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CTA Paying Up To $245K For Ventra Calls After Original Vendor Swamped

CHICAGO (STMW) -- "Courtesy calls" to Ventra customers are being made by a vendor hired by the Chicago Transit Authority for up to $245,000 without CTA board approval as part of an "unforeseen" Ventra expense, CTA officials said Monday.

Omicron Technologies was hired less than two weeks ago to make outbound phone calls — apparently after Ventra call centers manned by Cubic Transportation Systems were flooded with inbound calls from CTA riders trying to transition to Ventra, the CTA's new fare.

Cubic was hired in November of 2011 to operate Ventra under a contract worth up to $454 million. Despite all the complaints about Ventra, Cubic is not footing the bill for the new vendor, CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said.

Instead, the CTA is picking up the tab for the Omicron "quality assurance" work out of the original CTA budget for Ventra, Chase said. Omicron has "expertise" in such work, she said.

"This was an unforeseen cost," Chase said. "Since we're under budget on some Ventra-related things, we had money to pay for this service and still remain within the overall [Ventra] project budget."

The CTA board was not required to vote on the Omicron contract worth up to $245,000 because it squeaked just under the $250,000 amount that requires board approval. In addition, CTA board members were not informed about the Omicron contract until after the Chicago Sun-Times began inquiring about it.

Omicron was hired for a two-week period, ending this week, to call Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus customers who have not activated their Ventra cards to find out if they received their cards or needed assistance in activating and using them, Chase said.

"Their task is very specific and short term," Chase sid. "We want Cubic to focus on improving the call center and adding customer service reps — so we don't have them doing this specialized, short-term task, too."

Omicron is being paid based on the number of "completed calls" by Nov. 1, Chase said. However, Chase did not know how many customers Omicron had been asked to contact.

On Oct. 9, CTA President Forrest Claypool announced that the CTA was restoring fare payment options it had discontinued only two days earlier until Cubic could triple its call center operators — from 100 to 300. Nearly three weeks later, Chase could not say Monday how many additional call center operators Cubic was using.

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