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Commuter survey captures riders' ire

Updated 12:39 pm, Monday, April 14, 2014

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  • A Metro-North train goes through the Stamford, Conn., train station during rush hour on Thursday, April 10, 2014. Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti paid the station a visit to talk with commuters about their concers for the rail line. Photo: Jason Rearick / Stamford Advocate
    A Metro-North train goes through the Stamford, Conn., train station during rush hour on Thursday, April 10, 2014. Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti paid the station a visit to talk with commuters about their concers for the rail line. Photo: Jason Rearick

 

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In a new survey, 90 percent of Metro-North commuters pointed to the railroad's leaders as a root cause of the late trains, crowded conditions and other problems that have often made going to work on the New Haven Line an ordeal in the past year.

Nearly 40 percent of those surveyed graded Metro-North's performance over the past several months a D-plus, while 66 percent said the railroad's more recent efforts merit a C or lower.

The survey, conducted by the Commuter Action Group, is meant to capture overall -- but not comprehensive -- levels of satisfaction among the New Haven Line's 115,000 plus daily commuters, CAG founder Jim Cameron said. In the seven days ending at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, the seven-question survey netted 642 responses.

Fifty-six percent of surveyed riders said they believe the railroad operates safely, while about 15 percent felt the service was unsafe and the rest were unsure.

"Safety is obviously important, but what about the lack of seating and reliability and punctuality?" one respondent commented. "The service is awful for the amount of money I fork out yet I don't get the sense that's a priority with Metro-North."

Cameron said he plans to conduct another survey after June 11 -- the 100-day mark since Metro-North issued a 100-day plan publicly pledging improvements to safety, service, and communications efforts.

"I hope the railroad looks at this and finds something in there they can use to good advantage," Cameron said of the current survey. "It will be important to have this baseline data to look at the letter grade sometime later."

Meredith Daniels, a spokeswoman for Metro-North, said the railroad and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority compile data that provide a more accurate picture.

"Every year, MTA Metro-North Railroad conducts a randomized, scientific, and extremely thorough survey of customers to understand how our performance is perceived," Daniels said.

She said that while the CAG survey "falls short of that standard, we encourage our customers to reach out to Metro-North management to discuss their concerns in person, by phone, by mail, and by social media."

In last year's Metro-North survey, compiled in June 2013, over 93 percent of the more than 5,000 customers surveyed were satisfied or better with the railroad's service, though that percentage fell to 88 percent when considering New Haven Line riders.

That Metro-North survey was conducted after the Bridgeport train crash that injured 72 people on May 17, 2013, but before many other problems the railroad had last year, including a derailment that killed four people in the Bronx, N.Y., on Dec. 1.

Asked what complaints they considered to be among the most serious, 90 percent of CAG survey respondents cited late or delayed trains, while 60 percent were bothered by what they considered poor communication during delays and 59 percent pointed to crowded trains.

Cameron said he promoted the survey among social media followers of the group's Twitter feed and Facebook page, as well as through regional online media.

"I'm not surprised it might skew a little on the negative side," Cameron said. "I know some of the respondents are people who felt they were not being heard and saw this as an opportunity to be heard."

The survey results indicated 48 percent of respondents believed that, following Metro-North's management, the Connecticut or New York departments of transportation shouldered significant blame for service problems that have hit the railroad since the spring of 2013.

In early March, Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti delivered a 100-day plan to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy laying out steps to regain confidence of riders and Connecticut officials.

One major commitment was the development of a new timetable meant to normalize travel times on all three Metro-North lines. That initiative applies particularly to the New Haven Line, on which on-time performance has plummeted due to redoubled track-maintenance efforts and lower speed limits imposed by federal railroad officials.

A report on a 60-day probe of Metro-North Railroad issued in March by the Federal Railroad Administration said the railroad had endangered riders by emphasizing on-time performance over basic safety.

The CAG survey also garnered comments from more than 250 respondents that were mostly derisive of some aspect of Metro-North's service, although there were some favorable comments and more moderate criticism.

"This service is really shameful for the amount we pay," one respondent wrote. "Rude conductors go completely unpunished, even the ones who I have advised metro north sleep on the train during the train ride."

Some singled out conductors or other rank-and-file workers for maintaining courtesy and professionalism amid problems.

"The conductors are fantastic and very professional," one respondent wrote. "I believe that senior management is lousy."

Connecticut Rail Commuter Council vice chairman John Hartwell said that while online surveys are not random enough to be scientific or compared over time, the comment section provide a valuable view of the perspectives riders have to offer.

"I think the comments section is terrific and incredibly useful," Hartwell said. "These are stories about people's lives, and I hope Metro-North and Connecticut DOT and the Legislature are listening."