Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Ventra problems hit national media (link round-up 12/17/13)

[via Cubic]

Rick Perlstein: the Municipal-Industrial Complex Around the World
You could enjoy a nice around-the-world tour just traveling to cities where Cubic has screwed up fare collection. Gapers Block documented them: double-charging in Atlanta. Twenty-fold charging in Brisbane, Australia. Miami-Dade’s “Easy Card” system was dubbed “Easy Fraud”: this fall, “a 22-year-old man has stood trial over a a glitch allowing him (and members of a WSVN Channel 7 News team) to load money onto Easy Cards for free.” In San Francisco, “Cubic disclosed it received 38,000 customer service phone calls in August 2011.”

And then Los Angeles: in spite of “nearly consistent one-star reviews on Yelp, Cubic still got a six-year, $545 million contract extension.”

None of this bothered the city fathers of Vancouver, British Columbia, apparently. Their Cubic-built system “Compass” comes fully online this January. A large-scale Beta test, though, has already enraged citizens who realized that buying a fare through the traditional system, which will continue on buses, forced you to pay twice when transferring to trains, which only accept the new cards.

And so Cubic continues to thrive and grow, much to Wall Street’s delight. Wrote security analysts of Cubic’s military subsidiary, “2013 is likely to be a year of flattish revenue and lower earnings owing to tight defense budgets.” But “[t]here is no pure-play publicly traded fare-collection competitors,” so “[w]e see a solid growth story/existing backlog in Transportation,and believe that CUB’s efforts to expand its addressable market…. Scope for smart card penetration in existing U.S. transit systems is another growth lever.”
(See also parts one and two of his series focusing on Cubic and privatization)

Chicago's new smart cards make commuting even harder
Compared to other smart transit systems, Ventra is logging a fairly negative public review. Unlike Ventra, Boston’s contactless electronic CharlieCard system faced no huge bouts of complaints upon implementation in late 2006 and early 2007. In fact, despite minor problems, customers lauded the system.

The MBTA pre-encoded its CharlieCards so they would be ready to go; customers don’t have to fuss with online registration like Ventra. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) also rapidly deployed the cards in a matter of months, whereas the CTA is still trying to fade out old CTA cards four months after Ventra’s introduction. As a result, it had to push back transition deadlines.
May 2011: Cubic employee arrested for selling millions worth of illegally-made Boston transit cards
Since 2007, Andres Townes, 27, of Revere, produced thousands of Charlie Cards worth just under $5 million and sold most them online through Craigslist for a discount, officials said.

“He is charged with what is believed to be the largest scheme of illegally produced passes,” said Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Townes worked for Cubic Transportation Systems of Beverly, which fulfilled online and phone orders for the majority of T monthly passes. As a fulfillment supervisor there, Townes had access to the secure room that houses the machines to produce the cards.

Authorities showed one of the illegal cards he allegedly produced. Its value was $235, but he sold it online for $200, they said.

Because at least hundreds of T riders bought their passes this way, the agency lost potentially millions in revenue. 
Words from a recently-fired Ventra call center employee
Even though the Ventra call center is nestled in a warm little city in San Francisco East Bay Area, December 13 was the coldest day of my life. Not only was I fired for giving out the correct information in that phone call on Dec. 12 (which was also my birthday), but I was also told that it wasn't what I said but my delivery. They said I was bringing bad press to Ventra.

Who fires a person 12 days before Christmas? Who fires a person for doing what they were told to do (provide excellent customer service)? I guess the same company that got an over half-billion dollar contract to make the transit in Chicago more convenient, but which is failing on every respect. Maybe it’s the same company that makes it mandatory that its customer service representatives work six days a week.

Maybe I shouldn't place all the blame on Ventra, maybe I was too tired when I took the call that day. I had been at work for 11 days straight without a day off in between. But I am sure that Ventra customers are not they only ones being let down by this company. I suppose this is just big business.
There's plenty more to write about Cubic, but I'll have to save it for another day.

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