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RTA May Cut Back On Live Call Center Hours

roberts250 Bob Roberts
Bob Roberts is a native of Wilmette who has worked in Chicago media...
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CHICAGO (CBS) — The RTA’s Travel Information Center gets more than 5.3 million calls a year — but it may trim the center’s hours.

For years, the center has had 30 live, local operators on duty 20 hours a day every day, from 5 a.m. until 1 a.m. Unlike most call centers today, it has no automation to fall back on, and never has had any.

Although call volume has remained consistently in excess of 5 million a year, RTA is considering trimming closing time back to 7 or 8 p.m. each night and hooking up a computer that Executive Director Joe Costello says could handle many of the calls around the clock, especially the type of call the agency says its travel advisers see most often at night.

“They have tended to be customers, already en route, looking to see when the next bus or the next train is going to arrive,” he said.

That information is readily available in other forms through CTA’s Bus Tracker and Train Tracker systems and Metra’s Train Tracker, available both by smart phone and, at many stops and station, through dedicated signage that can show real-time information. Pace also has begun to install screens that will give “live” arrival information at key stops.

Costello said each call fielded by an operator costs 85 cents to answer, on average. The cost of utilizing an automated computer-driven system is “negligible,” he said.

RTA has predicted the phase-out of its Travel Information Center several times, only to see call volumes hold steady as travel information has become available through the Web on computers and cell phones, as well as the dedicated signage.

RTA spokesman Diane Palmer said the vast majority of the calls appear to come from the south and west sides of Chicago.

The current staffing contract runs through year’s end and the evening shift has actually been beefed up in recent months with the addition of an on-site evening supervisor.