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Audit light on numbers finds Ventra no cash drain on CTA

The CTA has seen no financial damage from uncollected revenue related to the glitchy Ventra fare-payment system, according to a cursory audit released Wednesday that contained no numbers to support its root claim.

Michael Zumach, an auditor for the Regional Transportation Authority, did not provide a single statistic on lost fare revenue in his presentation to the transit oversight agency’s board to support his conclusion that the CTA has suffered “very limited impact’’ on its 2013 budget due to equipment and software failures in the fare-payment system.

Many CTA riders and transit agency employees have said that free rides resulting from Ventra-related glitches have been widespread on buses and at rail stations since the new fare-collection system debuted more than three months ago. In one incident alone in mid-November, sparked by a Ventra computer system failure that knocked out Ventra card readers at 60 rail stations, about 15,000 riders got free rides in a 90-minute span, officials said.

Zumach acknowledged that his review, ordered by RTA Chairman John Gates Jr. on Nov. 20 in response to what Gates called a “systemic failure’’ with Ventra, was conducted under a tight deadline and was limited to the information the CTA and its Ventra contractor were willing to release.

The audit looked at “a large amount of data in a short amount of time,’’ according to a PowerPoint presentation accompanying Zumach’s oral report to the board. “As a result, not all data could be validated or traced to source documents.’’

CTA spokesman Brian Steele said that “the lost revenue impact will be finalized by Dec. 31. We are checking to see what numbers, if any, we might be able to provide in the interim.’’

The CTA’s contract with the Ventra vendor, Cubic Transportation Systems Inc., requires Cubic to reimburse the CTA for all uncollected fares, Zumach said.

But CTA president Forrest Claypool also has said that the amount of lost fare revenue that Cubic eventually reimburses to the CTA will be decided by lawyers.

Zumach referred to that same point Wednesday.

“The numbers are part of the negotiation’’ between the CTA and Cubic, Zumach said in an emailed response to a Tribune request for data on Ventra-related CTA fare losses. “I cannot reveal those numbers without affecting the negotiation process.’’

Yet, apparently at odds with the contingency of how much of the lost money the CTA will recoup in negotiations, Zumach also insisted that “uncollected fares do not impact CTA because they get paid whether or not Cubic collects a fare.’’

Claypool has said the CTA won’t begin to pay Cubic on the $454 million Ventra contract until performance criteria are met. None has to do directly with reimbursement for lost fare revenue.

CTA officials have said the agency will be made whole financially by Cubic through a number of safeguards. They include videos of passenger volumes at CTA rail stations; tallies of taps using Ventra cards in unsuccessful payment attempts on Ventra readers at rail stations and on buses; counters on some buses that keep track of boarding passengers; and historical ridership data that will be compared to actual fare payments since Ventra was launched this summer.

However, Zumach acknowledged another financial “risk’’ – instances in which Ventra card taps are not counted because the Ventra computer servers failed.

“There is a whole new process to determine the volume of customers during these events who did not tap,’’ Zumach told the Tribune. “CTA and Cubic are currently working on the reconciliation and settlement process for these types of situations.’’

Zumach told the RTA board that he was willing to report back in three months with a more thorough analysis of the Ventra system.

jhilkevitch@tribune.com

Twitter @jhilkevitch

 

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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