The Chicago Transit Authority announced Nov. 5 it has directed the developer of the new Ventra fare payment system to take immediate steps to resolve a number of technical issues that have led to poor customer experiences.
At a meeting of the City Club of Chicago, CTA President Forrest Claypool said there have been improvements on a number of fronts — from improving the customer-service call center to increasing the reliability of Ventra card readers — but that CTA has demanded an even stronger response from Cubic Transportation Systems.
The new Open Fare contactless card payment system is the first of its kind in North America, and is replacing an obsolete system while meeting the requirements of state legislation for a universal-fare system for regional transit agencies.
“Just two months into the transition to the first new fare-payment system in nearly 20 years, customers are adopting Ventra at an unprecedented rate in the industry, with more than 25 million rides taken and more than 50 percent of CTA customers using Ventra after just eight weeks,” Claypool said. “Though the system has met several of the high performance standards we’ve set for this project, and performance has been improving, the number of issues we’ve seen are simply unacceptable for our customers.”
Though hundreds of thousands of riders use the system smoothly each day, Claypool said, too many issues still impact customers each day. “Our vendor hasn’t fully met our expectations yet — or those of our customers — in a number of areas, and therefore we are holding them to a much higher level of accountability.”
Richard Wunderle, Cubic Transportation senior vice president and general manager of North American Operations, who joined Claypool onstage at the City Club presentation, acknowledged the issues and pledged improved performance.
“Cubic has worked hand in hand with CTA to correct the problems that have surfaced and would like to offer our sincere apologies to riders who have been inconvenienced as the new system is being deployed,” said Wunderle. “We take responsibility and we are going to get it right just as we did for the current Chicago Card system. Cubic has fielded major systems in cities around the world and we more than anyone else have a stake in the success of the Ventra system. We don’t begin to recover our investment until the system is performing as it should and we meet all the CTA’s requirements. We’re experienced, we’re the best and we’re committed to get it right for Chicago.”
Until Cubic makes improvements to its customer-service call center and addresses some technical issues, the CTA will push back the full implementation past the original Dec. 15 date. That date will be determined based on Cubic’s performance. Both Ventra and legacy fare systems will continue to operate in parallel during this time.
Further, until Cubic addresses the existing issues, the company will receive no payment from the CTA.
“We are listening to our customers, many of whom have not had the seamless experience with Ventra we had planned for and worked toward,” Claypool said. “I want those customers to know that we are fully committed to address each and every issue — and more importantly, that we’re making great progress.”
Claypool pointed to the Ventra customer service call center as one example. At CTA’s direction, Cubic tripled the number of operators to 300, reducing the average wait time to an average of about 5 minutes on Nov. 4 — more than 80 percent less than one month ago. To ensure further improvements, the CTA has directed Cubic to partner with a leading national call center company to expand capacity for peak call volume demand and to monitor calls for quality.
Other areas of service being addressed include:
Customers charged for multiple taps, related to delay between tap and "go" signal
Customers were reporting tapping their card and not getting an immediate “go” so they would tap again or move to a different lane to tap, which would result in being charged more than once. To address the issue, Cubic this week updated the Ventra reader software with improvements that will process transactions with 2.5 seconds or less 99 percent of the time.
In addition, readers now include a “processing” screen that lets the customer know that the transaction is processing, and a “low balance” screen that lets the customer know that their balance is under $10. Third, a small change to the CTA’s “passback” rule will allow customers to continue to have passback privileges (up to 7 rides per Ventra card) but will require a turn of the turnstile per tap to lower the chance of being charged more than once. These changes will provide customers with more information needed to make a decision whether to wait or re-tap and will significantly reduce incidents of being charged for multiple taps.
Ventra reader malfunctions
Customers have reported long lines at rail stations, primarily during rush periods and delays boarding buses. The CTA’s analysis of data shows that 5 percent of transactions are taking more than 2.5 seconds, the desired standard.
To address the issue, the CTA directed Cubic to make software updates to ensure 99 percent of Ventra readers process transactions in 2.5 seconds or less. By mid-November, upgrades to Ventra reader software should improve transaction/boarding times.
Chicago Card/Chicago Card Plus transition
To help complete the transition of remaining Chicago Card/Chicago Card Plus customers, the CTA has taken a number of steps including:
- Sending reminder emails in early October to customers who were mailed cards but hadn’t yet activated
- Calling 100K+ customers who were mailed cards to ensure they received them and assist with activation
- Changing the ventrachicago.com website to easily allow customers to retrieve usernames and passwords from homepage
Customers who still have not received their Ventra cards can:
- Buy a Ventra card from a Ventra vending machine or retail outlet; register to get $5 one-time card cost refunded as transit value
- Spend down Chicago Card Plus balance; call 888-YOUR-CTA to cease autoload function on Chicago Card Plus.
- For customers who wish to transfer their remaining Chicago Card Plus balances, they can bring their Ventra card and their Chicago Card Plus card along with a photo ID to a balance transfer event or Ventra customer service center at 165 N. Jefferson (Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-4 p.m.) and balance will be manually transferred over.
- Coming soon: Ventrachicago.com will allow Chicago Card Plus customers the ability to have their balances transferred online to Ventra by providing their Chicago Card Plus and Ventra card information.
As an additional convenience to customers, Ventra will add 11 new balance transfer events beginning Wednesday, Nov. 6, at CTA headquarters, 567 W. Lake, to allow customers to transfer their balances from legacy fare cards including Chicago Card, Chicago Card Plus and magnetic stripe cards to registered Ventra cards.
Customers may bring a maximum of five eligible fare media cards at a time with a combined minimum of five dollars in transit value on the cards to transfer to a registered Ventra card. No unlimited-ride passes (1-,3-,7-, or 30-day) will be transferred, nor will balances on expired fare cards be transferred.