including one or more rides that dropped the balance below zero.

    I had to drive to work today, so I won't really know if it's working until tomorrow. I'm not holding my breath.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    George of Otto and George says there is no #!@#% problem here, and that the "negative balance problem" has been cured.

    The rest sounded like Steve Rosenbloom said that Mark Grote was missing for 5 weeks to get sex reassignment surgery. I don't know how Cubic got your wife's name or the second agent thought you were her.

    But,. as I told Chris, turn off autoload, or in a day or two your credit card will be short $100.00.

  • In reply to jack:

    We had two cards on the CCP account. The #1 card was in my name, and the 2nd card was in her name. The account was in my name. Somehow they managed to take the name from her card, and apply it to the account. To make it an even goofier story, we never did receive her Ventra card in the mail.

    My wife's name sounds like it could be either male or female, so the 2nd agent didn't question me when I gave him her name. At the point I told him about the missing update, it was already too late, as he had already corrected my account. He did ask me for the answer to the security question, so he did follow what I would consider the appropriate procedure. The first agent said my wife would have to call and authorize me to access the account, which is ridiculous, because I'm sitting there in front of my PC logged on to the account, which *I* created, staring at the personal information and security question. There is no option on the account to "enable" another person, so I have no idea how any agent would know that a 2nd person is "authorized" to make updates over the phone. That's the whole point of the security question.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Maybe your mother and her mother had the same maiden name, sort of like the Roosevelts, or maybe the two of you went to the same grade school.

    The two cards on the same account sounds strange, except that this probably was another unforeseen consequence of autoload.

  • What all these numbers do not address is WHY the whole process wasn't better managed to begin with--especially what was CTA management's involvement or failure to be involved. This is still a legitimate question for a captive customer base to ask. I'm not sanguine that we'll get answers, but I'll remain insistent that we are rightfully entitled to them. We should not forget the widespread effects suffered by so many of us, and it ought not to be treated as a phenomenon like the weather that was nobody's fault and could not have been prevented. Or to put it another way: Has anyone learned a lesson from all this?

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    Of course not. The same thing happened with the healthcare website project. These organizations are not experienced with managing large, "bleeding-edge" software projects. Otherwise, they would have known better than to set a fixed date for cut-over. Target dates are nice, but you don't fix a date and then roll out half-baked software to the full user base.

    I've been doing software development for 25+ years. It's extremely difficult, especially when working with new technology, and/or having to integrate/cut-over from other systems. There are ways to manage the risk, but not eliminate it. You don't know what you don't know. The key is to incrementally build and test the software. You *don't* integrate and test at the very end, because fixing defects late in the game is very expensive and disruptive. 'Look at the healthcare website for an example of that fiasco.

    Unfortunately, the SW industry keeps repeating the same mistakes over, and over again. Were lessons learned? Yes, but they will likely not be applied the next time. The #1 reason for this is the structuring of the contracts. They are almost always structured to deliver a single system at a fixed date in one big-bang, which is a recipe for disaster.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    To my mind, even more than the structuring of the contracts or the design for the project, is the nature of the incentive. In the private sector your customers have the "right of exit," you have competition that's ready to eat your lunch, and all that is a very real possibility that you know you MUST plan to avoid or heads will roll. The CTA and healthcare.gov don't have that threat, so much. Or, to put it in terms of risk, it's not really theirs--it's ours to absorb. At most they do some spin and feinting and day-late-and-dollar-short mop-up, then announce the crisis is over and there never was one. These are the people who claim to have our best interests so much more at heart than the private sector...yet the nature of the results doesn't match the supposed love they feel.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    If you want to talk captive audience, healthcare.gov comes to mind, which seems similarly fouled up. Unlike the option here of using a mag card, apparently someone has to use healthcare.gov if they are uninsured and want a subsidy.

    I can see the point that the intent was to run parallel systems to assure that the new one worked. The real problem is that Tammy Chase, who has been characterized properly by two other posters, tried to pin the blame on the customers. At least Emanuel told Danny O'Day to change the story, without Emanuel moving his lips.

    I suppose that the only lesson learned was that Cubic found out it would not be paid, and also that its chances to get another contract like this have been severely diminished.

