BLOG: Not so transparent, not so open

CBC reporter Scott Dippel shares his experience about getting information on Calgary Transit's electronic fare card and his thoughts on what went so wrong with the pilot program.

FOIP request yields some information but much of Connect card mystery remains unknown

Efforts by Calgary Transit to develop an electronic fare card are expected to start again this week after it terminated a contract with a vendor last year, reveal documents obtained by CBC News. (CBC)

In trying to find out what went so wrong with Calgary Transit's electronic fare card, I had to go the Freedom of Information route. No one wanted to say much about how or why the Connect card went off the rails.

But I never would have guessed that asking for all of the records relating to a scrapped $7-million contract would yield 20,000 pages.

You read that correctly: 20,000 pages!

Given that the city wanted several thousand dollars to turn over all of this public information, the CBC refused to pay. 

I tried playing the "this was public money" and the "it's in the public interest" cards to see if the city would relent. No luck.

So like many reporters before me, I settled for what we could get for free. That would be 600 pages.

This stack of documents meant we could see Telvent's proposal, its lengthy contract with the city as well as some heavily-censored progress reports, but only No. 7 to  No. 14.

What was in progress reports No. 1 through No. 6? Were there any reports after No. 14? 

Apparently, they're not available.

This story is equally curious in that so far, we've uncovered nothing that shows any liability, wrong-doing or unreasonableness on the part of the city or Calgary Transit. 

Questions remain

There is no evidence of any court actions or even arbitration taking place.

However, no one from transit or the city wants to answer any of the remaining questions from Connect's failed legacy.

Why did the approved budget for Connect suddenly balloon from $7 million to $13.5 million in July 2012? 

No comment.

When the city pulled the plug on the Connect contract, Calgarians were told the city would get back all of the $3.5 million it had already paid Telvent. 

No one wants to talk about that now so that can't be confirmed. By requesting these documents under FOIP, we learned that Calgary Transit sent employees to Spain to see Telvent's plant.

How many people went? How much did this cost? Did they visit any other countries? 

No one will comment on that.

It's also curious given Mayor Naheed Nenshi's personal interest in public transit that he wouldn't agree to be interviewed on this topic either.

He won't talk about this contract; what went wrong; whether he was told some of the details in these documents; whether he want explanations from the bureaucrats — not even his hopes for the Connect card of the future.

Why is this such a taboo subject? No one knows.