IL: CTA Gives Ventra Contractor Green Light

Feb. 06--The CTA is satisfied enough with the performance of the contractor operating the new Ventra fare system that the transit agency plans to soon stop holding back a portion of the payments owed to the company, officials said Wednesday.

It's a big move toward a Ventra-only system, which includes the use of "contactless" credit and debit cards for riders not using a Ventra transit smart card.

Cubic Transportation Systems Inc., of San Diego, which spent several years developing Ventra for the CTA before launching the fare system late last summer, has not received any payment on its $454 million contract, because of technical failures and poor customer service, CTA President Forrest Claypool said.

The decision to start partial payment soon paves the way for a series of subsequent steps -- cutting off sales to CTA riders of the "legacy" magnetic strip transit cards; removing non-Ventra transit card vending machines from CTA rail stations so it won't be possible to add value to the old transit cards; and setting a timetable for a full transition to Ventra, officials said.

The dates of those moves are expected to be announced this month and the final switch to Ventra will take at least a month to complete, CTA spokesman Brian Steele said.

The original schedule called for the process to be completed by December, but problems abounded, including tens of thousands of Ventra customers either never receiving their new cards in the mail or having trouble activating them. It was followed by hardware and software breakdowns in the Ventra system that resulted in Ventra customers being overcharged or given free rides, for which Cubic must reimburse riders and the CTA.

The CTA will soon announce a mail-in program for customers to transfer remaining balances from Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus cards and from magnetic strip fare cards, Steele said.

But first, the CTA is "getting ready" to begin paying Cubic for each time Ventra cards are used to pay fares on buses and trains, Steele said. Under the contract, Cubic will receive a variable share of fare revenue equal to about 4.4 cents per full-fare ride using a Ventra card, an additional 2 cents if a transfer is made and a penny more for a second transfer. Minimum CTA payments to Cubic are set at $728,897 per month.

Separately, the CTA has not yet decided when to begin paying Cubic the $2.5 million a month guaranteed over the next 10 years. Once Claypool gives the go-ahead for the monthly payments, it would require extraordinary circumstances for the CTA to legally be able to halt payments, under the contract language.

About a month after he ordered a halt to the transition to Ventra in early October because of widespread problems with the fare system, Claypool set performance standards in three main areas that Cubic must meet in order to be paid: Cubic's call center operators must handle all telephoned complaints within five minutes; 99 percent of Ventra equipment must function properly; and fare readers on buses and at rail turnstiles must process 99 percent of fare card taps in 2.5 seconds or less.

Cubic achieved all three criteria at the beginning of 2014, CTA officials said.

jhilkevitch@tribune.com

Twitter @jhilkevitch

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