Ventra Program Targeted By Lawsuit Demanding Transparency

“CTA takes troubling position that the public is not entitled to see non-winning bids and advisor records because it would be ‘too burdensome.’”

The Chicago Transit Authority’s Ventra program is the subject of a new suit filed today aimed at opening the books on how the contract for the program was awarded and what bids were rejected.

In 2011, the CTA awarded Cubic Transportation Systems a $454 million contract to build and operate an open fare payment system that can accept multiple payment methods including mobile devices, credit, debit, and transit cards.  The roll out of Ventra was plagued with systemic problems, causing customer inconvenience and missed fares for the agency.  Now CTA has refused to produce the other bids CTA considered or the contracts and invoices of CTA’s advisors on the deal.

“FOIA and the Illinois Constitution are clear that all records related to the use of public funds are subject to disclosure and that the ‘burden’ of producing records is no excuse when there is a strong public interest in disclosure, yet the CTA has refused to provide a complete picture into the Ventra deal process,” said Matt Topic, a government transparency attorney at Loevy & Loevy who represents Mr. Prechtel in the suit. “The fact that the CTA thinks that these records aren’t sufficiently important to justify the work involved in producing them is troubling.”

Mr. Prechtel filed a FOIA request with the CTA looking for all the bids made during the two-step Request for Proposal process, as well as contracts, invoices, and payment records for CTA’s advisors, including William Blair & Co., who previously advised the City on the parking meter deal.

“Philadelphia readily disclosed the names and amounts of the losing bidders for its Open Fare contract, and it turned out Cubic was outbid by a Xerox subsidiary by $5 million,” said Mr. Prechtel.

CTA’s lack of transparency arises against the backdrop of other recent controversies associated with City contracting, including criticism of the parking meter deal, alleged bribery scandals in connection with the Redflex red-light camera contract, and an eight-figure whistleblower settlement paid by a well-connected Chicago construction company alleging fraudulent minority contracting practices.  “The City should be disclosing as much information as possible in connection with major contracts like this so the public can decide if the City is getting a good deal,” said Mr. Prechtel.

Frustrated by the lack of transparency on this important public issue after making numerous attempts to accommodate the CTA, Mr. Prechtel filed the suit, Jason Prechtel v. Chicago Transit Authority, No. 2014 CH 12415, to force the CTA to produce these records.

“Is Ventra really a better system than the other alternatives offered in the RFP process?  Did the CTA get a good deal?” asked Prechtel.  “Without complete information, the public can’t tell.  We can’t be expected just take CTA’s word for it.”

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