Commuter Action Group demands results after Metro-North failures

FI-Talking-Transportation-Jim-CameronNow is the winter of our discontent. I’ve been riding Metro-North for almost 25 years and I’ve never seen the railroad in such bad shape.

Trains are consistently late without explanation. Some cars have no heat. A couple of trains were stranded for more than two hours when wires were pulled down. And,on one recent evening, the entire railroad ground to a halt because some tech pulled the plug on a vital computer at HQ.

The issues surrounding our crumbling rail infrastructure are compounded by inexcusable human errors by the people hired to run our trains. And now we hear that some of our new M8 cars are also in the shop, ingesting snow that burns out their electronics, just like the older cars they replaced. That means trains are short of cars and it’s standing room only on many rush-hour trains.

What’s a commuter to do?  Why, turn on a smartphone and use the power of the Web to complain.

That’s the idea behind the Commuter Action Group, launched in late January, the fruits of my advocacy labors for several months since leaving the Commuter Council. Our website at CommuterActionGroup.org allows commuters to immediately report problems to Metro-North, giving them needed details about where, when, what car number, etc. They can even take a picture and send it.

Step two is to copy that complaint and send it to your state representative,w state senator, congressman, and U.S. senators. They represent you and need to know how bad things are on the railroad and how you will hold them accountable for getting things fixed. We will “remember in November” who helped us and who didn’t.

Step three is to use our Twitter feed at Twitter.com/CTRailCommuters and Facebook page to discuss what’s wrong, share ideas, ask questions, and get answers. As one rider posted, “It’s like a virtual support group.”

The response from commuters has been amazing, and I clearly think lawmakers, in both Connecticut and New York, are getting the message that their constituents are angry. But we need more than press conferences and lip service. Legislators need to pressure CDOT to hold Metro-North accountable.

As part of our launch of the Commuter Action Group, we also issued a “commuter manifesto” listing a few simple expectations (not demands) that riders have as Metro-North customers paying the highest rail fares in the United States.

Those expectations include safety, fast, accurate and honest communications, responsive customer service, open and transparent operations, and leadership that listens. The Commuter Manifesto now hangs in most station waiting rooms as we await a response.

A new president arrives next week at Metro-North, Joe Giulietti. By all reports he’s smart, respected and a good communicator. Whatever his skills, they’ll certainly be put to the test in the coming weeks. We wish him success and pledge our cooperation.

As we wrote in our Commuter Manifesto, “We will listen to you if you will listen to us. We’re in this together.”

 

Jim Cameron has been a commuter for 22 years and a member of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council for 19 years. The opinions expressed in this column are only his own. You may reach him at [email protected]  

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