  • In reply to jack:

    Good points. See my reply above to Spiny.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    My point on competition is that if you don't like CTA you can use a Divvy bike or cab. If you need a health care subsidy, you have no choice.

    Doesn't stop the developers from treating the customers like garbage though. One could say that Microsoft didn't have competition except if you wanted a Mac, and apparently Microsoft didn't have the incentive to eliminate the Blue Screen of Death for about 10 years. However, the competitive landscape changed, and Microsoft's market share went down with tablets and smart phones taking over from PCs, and Google and Yahoo providing better Internet platforms, although it doesn't appear that Microsoft is up to the competitive challenge. But at least we don't have to use Bing.

  • I'll be civil when they get their act together, Kevin. The very important person at the CTA who walked me through registering my Ventra card told me that the card I had was to replace the Chicago Card in my name. I never had a Chicago Card, I had a CC+. He told me I was wrong, I had a Chicago Card and a CC+, and that the Ventra card to replace my CC+ card was on its way. That was over a month ago and it never arrived. He also told me my balance from my CC+ card would be put on my Ventra card. That did not happen, I lost two weeks worth of unlimited rides.

    So please don't expect me to believe anything anyone there says.

  • This metric is useless:

    For a four-day stretch in the first week of December, more than 90 percent of calls were answered without being place on hold.

    They answer your calls, take a message, then call you back later to fix your problem. That's like saying 90% of callers left a voicemail without being placed on hold.

  • And a couple of other things. The Ventra website tells me I have a mailing address that doesn't exist. And it wants to save my billing information. So I will once again go to a train station I would not have to go to and buy another 30 day pass there rather than doing it online or allowing the CTA/Cubic anywhere near my checking account or paycheck. I'm forgoing the transit benefit because I do not trust either organization to get that right anymore.

  • I've been talking with numerous real people who actually ride the CTA and I've been talking with colleagues of mine who also take an interest in this Ventra scheme. I thought this might be a fine place to share some quick thoughts.

    Recently there was a post about the supposed "3 reasons" that this abrasive and stressful system is being forced upon everyone, despite nearly 100% negative feedback from real riders since day 1 and continued.

    Reason 1 cited a new Illinois law that simply requires universal payment options for the varying travel methods in the state. In other words, you have to have the same option to pay on CTA as you have on other transportation methods.

    Reason 2 claimed the existing system just wasn't cutting it anymore and it was time to replace it. (the same system everybody says ALWAYS worked flawlessly, and still does to this day... yes, that system)

    Reason 3 claimed that CTA needed to get out of the "money collecting and handling" business. Now, I'm sure a lot of us almost want to laugh at this comment when we think back to anything regarding CTA and money, but this was listed as a serious reason.

    Of the 3 reasons supplied for this change, I can tell you #2 and #3 are a complete joke -- they do not exist.

    Let me translate what #2 and #3 really mean:

    #2 = The software and hardware was working perfectly fine with the old system, and EVERYONE could see this clearly (riders and CTA staff) but the old system was basically coasting along without having a way of sucking "new" monies out of riders. In other words; the old system worked TOO GOOD for TOO cheap. They need a way to increase costs. This takes us to reason #3 below!

    #3 = CTA doesn't need to "get out of the money collecting business" -- any company that provides any type of service, by default, is in the business of collecting money. CTA offers one service - RIDES - and there is absolutely no reason that after decades of success, any bus company should need to suddenly hire outside service providers to come in and handle their money. ALL this accomplishes is putting more money in more rich peoples' hands, by bringing MORE middlemen into play! You already are expected to pay a minimum of FIVE DOLLARS to get a Ventra card... isn't that cute? As opposed to just walking up to the older transit card machines and depositing the EXACT amount you need and being given a card instantly.

    Sounds like Reasons 2 and 3 just squashed themselves in the "need" department and revealed themselves in the PROFIT department. Surprise, surprise. How does nobody else see this?

    Regarding reason #1 (the supposed Illinois law that requires a common payment platform) -- That can be accomplished without switching to a platform that is riddled with ERRORS, requires HIGHER FEES even before it's completely rolled out, and physically takes the rider 2 to 9 times longer to actually purchase or add money to if they're literally pressed for time.

    Remember the days when you could put actual money into the slot ON THE BUS and be given a transfer card right there? Did anybody ever think that THAT's our solution to the current new law? Everyone uses money, right? Stop forcing people through hoops to get their money onto cards that require extra fees and don't work properly.

