Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Study: Marijuana is bad for brains, worse for droughts

recent study claims that casual marijuana use between ages 18-25 causes "significant structural changes in key regions of the brain affecting emotion and decision-making." 

Meanwhile, an upcoming study shows its negative environmental impact around California pot farms.

Did I just spark another Ventra Vancouver?

I couldn't help but notice the number of news stories about the class action lawsuits against Ventra that popped up over the weekend.

Funny thing is, they were all in Vancouver outlets.

Compass Card operator faces three U.S. lawsuits - 24 Hours Vancouver
Madill said Compass also wouldn’t allow touchless credit and debit cards when first rolled out. According to Cubic’s 2011 press release announcing the contract, the system is supposed to have that capability.

But he said comparing Ventra and Compass is like comparing “an iPhone with an Android,” albeit in this case, they share the same manufacturer.

Compass isn’t without its own issues, though. Madill added some users have reported an “error message” when they try to tap and that problem is now being tweaked.

“All the experience in Chicago did was it just reinforced our approach of taking it slow and phasing it in is the best practice,” he added.
TransLink Compass card system facing questions over cost - CBC News
In its annual report, Cubic Transportation admits the 2013 fiscal year was "challenging" and "very poor." In part because of problems installing the Vancouver system, the report states, "operating margins declined due to an increase in estimated costs."

In Chicago, Cubic's Ventra card system has also had serious problems and is the subject of several class action lawsuits.

Meanwhile, the Compass card system in Vancouver is a year behind schedule with no firm start date in sight.
Company behind Translink’s upcoming Compass card target of class-action lawsuit - Global News
Chicago’s card, called “Ventra,” is similar to Compass and launched last month, Some users are alleging they have been getting double and even triple-billed when they “tap in” with the card.

Other users are having problems scanning their cards, and there are allegedly billing-method errors. In addition, users’ debit cards are accidentally being scanned instead of their Venture [sic] cards.

All these stories went up on the 10th and 11th. My story, which listed the Ventra class action lawsuits on the first page - went up on the 9th.
These stories just so happened to pop up a day or two after my Cubic legal timeline.

Coincidence? Doubtful.

As much as I was hoping to get more local pick-up, I DID write an international compare-and-contrast about a multinational corporation. A long one. One the internet kids these days would call a #deepdive.

Chicago may be too scandal-choked right now to shine (yet another) light on Ventra's origins, but leave it to the Windy City's old news to rock the boat thousands of miles away.

(for more on Ventra and Compass, click here and here)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The TL;DR of my latest Ventra piece

Today, Gapers Block published my latest piece, How Lawsuits, Lobbyists and Parking Meter Deals Led to Ventra.

In it, I overlap a timeline of Cubic Transportation System's less than savory legal and lobbyist history with the suspicious events and key players leading up to the creation of the Ventra card.

You can view it in plain text or the sweet interactive version I made courtesy of Northwestern University Knight Lab's free tool, StoryMap JS.

It's a long read, so here are the highlights:
  • Cubic's legal battles in metropolitan-area transit systems include New York City, London, Sydney, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, and -- on two separate occasions -- Atlanta
  • Cubic used well-connected lobbyists in Vancouver, the Bay Area, and Sydney to help secure multimillion dollar fare collection contracts
  • William Blair & Co., the firm that set up the privatization of Chicago's parking meters and garages, was put in charge of the CTA's Open Fare bid 
  • The bidding began in late August 2009, just months after the city's Inspector General deemed William Blair's parking meter valuation too low by $975 million 
  • WB employees visited Rahm Emanuel in the White House twice during the first part of the bidding phase
  • One of the losing bidders in Chicago was Xerox, who won a similar Open Fare system bid in Philadelphia the same day the CTA approved Cubic's bid for what became Ventra
  • Cubic donated $1,500 to PAC for Rahm's mayoral campaign
  • Most interestingly of all, Ventra is pretty much exactly what the original CTA Open Fare RFP asked for
Now that I think about, looks like I need a TL;DR for my own TL;DR. 

In that case: When you combine a secretive investment bank and a litigious transit company that both have ties to Rahm Emanuel, you get Ventra.

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