These are the reactions I get, especially from railroad employees, when I have been critical of Metro-North in the last few calamitous months.
“Quit your moaning!” “You’re not a railroad person, what do you know?” “You don’t like the train, try driving.”
They think I’m a “moaner,” though I try just as hard to be positive about the railroad as to criticize its failures.
But it’s not about me. Mine is not the only voice calling for sweeping changes at the railroad.
So in launching the Commuter Action Group, I knew it was important to be specific about riders’ expectations of service — to define a few basics of what Metro-North customers deserve in return for the highest rail fares in the United States.
Thus was born “The Commuter Manifesto,” which I “nailed” to the waiting room wall at several train stations:
We, the riders of commuter railroads in Connecticut, are tired of deteriorating service, rising fares, and indifference and ineptitude from Metro-North. As customers and taxpayers we deserve better and expect change. Our expectations are few, and simple:
Safety first — We expect a clean, safe, on-time, seated ride on trains with heat/AC and lights. Don’t treat us like cattle, making us ride on rail cars you wouldn’t ride on yourself.
We want to know that you make our safety your top priority. Make every employee understand that responsibility. If they do anything that jeopardizes safety, discipline them or fire them. There is no excuse for stupid mistakes.
Fast, accurate and honest communications — When things go wrong, immediately tell us what’s happened, why and when it will be fixed. When you make a mistake, admit it. Stop making apologies; get things fixed and don’t repeat the same errors over and over again.
Zero tolerance for rude behavior
Responsive customer service — When we see a problem, give us an easy way to report it to you. Then get it fixed and follow up with us to tell us it’s been resolved. Our complaints shouldn’t fall into a black hole.
Train your employees to be courteous and efficient, treating us like valued customers. When they don’t meet those standards, train them again. There should be zero tolerance for rude behavior by employees — or commuters.
Open and transparent operations — Let us know how you make decisions that affect us by opening all of your meetings to the public and media. Share your goals and self-evaluations and ask our opinions as well. The way you run the railroad affects our lives and we should have input.
Leadership that listens — Meet with commuters on a regular basis at times and locations convenient to us. Hear our complaints and suggestions and answer our questions. We will listen to you if you will listen to us: We’re in this together.
That’s it. A few simple expectations that the commuters of Metro-North have of their railroad.
The reaction so far? Enthusiasm from commuters, back-patting by the politicians, but from the Connecticut Department of Transportation and Metro-North, silence.
Really? Are we asking for so much?
Jim Cameron of Darien was a member of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council for 19 years. The opinions expressed in this column are only his own. Reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com.