Re; Freedom of Information Act requests for
CTA documents related to Ventra contract
By Jon Hilkevitch,
July 31--A blogger sued the CTA on Wednesday to obtain copies of the losing bids and other documents related to the transit agency awarding an almost half-billion-dollar contract in 2011 for the new Ventra fare-collection system.
Jason Prechtel filed the lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court, contending that the CTA violated the Illinois Freedom of Information Act by providing him with "only a small and woefully incomplete subset of records'' related to the contracting process that led to Cubic Transportation Systems Inc. being hired to run the Ventra open-fare system.
Cubic had previously won a CTA contract to manage the old fare system, which included the Chicago Card.
The lawsuit stated that the CTA contended the records Prechtel requested through the Freedom of Information Act "are not sufficiently important to justify the alleged burden in producing them."
The lawsuit is seeking penalties against the CTA of $2,500 to $5,000 for each alleged Freedom of Information Act violation.
CTA officials said they had not seen the lawsuit but that the agency followed all state Freedom of Information Act laws, which allow some documents or portions of documents to be exempted from disclosure.
In this case, "the CTA provided most of the documents that the requester was seeking,'' CTA spokesman Brian Steele said.
Among the records sought in the lawsuit are the bids of companies that were not selected to operate the new fare system, in order to "allow the public to evaluate whether CTA selected the best bidder''; and contracts and invoices submitted in connection with the fare system agreement by CTA adviser William Blair & Co., which also oversaw the deal privatizing Chicago's parking meters.
Prechtel, 27, a freelance journalist and blogger who lives in Chicago, said Wednesday this was his first attempt to use the FOIA process in obtaining records from the CTA. He said he went through several attempts to narrow his request.
"My perspective is that these ought to be public records,'' he said in a phone interview.
Cubic's rollout of Ventra late last summer was rife with problems.
They started with tens of thousands of customers not receiving Ventra cards in the mail or being unable to activate them, followed by difficulties getting through to Ventra's customer assistance centers on the phone, problems loading the cards with money, instances of customers being double-charged and other technical glitches that prevented fares from being collected on buses and at CTA rail stations.
Prechtel's lawsuit said "the public interest in disclosure of this information is colossal given the hundreds of millions of dollars and great many public transit riders throughout the Chicagoland area affected by the open fare contract, as well as the long history of scandals and controversies involving prior city of Chicago privatization and contracting processes and patronage scandals involving" Metra.
The Tribune also has a Freedom of Information Act request to the CTA related to Ventra still pending from last November. It covers subcontracts between Cubic and its subcontractors, defects in the fare-collection system and potential monetary penalties that the CTA is able to impose against Cubic for poor performance under the contract, among other issues.