Railing About Failing

Josh Prince is a Westport commuter.

He’s also a blogger.

Metro-North: Watch out!

His “Longitude & Gratitude” blog is a grab-bag of clever, cogent observations about life in the burbs. The other day, though, Josh’s general good nature gave way to venting about Metro-North’s piss-poor performance recently this winter for a long goddamn time.

Usually, Josh takes out his anger by tweeting. He tweets photos of delay signs. Leaking roofs. Crowded cars.

(Photo/Josh Prince)

(Photo/Josh Prince)

This time, though, he had a few blessed days off the rails. He wrote: “I’ve tried to dial back my own vitriol by thinking about why Metro North yields such a level of rage in me and others, and by offering a few realistic, actionable ways the railroad might start to alleviate it.”

His 1st point was:

“Why does Metro-North make the average commuter’s head want to explode? In a nutshell, it’s the stark contrast in culture between the railroad’s ridership and its providership. “

Josh said that many Metro-North riders work for companies that are performance-oriented. “We are held accountable for delivering, developing, growing, improving, innovating, and excelling,” he wrote.

Yes, that's water leaking in a Metro-North car. (Photo/Josh Prince)

Yes, that’s water leaking in a Metro-North car. (Photo/Josh Prince)

“This goes as much for interns and administrative folks as it does for mid- and senior-level people. We work all day (and often into the night) in competitive cultures with an underlying reality: if we don’t perform, there’s someone else hankering for the chance to do the same.”

And, he added, “most of our work cultures are customer- or client-centric. In order to survive, we have to understand what our customers want or need, and figure out how to deliver it better. What can we do better than our competitors to win the hearts and minds of our customers?  What satisfies them and brings them value? How can we serve them better?”

Quoting a comment made at last week’s open meeting  in Southport, Josh wrote: “If [Metro-North] was a restaurant, nobody would eat here, and if it was an airline, nobody would fly it. The real problem is that there is no responsibility being taken, and there won’t be any change until that happens.”

He challenged the new president, Joseph Giulietti: “Culture starts at the top.”

Change will take a while, Josh knows. But he offered a few smart ideas, which should not take long to put into place:

1) Use the digital station signs already. And have them show real information, including times. “Displaying the date at a train station is about as useful as showing altitude or windspeed,” Josh wrote.

(Photo/Josh Prince)

(Photo/Josh Prince)

2) Offer refunds for genuinely disastrous service. Even credit for a future ride would go a long way to restoring good will, Josh said.

3) Join the 21st century and accept credit cards on trains. “Cash only? In 2014?” Josh fumed. “I can pay for my morning coffee at a tiny start-up coffee shop with Square.”

Josh also suggested fixing the TrainTime app, updating the website, and improving the PA announcements.

Reasonable points, I say.

Metro-North: What do you say?

(To read Josh Prince’s full post, click here. Bonus feature: For Newsweek’s rant about Metro-North, click here.)

17 responses to “Railing About Failing

  1. Thanks for sharing, Dan. Just to clarify, that quote from the Pequot Library belongs to Spencer Brown, a friend and fellow commuter here in town. Much less long-winded than me…but spot on!

  2. Larry Bartimer

    ____on the Harlem line -I work in white plains- the electric signs do give very upcoming train approaching and the no of minutes until they arive-why not on the New Haven line?____________________________________

  3. Deborah Findley

    Our founders said it…. government doesn’t manage anything very well… but each generation seems to have to re-learn it.

  4. CDOT tells us they need $30 million in fiber optic cable to make the “good service” signs truly operational with real time train information, but I’ve never understood why they don’t display the time instead of the date. In the meantime, the TrainTime app is really good. Check it out here http://web.mta.info/mnr/html/traintimeapp.htm

    Refunds are another very contentious issue. The Commuter Rail Council called for them in the “Passenger Bill of Rights” that we wrote after the summer 2011 debacle in Greens Farms, but CDOT pushed back saying that they were administratively impossible. Clearly the rebates given after the ConEd screwup proved they can be done, but they’re incredibly expensive and CT taxpayers end up footing at least 65% of the cost.

    The whole ticket process on the trains seems so 19th century to me. Clearly there’s a better way to collect fares and sell new tickets, but none of that will matter until the trains run on time and everyone has a seat.

    • I have long believed that the reason the electronic signs don’t show the time is that it would prove that every single train is late. But we already know that. It would be helpful to know how late. Is it “go wait in the car” late? Is it “you have time to buy coffee” late? Is it “just around the corner” late? No clues.

      And “good service” is such a palpable falsehood it’s amazing they have the chutzpah to put it up there.

      These people are shameless.

