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Thursday, September 28

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The Mechanics

Transportation Thu Apr 10 2014

How Lawsuits, Lobbyists and Parking Meter Deals Led to Ventra

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Jason Prechtel / Comments (3)

Transportation Fri Feb 14 2014

How D.C. Public Transit Will Go Open Fare and Keep Their Version of the Chicago Card

ventra_tap.jpgWhen the Chicago Transit Authority began the Ventra card roll out last August, the agency gave riders using the Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus until Oct. 7 to transfer their accounts to the new system. However, widespread registration problems and card reader glitches forced the CTA to postpone this deadline for "several weeks" -- initially to Dec. 15, before getting pushed back again "indefinitely."

Last week, the agency announced that Ventra finally met the performance benchmarks necessary for its private vendor, Cubic Transportation Systems, to receive payments on their $454 million contract. The CTA is now claiming that they will fully transition to Ventra -- and away from Chicago Cards -- in (at least) a month.

At this point, it's worth asking why riders need to switch to Ventra to begin with. Halfway across the country, D.C.-area transit riders will soon get a Ventra-style open fare payment system...but will still be using a card based on a version of the Chicago Card technology.

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Jason Prechtel / Comments (6)

Transportation Mon Dec 09 2013

Can Metra Successfully Switch to Ventra? Possible, but not Probable

Ventra Card
Image courtesy of CTA
By now, the Chicago Transit Authority's problems with Ventra have been as frequent as they've been frustrating.

CTA President Forrest Claypool insists the system's glitches and errors have been reduced. Yet the agency will continue to accept the old magnetic stripe and Chicago cards while withholding payment to Ventra's vendor, Cubic Transportation Systems, until certain performance benchmarks are met.

However, Ventra's reliability is more than just a Chicago concern. On July 7, 2011, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into law a legal mandate for the CTA, Pace, and Metra transit systems to be united under an open fare payment system (one that allows payment through bank-issued or universal cards) by January 1, 2015. In turn, the CTA and Pace have both adopted the legally-qualifying Ventra system.

That leaves the Metra -- a train system that spans 11 individual lines across Northeastern Illinois and part of Wisconsin -- a little over a year to comply with state law.

On paper, it's possible for the expansive commuter rail system to make a smooth transition to Ventra over the next 12 months. But with the ongoing issues plaguing the CTA, and Metra's own recent troubles, there's good reason to question whether it's probable.

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Jason Prechtel / Comments (4)

Public Transportation Fri Dec 06 2013

Ventra Venting on "Chicago Tonight"

On Thursday night, Dec. 5, WTTW's "Chicago Tonight" did a special episode focusing on the CTA's troubled Ventra payment system. Among the panelists discussing the issues was Gapers Block's own Jason Prechtel, who wrote extensively about the troubles Cubic Transportation Systems, the company that designed and runs Ventra, has had with transit projects around the world, as well as on the RTA's responsibility for the switch to the new payment system.

You can watch the entire episode here:

Andrew Huff

Transportation Tue Nov 19 2013

Why Did We Even Get Ventra? Ask The RTA

In the wake of the seemingly endless problems with Ventra, some aldermen have called for an official hearing on the glitch-prone transit fare collection system created by Cubic Transportation Systems.

As reported last week in the Chicago Sun-Times, Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) questioned why the state even required the Chicago Transit Authority, Pace, and Metra transit systems to go under one payment system.

As it turns out, the law was pushed by the very same governmental organization currently overseeing the Ventra transition -- the Regional Transportation Authority.

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Jason Prechtel / Comments (8)

Transportation Mon Nov 11 2013

Ventra's Parent Company: An International History of Fare Card Glitches

Since I last wrote about Ventra back in February, a lot has happened...mostly at the local commuter's expense.

During the past several months, CTA riders have dealt with a botched transition from city-issued magnetic strip passes and Chicago Cards (and ticket packs and cards for Pace riders), to an outsourced fare collection system based around a hybrid transit/prepaid debit card. This has been overseen by Cubic Transportation Systems, a subsidiary of a defense contractor and wireless data technology firm.

While Mayor Rahm Emanuel has both downplayed the problems and acknowledged the complaints, several alderman have called for an official hearing to demand explanations. Meanwhile, the CTA has announced a delay in the deadlines for fully transitioning to Ventra and proclaimed their refusal to pay Cubic until the issues are addressed.

In the face of public scrutiny, Cubic has ensured that these problems will be solved (though its boss "can't guess" when). However, what Cubic isn't telling Chicagoans is that the company has experienced all of Ventra's problems before... in the other smart card systems it has built for cities across the world.

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Jason Prechtel / Comments (15)

Transportation Thu Feb 07 2013

Our Coming Public-Private CTA: How Much Will We Pay?

VENTRA_CMYK_Logo.jpgWhile it's easy to get overwhelmed trying to keep track of all the Chicago transportation improvement projects on the docket for the next decade, two major changes are coming soon that will permanently alter the way Chicago's public transportation system operates. These changes -- a newly outsourced mass transit fare payment system and a potential investment into 'L' line modernization and expansion -- will both involve the Chicago Transit Authority in public-private partnerships (PPPs or P3s).

However, despite assurances that P3s are vital for the future of infrastructure, and public officials' claims that the city is not "selling off" its assets, we should be skeptical of the idea that these projects are foolproof solutions to budget woes. Not only have the city's previous transportation-related P3s proven to be an increasingly expensive burden on Chicagoans, but similar mass transit P3's in other cities across the world have had mixed results, at best. For these reasons, the current P3 projects in the pipeline for the CTA deserve more public scrutiny to ensure that they benefit Chicagoans without incurring additional fees and burdens.

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Jason Prechtel / Comments (2)

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Parents Still Steaming, but About More Than Just Boilers

By Phil Huckelberry / 2 Comments

It's now been 11 days since the carbon monoxide leak which sent over 80 Prussing Elementary School students and staff to the hospital. While officials from Chicago Public Schools have partially answered some questions, and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has informed that he will be visiting the school to field more questions on Nov. 16, many parents remain irate at the CPS response to date. More...


Substance, Not Style, the Source of Rahm's Woes

By Ramsin Canon / 2 Comments

It's not surprising that some of Mayor Emanuel's sympathizers and supporters are confusing people's substantive disputes with the mayor as the effect of poor marketing on his part. It's exactly this insular worldview that has gotten the mayor in hot... More...

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