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'Chicago Tonight' to Hold 'Ventra Special' Town Hall With Live Audience

By  Patty Wetli and Emily Morris | December 4, 2013 12:06pm | Updated on December 4, 2013 2:57pm

 "Chicago Tonight" is planning a live town hall to discuss the troubles with Ventra.
"Chicago Tonight" is planning a live town hall to discuss the troubles with Ventra.
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NORTH PARK — CTA's beleaguered Ventra fare system will take center stage during Thursday's taping of WTTW-Ch. 11's "Chicago Tonight," which is devoting its entire program to the subject — in front of a live audience of CTA riders.

The 30-minute "Ventra Special" will be conducted town hall style, with the exact format and panelists still in flux, according to WTTW spokeswoman Julia Maish.

While the special will likely draw attention to some of the problems that have plagued Ventra, on Wednesday the CTA claimed that those issues — including customers being double charged or being denied entry through turnstiles — have "largely vanished from the rail system."

The CTA said the improvements came after Cubic Transportation Systems Inc., the vendor that landed the $454 million contract to develop Ventra, made software upgrades. 

Upgrades to card readers on buses are expected to be finished this week.

The progress report released Wednesday shows that Ventra card readers processed commuters' cards at an average "tap time" speed of 0.6 seconds after the software upgrade.

The report also showed that average call wait times were five minutes or less and that vending machines and card readers functioned more than 99 percent of the time at rail station turnstiles, the CTA said.

The data was based on five million rides taken from Nov. 18 to Dec. 1, days after the CTA was forced to give out about 15,000 free rides when several card readers went down during rush hour.

Cubic still won't receive any payment until it meets standards laid out for the company in early November, the CTA said.

Those benchmarks include reducing Ventra customer service call wait times to five minutes or less; ensuring all Ventra reader tap times drop to 2.5 seconds or less 99 percent of the time; and ensuring the system's vending machines and card readers function 99 percent of the time.

Those interested in being part of the studio audience for the "Chicago Tonight" show should send an email to chicagotonight@wttw.com, with "Ventra" in the subject line. Provide your name, phone number, address and the number of tickets desired.

Maish noted that WTTW's studio, located at 5400 N. St. Louis Ave., can hold approximately 50 people.

"Chicago Tonight," which airs at 7 p.m., is also fielding comments about Ventra online. Some of the comments could be mentioned on air.