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December 12, 2005

Metro-North's Report Card: D+

Riders on Metro-North have just given the railroad its annual report card:

For performance D+

For effort a B+

For personality an A.

The annual Customer Satisfaction Survey taken by the railroad (in cooperation with the Commuter Council) was conducted last September, before the wires-down problems occurred and well in advance of the winter snows. (By the way… the railroad used to conduct quarterly surveys but now stakes its reputation on annual audits of its customers. They even chose to skip the survey one year because of a fare hike and expected bad grades. Wouldn’t we all wish we could be evaluated like this?)

Grades from riders on the Hudson and Harlem lines continued to soar as they enjoy riding in their new M7 cars. Meanwhile, their rich country cousins in Connecticut struggle on with cars older than many riders… 30+ years.

These grades from New Haven line riders don’t paint a pretty picture:

Overall satisfaction with conditions on the train: 76%, down 2% from 2004… and pathetic compared to 95% on Hudson and Harlem trains.
Availability of seats: 62% satisfied, down 5 %.

Cleanliness of floors: 66% satisfied.

Cleanliness of restrooms: 44% satisfied.

To be fair, the railroad did make better than passing grades in other categories:

On time performance: 89% satisfied.

Grand Central Terminal: 97% satisfied.

Courtesy and responsiveness of employees, 97% satisfied.

What can be done to improve these ratings? Plenty… but they’ll all take time. It won’t be until 2009 that we’ll start taking delivery of our new M8 cars to ease crowding and increase reliability.

For years now, my mantra has been “things are going to get a lot worse on Metro-North before they get any better”… which is not to say that things aren’t being done today to help.

Almost a hundred of our oldest cars, the M2’s, have gone through the CSR, or “Critical Systems Replacement”, program. They’ve had their engineering guts ripped out and replaced, and their reliability has soared. But from the passengers’ perspective, those cars look pretty much the same inside, so few appreciate the investment… especially when they pull into Grand Central and across the platform is a shiny set of high-tech M7 cars.

Sure, we’ll probably have a few more tough winters of delays and over-crowding, but that’s neither Mother Nature’s nor Metro-North’s fault. We can only blame ourselves and our lawmakers for letting the railroad slide so far downhill before attacking the problem.
The real question is… have we learned our lesson? Will we continue to invest in mass transit, and in doing so, our economy… or will we wait for another crisis?
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JIM CAMERON has been a commuter out of Darien for 14 years. He is Vice Chairman of the CT Metro-North / Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM. You can reach him at jim@camcomm.com or www.trainweb.org/ct . For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

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