    In closing, even if you ignore all of what I've stated above... aren't you fellow CTA riders excited that the new Ventra cards are being reported to only take 2.5 seconds to process when you get on the bus? I want you to picture yourself in a line of people getting onto a PACKED BUS, since that's the norm in Chicago. Now I want you to sit there and envision yourself tapping that Ventra card on the reader and having to wait anywhere up to 2.5 seconds. Now think about how long it took just for you to GET on the bus, considering how long the line was to get on. Now keep in mind EVERY PERSON that taps has to wait up to 2.5 seconds and that assuming NOBODY has a single error! Congratulations, CTA; a bus stop packed with customers that would have taken 5 minutes to load onto the bus (already a long time) is now going to take 2 to 3 times longer. Actual riders are ALREADY SEEING THIS when a person in the line brings out a Ventra card to pay on the bus; everyone else flies right through with no problem until it's a Ventra user.

    We're having a system forced down our throats that will cost US more money, take US more time to even use (loading cash if you don't want it automatically sucking funds out of your bank account, using on the bus when the machine takes 2 to 5 times longer than the old ones, etc), and will ultimately bring even more problems when those Ventra machines all stop working at the stations, because some of them ALREADY don't work. Imagine what will happen when people are sick and tired of this, and they're slapping the screens of those machines because they won't work? I have a nice vision in my mind of a rows of Ventra machines all lined up, all with their screens either smashed in or already failing to work without even being smashed. Nice upgrade, guys.

    How is nobody else seeing this for what it really is? More money sucked out of the rider; more inconvenience shoved in the rider's face; more people on the corporate side of this profiting in the long run because Ventra's parent company is actually getting PAID for this! Yikes!!!

  • In reply to RealisticJim:

    Jim, how dos this cost us more money (unless you're not using Ventra cards)?

    The vast majority of machines register in 1 second or less, so I don't see how that's 2 to 5 times longer than the old ones.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    The problem is the vague term "processed". What the heck does that mean? I agree with others in that I assume it means the user received a response, whether it was "Go" or "Stop". It took me 3 attempts to get through the train turnstile this morning, with a dozen people behind me. Yes, each attempt generated a response in less than 2.5 seconds. However, it took over 10 seconds before I could actually get through the turnstile.

    The metric should be based on the average processing time to receive a 'Go' for a *valid* account. It eliminates any possible monkey business with the software, e.g. displaying a false "Stop" on the reader at the 2.4 second mark to get credit for the processing metric. This can easily implemented on the reader side in the software.

  • Notice that they don't list how many non-transit "contactless" bankcards are being used. In other words, the thing around which this whole miserable perverted system is built -- a 'feature' that almost no one riding the CTA either requested or is likely to use -- appears nowhere in their stats.

    Strange that.

  • In reply to leoklein:

    Leo, why does it matter how many non-transit "contactless" bank cards are in use?

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    It matters because CTA told everyone, they wouldn't need a Ventra card if they had a compatible bank card. The bank would just bill them once a month for their rides. I assume they thought that would be attractive to the occasional riders, like bad weather riders who choose not to drive on snow days, who then wouldn't have to go to an L station to reload a regular card.
    Also, no one asked for the debit option, which in my opinion is just dangerous as it will cause thefts from those foolish enough to actually activate it.
    The same goes for the huge increase in ATMs in L stations. Just who is so stupid to get cash from a machine in a L station?
    That has a simple answer, people who want to get beaten & held up for their cash!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Interestingly enough at O'Hare visitors from abroad (including such exotic lands as Canada) cannot use their contactless credit cards in lieu of Ventra cards (since non-US cards are not compatible with the US standard that Ventra uses) and they cannot use their credit/debit cards at Ventra vending machines since Ventra machines demand a Zip Code, so they must first use an ATM to get $20 bills which they can then feed into Ventra machines.

    And if the pass they want isn't a multiple of $20? They leave the CTA a big fat tip.

  • In reply to Olaf1:

    Well, Chicago's unofficial city motto is "Slippus Envelopus." Since travelers usually don't carry envelopes stuffed with cash, the city makes it easier for them to "donate" at the Ventra machine.

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