By Jon Hilkevitch
12:54 PM CST, December 13, 2013
CTA bus passengers using Ventra cards are boarding and paying their fares much more quickly since recently completed software upgrades that have reduced the need for riders to repeatedly tap the cards on reader boxes, the transit agency reported today.
The average time to process Ventra fares on buses is now running about 1 second, although 40 percent of taps are still taking up to 2.5 seconds to register and produce the "Go" message on Ventra screens, the CTA reported.
Fare processing speed of a half-second or less is required under the almost half-billion-dollar Ventra contract that the CTA awarded to Cubic Transportation Systems Inc.
CTA President Forrest Claypool has said Cubic will not be paid -- and the old CTA fare cards will not be phased out -- until the 0.5-second performance metric and two others having to do with customer service and equipment reliability are achieved.
"Though Cubic has met or is close to meeting most performance goals, we want to ensure that the performance remains consistent," CTA spokesman Brian Steele said today.
"Once we're confident about consistent performance, we will restart the remainder of the transition process, though no timetable has yet been set," Steele said.
The original timetable called for completing the transition to Ventra by Dec. 15.
The new fare system, which also accepts contactless credit and debit cards on both the CTA and Pace suburban buses, will replace old-style magnetic stripe cards and the popular Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus.
Some 57 percent of Ventra card taps on buses are now processed in a half-second or less, according to the CTA update, which covered the period between Dec. 1 and 10.
It marks a major improvement since late October. Customers had complained that queues to board at bus stops were often backed up during rush hours because of balky Ventra readers and that frustrated riders who retapped their cards were sometimes double-charged.
Cubic acknowledged the problems on both the bus and rails systems and implemented software upgrades, starting at CTA rail stations.
Almost 100 percent of all Ventra taps on the CTA rail system have been processed in 2.5 seconds or less since Nov. 11, today's report noted. About 62 percent take no more than a half-second.
Ventra, which was introduced in late August, now accounts for 69 percent of all CTA fare transactions, officials said today. There are more than 1.1 million active Ventra accounts.
With the improvements in Ventra performance, call volumes to the Ventra customer help line have fallen from a high of about 20,000 in one day back in September to less than 8,000 daily in the latest report, through Dec. 10.
Still, about 11 percent of callers are placed on hold and 3 percent of callers seeking help with Ventra problems hang up, the data show. Hold times have remained below 5 minutes since mid-November, the CTA said.
Neither Cubic nor the CTA has released qualitative information regarding the handling of calls. Many callers have complained that Ventra operators sometimes only take messages and that it can be days until a call back is received.
"Part of work involves measuring of call quality, including how quickly and comprehensively customer issues are addressed," Steele said. "We will have that analysis in a future report."
Meanwhile, the Regional Transportation Authority is completing the mailing of Ventra reduced-fare and ride-free cards to its customers, officials.
The 545,000 RTA mailings were supposed to be done before Thanksgiving. Senior citizens and people with disabilities can continue to use their old cards until the Ventra cards arrive, officials said.
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