Ventra is getting better. Really.
The CTA says the latest metrics show the controversial commuter ticket is now carried by 63 percent of all riders.
"Tap times," the time it takes for the card to register, are likewise getting better, the agency says. Software upgrades on el trains and subways have resulted in tap times of 1 second or less, according to CTA data. Bus upgrades are taking longer, and the agency says 44 percent of bus trips may have times up to 2-1/2 seconds.
"The good is that the problems reflecting our customers on the rail side have largely evaporated," says CTA chief Forrest Claypool. "We're up to 30 million taps. Two out of three of our customers are now Ventra customers. But it's still an unacceptably high number of transactions where there are problems."
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Claypool says he is still not satisfied with the performance of the Ventra call center. While wait times have gone down, to an average of 2 minutes and 24 seconds, he said he remains unhappy about the customer experience once the phones are answered.
Those centers are located outside of Chicago in three cities.
"We've seen call times come down, and we've seen improvements in quality, but a long way to go," Claypool said.
Thursday, NBC 5 Investigates revealed that some riders were enjoying free rides, swiping cards with no money in their accounts, or even negative balances.
Claypool said he was surprised to learn of that, but that he was told the vendor, Cubic, had built that feature into the system as a defacto grace period while the Ventra system shakes out.
And Cubic confirmed that. Vice President Matthew Cole said certain fare rules (and scenarios like transfers) necessitated allowing riders to carry temporary balances. But he said Cubic will absorb the cost of those rides, and that CTA receives full payment for the fares.
Cole said Cubic is tightening the rules for allowing negative balances, and that fewer riders will be enjoying the privilege of swiping cards with no money on them.
"We get paid for that transaction," said Claypool. "There is no financial impact on the CTA whatsoever."
For now, old style magnetic stripe tickets and Chicago-Plus cards still work. Claypool says he has not decided when the full changeover will occur. And he insisted, Cubic has a big incentive to make the system work perfectly.
"They have not received a dime, and will not receive a dime, until the system works the way it should for all our customers," Claypool said.