So I’ve decided to add to my list of New Year’s resolutions. Yes it’s May, but better late than never, right? Plus this is timely since I want to stop complaining about Metro-North Railroad
Frankly grumbling about Metro-North is turning me into a mean and grumpy man and that’s no way to start the day, especially when there will be countless opportunities to be mean and grumpy at work. Unfortunately, as much as I want to I can’t control myself.
You see, I’ve been riding the train since 1985 and thought I was a privileged member of commuter society. I felt honored. I loved Metro-North, rate hikes and all. Things, however, have gotten so bad that I can’t stand it anymore and virtually every day something goes wrong. By the time I stumble in the door at night, I’m so mad I’m ready to yell at the dog and argue with my wife.
I get more emails from Metro-North announcing problems with the rail service than I get from my boss. There are emails about delays, track work, breakdowns, police activity, signal problems, fires, trees on the tracks, website malfunctions and whatever else can go wrong. Plus, it recently announced it’s ending the bar cars, not that I care.
Maybe all this transparency is the problem. It puts commuters in a negative frame of mind, sort of like when the government releases the unemployment figures or you learn there are going to be pay cuts and tax increases. After all, we Americans are accustomed to cover-ups. If the truth hurts, don’t tell us.
For a while, I thought there were reasons to be optimistic when a new train schedule went into effect recently. “Schedules Enhance Service Reliability,” Metro-North said. Now, that’s a cause for celebration. It is supposed to be “a schedule that provides the same number of trains as the current schedule and improved travel times — 96% of inbound AM peak customers will experience a shorter commute.”
I’m worried I may be among the misbegotten 4%. Since the first day, my morning train has been mobbed because they turned the previous train into a local that makes every stop, so commuters abandoned it en masse and jumped aboard mine. Pretty soon, I figure, a brawl will break out and then we’ll get an email saying, “Expect delays due to a commuter riot.”
Someone help us. Is anyone listening?
That train was supposed to arrive at our station earlier and get into Grand Central earlier, but we were late all around because there was a fire in a switching control house in Cos Cob. An email notifying us of the problem said ominously, “Metro-North anticipates 5 to 10 minute delays until further notice …” And they weren’t lying.
On the way home, I was among the unfortunate 4% again. The new schedule added five minutes of travel time to a train that has been arriving late for months.
Did I mention the fares went up? And that the governor and our elected congresspersons have expressed their “concerns” about service. This may become an issue in the 2016 presidential race.
Nevertheless, I want to be positive. I want to be a power of example because Metro-North needs our support, not just our train fares. Once an organization goes into free-fall like this, it’s hard to reverse the trend, and it could end up like Kodak, Borders or even worse, the city of Detroit.
What Metro-North really needs is a public relations campaign that makes people think things are getting better. The miracle of modern public relations and advertising can help commuters forget delays, over-crowded trains and broken air conditioning and focus on something else, like, say, global warming. Yes, public relations can solve these problems — or at least conceal them. What we need is … Mad Men.
On the other hand, maybe they should just bring back the bar cars and put three on every train — one in the front, one in the middle and one at the end. Then, no one will care about service or when they get home.
This is a cry for help.
Joe Pisani may be reached at email@example.com.