A report card for Metro-North

If Metro-North was a student and commuters were its teacher, the railroad’s winter report card would be a D+ and the comment would be “needs to improve.”

As new Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti finishes his second month on the job, he’s making the rounds to meet and listen to commuters. But his 100-Day Plan for bringing the railroad back won’t conclude until mid-June, so I thought that now would be a great time to survey riders and get a baseline of their sentiments against which we can measure any gains in the months ahead.

Our unscientific online survey ran for seven days and got 642 responses. Clearly, those who wanted to opine were probably those with gripes, so take the results with a grain of salt.

Asked to give Metro-North a letter grade based on the past months’ performance, the railroad got an average D+.

Asked if service was getting better, 22% said yes, 31% said it was getting worse and 47% said it was “about the same.”

When asked what their biggest complaints were (respondents could list multiple issues); 88% said it was late or delayed trains, 60% said poor communications when things went wrong, and 59% said it was lack of sufficient seating on trains. Another 30% complained about the train cars’ heating/cooling system (or lack thereof), while others (18%), said there was insufficient station parking and 15% said the stations had poor upkeep.

The survey also asked how commuters reported their gripes. 10% said they never had complaints, 46% said they didn’t complain “because it seemed useless,” but 61% said they did complain to conductors or to Metro-North. Of those who did complained almost half of respondents (45%) said their problem was never fixed.

We also asked who commuters thought was to blame for the railroad’s problems. An overwhelming 90% blamed Metro-North management, 48% said they were due to the Department of Transportation, 35% said it was their state legislature’s fault, 28% said it was because of Metro-North employees, 12% blamed the Federal government, and 9% blamed their fellow commuters.

Our last question was most telling: “Do you feel safe riding Metro-North?” 56% said yes, 15% said no and 29% said they weren’t sure.

We designed the survey to be brief, taking maybe two minutes to answer. But we also gave space for commuters to comment, and 267 of them did, some at great length. Here’s a sampling of their opinions:

Sorry to be so harsh ... It is 2014, pseudo-modern, wealthy society and the most laughable public transportation system in any advanced country and metropolitan area.

This service is really shameful for the amount that we pay. I have not been on a train in the last six months that has arrived on time.

When I moved here 10 years ago, you could set your watch by Metro-North. Now the timetable is just a suggestion.

The Danbury line is the orphaned stepchild of the system.

The lack of self control of “irate” commuters does not help the situation. Makes us look bad.

The full results of the survey and all of the comments are available online via links from our website, CommuterActionGroup.org.

Jim Cameron has been a Darien resident for 22 years. He is the founder of the Commuter Action Group and also serves on the Darien RTM. The opinions expressed in this column are only his own. You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com.