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RTA Launches Audit Of Ventra As Black Politicians Raise Concern About Minority Hiring

By Chuck Sudo in News on Nov 21, 2013 3:30PM

Photo credit: Ken "artistmac" Smith

Regional Transportation Authority Chairman John Gates ordered an investigation into CTA’s rollout of the Ventra shared-fare system Wednesday, calling the repeated snafus an “unacceptable and systemic failure.”

Gates ordered RTA Deputy Executive Director Michael Zumach to conduct an audit of the Ventra program immediately to determine how the rollout’s ongoing problems are affecting CTA’s revenues and budget. Last week a server failure during the evening rush resulted in CTA allowing 15,000 free rides to riders of the rail system, leading CTA president Forrest Claypool and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have maintained their “What? Me worry?” stances to the growing criticism of the Ventra rollout.

"Get to the bottom of this as quickly as you possibly can,” Gates declared. “This has morphed into far more than a computer glitch.”

CTA said Gates’ comments were surprising “given the vast amount of information he and his staff have been provided by the CTA over the last several months about Ventra's progress.” RTA asked CTA back in March about the series of hidden fees involved with Ventra, its ability to be used as a pre-paid debit card and the transfer and “limited use media fee” added to single ride fares. CTA said it would give Zumach and RTA all the documentation it needed to conduct the audit, which will be presented to RTA’s board next month.

Emanuel said last week Cubic Transportation Systems, the company managing Ventra, would not see a dime of city money until the glitches plaguing the system are fixed. Now Emanuel has black lawmakers breathing down his neck about a lack of minority contractors receiving Ventra business. The Sun-Times reports only 7.2 percent of the $329 million base contract with Cubic Transportation Systems has been shared by black contractors. Chicago firms are receiving 9.6 percent of the business from Cubic but 26 percent of that amount has been claimed by Carolyn Grisko, a white woman who was once former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s deputy press secretary during one of Claypool’s terms as Daley’s chief of staff.

Grisko’s firm as a 12-year contract worth $8.3 million over the life of the deal and told the Sun-Times her firm has been working on Ventra from the onset, long before Emanuel named Claypool to head CTA. CTA’s Ventra project manager Stephen Mayberry said Cubic is meeting the 12 percent “disadvantaged business enterprise” set-aside in the contract’s language but Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the City Council Transportation Committee, said it’s “troubling” to see so much of the set-aside not going to black contractors.

City Council Black Caucus chairman Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) called for an investigation of the set-aside and said the amount black contractors are sharing is “outrageous.”

“In the long term, all of these things could have a cumulative effect if the blame is determined to be on his administration. The credibility of Forrest [Claypool], Terry [Peterson, CTA board chairman] and, to a small extent, the mayor’s office could be affected,” he said.