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December 28, 2011

Metro-North's "Passenger Pledge"


Never let a crisis go to waste.  With that philosophy, the CT Rail Commuter Council has turned last July’s stranding of a train full of desperate passengers into something which will benefit every rider of Metro-North:  “The Passenger Pledge”.

That incident, on the hottest day of the year, showed several failures on the part of the railroad… poor communications, lack of coordination with first responders and the need for better training of conductors.  While the railroad has taken the first tentative steps to remedy those problems, The Commuter Council wanted to go further.

At the suggestion of State Senator Toni Boucher, in August the Council drafted a “Passenger Bill of Rights” enumerating what passengers should expect in exchange for a ticket.  Some of those “rights” seemed pretty obvious… heat in the winter, AC in the summer, lighting and clean restrooms.  We even dared to suggest that every passenger should get a seat, a concept quickly rejected by the railroad.

CDOT (which hires Metro-North to run our trains) also rejected our call for refunds or credits for weekly and monthly pass holders when service was cancelled and alternative busing was not provided.  Impossible, said the state!  We’ll see.

But over five months of negotiations with Metro-North and CDOT, we did hammer out an important, precedent-setting document, merging our “Bill of Rights” with what Metro-North called a “Passenger Pledge”.

Among the promises from the railroad… timely communications when service is disrupted… moving stranded trains to stations so passengers can get off… maximizing available seating by equipment scheduling and conductor enforcement of one-passenger, one-seat rules…  railroad employees should be courteous and display name badges when on duty… and cars will be kept clean and safe.

These service pledges will be posted at stations and on trains for all to see, quite a concession from a railroad that has never before committed in writing to such standards.
Some on the Commuter Council were disappointed that we didn’t get all that we’d sought, but most felt that a compromise document that was 90% of our ideal is a major victory.  (I wish members of Congress could similarly compromise!)

The “Passenger Pledge” isn’t perfect.  And it doesn’t guarantee that there won’t be slip-ups.  But now we all know what the standards are and if they’re not achieved, we can discuss what the penalties should be.  (You can see the full Pledge on our website:  www.trainweb.org/ct)
So let’s greet 2012 with optimism.  The fares may have gone up and we only have a few more new M8 cars in service.  Winter will probably bring service cuts.   But we finally, for the first time in the 25+ year history of Metro-North, have a written pledge of customer service.

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