  5. Just read Josh’s post in http://longitudeandgratitude.com/, and I wanted to comment further on TrainTime. As he points out, it requires an internet connection to work, but if your phone is equipped with a data plan you can actually get real time information on your next train.

    It surely couldn’t be too expensive to equip each station with free wifi so this app would be universally accessible.

  6. John, the issue with the Train Time app (for me at least) is that it doesn’t work when you don’t have Wifi or a cell signal. Which is the case on the subway, when I’m rushing for a train and want to see what’s next. OnTime app allows me to do this because it evidently stores some data. Why not TrainTime too?

  7. Sanders McNair

    First off, this says lots about the crumbling infrastructure of the U.S. But a few more points. 1) Metro North is extremely expensive…for the price it’s a massive ripoff, especially for the lower-middle class people who must take the train every day. 2) There has to be a more efficient and modern way to take tickets–seriously we’re still hole punching in 2014?! 3) Several stations, including Westport’s Green’s Farms, aren’t built up to hold “capacity” so you have to be in the middle cars to get off there, but staff never tell the occasional riders who don’t know these rules and cars aren’t labeled. 4) Trains often leave early with no notice from Grand Central. 5) It’s come to the point where barely a single peak train isn’t standing room only.

    • #4) Trains leaving early? I have been commuting to/from Westport for 15 years and I can honestly say this has never happened. Trains leaving late happen daily.

  8. As bad as the service on Metro North’s New Haven Line is – I think it is just shocking that no one in the news is bringing up that Dan Malloy is a part of the problem and a hypocrite. Raising fares on Metro North and diverting the money to help balance the budget…. money that should have gone to improving the rails (although who knows how Metro north would have actually spent the money).

    Now Dan Malloy is out promoting himself and his political career going after Metro North – when he helped cause the problem. Is there a way we can get some attention to this? Its just wrong!

    http://lymeline.net/2011/12/metro-norths-huge-price-increase-stems-from-malloy/

  9. Regarding ticketing, if I buy a 10 pack, it expires after 6 months (unless I bring in the ticket to reactivate it). Why should it expire? No good reason. If it doesn’t expire, I’ll always know I have a ticket for a train.

  10. As they say, you should have ridden the trains in the seventies. I commuted from the summer of 1973 (as a gopher at a recording studio) to 1986. it was so much worse in the days that Conrail was running the show. I remember being stuck just north of the Harlem River bridge watching the snow pile up on the divider for hours (we did eventually make it in). The now “old” M2 cars were brand new and they were installing the elevated platforms (meaning the conductors would open a flooring plate so you could walk off the stairs). Another time a train pulled down the overhead cantenary wires just west of the Greenwich station. We walked through the train, got off and hoofed a ¼ of a mile to the station and then be taken by busses to Westport. The few times I take the train now I have to laugh at the “good service” notation (as opposed to “bad service” or “no service?”

    I wish Redeker or Malloy would venture to Japan to see how trains are really run right. The are graded by one time performance to the minute.

  11. Dick Lowenstein

    Here’s a comment I posted on WestportNow, where the same stories are being told:

    Visit the Westport Historical Society’s exhibit of New Yorker covers by Westporters and you will see the Mar. 3, 1951 cover by Perry Barlow showing winter commuters at the Saugatuck station. In the background is a hand-lettered sign reading: “6:24—55 minutes late.”

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

  12. Luciano Morelli

    Maybe if they collected all the tickets 95% of the time they would have more funds to make improvements. I sometimes take the train and sometimes drive to my office in Stamford. When I take the train, I estimate that they actually collect my ticket around 50% of the time.

  13. What can I add?

    A weekend in NYC (18 months ago): My wife and I spent the weekend in NYC for my 50TH (!!!) high school reunion and took Metro North. Coming home, the train was waiting for us, and as I soon intuited, waiting and waiting and waiting. After about another hour, the conductor comes through to tell us “they” have no idea when service will be resumed and we should take the subway (actually two subways) to somewhere in the Bronx and walk 5 blocks (fortunately down hill) to a station (packed like sardines) for a train. Eventually, a train comes (sardine can) and guess who is collecting tickets? — The same conductor who told us to take the subway. Excellent communications.

    The new shiny red cars: First the good: floors feel solid, no tuck tape; aisle seats on the 3 across have head rests; aisle arm rests can’t catch on your pants pocket.

    The not so good: Air conditioner runs during the winter, train crews claim it can’t be adjusted; many facing seats, so we can play footsy with strangers; toilets in the middle of the cars, creating dead space; random dividers and interior doors creating more dead space (overall seems like less seating capacity; space over luggage racks seems shallower than on old trains; doors open to one side, delaying entry and exit.