New Haven Line rider satisfaction drops
Published 8:25 am, Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Satisfaction of commuters on the New Haven Line continues to trail that of riders on Metro-North's other two East-of-Hudson lines this year, according to results of an annual customer service survey released Monday.
New Haven Line riders continued to take issue with the overall condition of the railroad's cars, with fewer riders satisfied with the availability of seats, the cleanliness of rest rooms in the line's aging rail car fleet than in the 2010 questionnaire.
"On the Hudson and Harlem, riders felt basically the same, but New Haven customers were less pleased, which resulted in our entire service being downgraded from last year," said Jeffrey Olwell, Metro-North's manager of market research.
Overall satisfaction of New Haven Line riders fell to 81 percent from 88 percent last year, compared with 96 percent satisfaction among Harlem Line riders, and 94 percent among Hudson Line riders.
Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said equipment shortages in late 2010, which forced Metro-North to run a scaled-back schedule, probably contributed to the lower overall rating.
"If the survey was done in June, that's almost six months past the worst of the problems we had in the winter, but I think commuters remembered," he said.
Cameron said in addition to the winter service outages, the survey also reflects riders' desire for better onboard announcements or electronic communications such as e-mail or social-media updates about service changes during unforeseen disruptions.
In the survey, 71 percent of riders on the East-of-Hudson lines were satisfied with customer communication efforts during unplanned service breakdowns, versus 84 percent who were content with communications about planned disruptions.
"I think the communication numbers show a drop in satisfaction and the overall lower rating is about more than just the age of the cars," Cameron said. "Communications and the way they talk to the customers is something we've been talking about all the years I've been on the council."
The railroad is pursuing an overhaul of its procedures for communication with customers during service disruptions following its review of the handling of a train breakdown between Southport and Greens Farms station on July 22, when temperatures broke 100 degrees.
More than 200 passengers were stuck on the train without power or air conditioning for more than an hour, with alarmed passengers placing 911 calls to local authorities due to a lack of information about when help would arrive.
In the survey, New Haven Line riders gave a 78 percent satisfaction rating with on-time performance, down from 85 percent in the 2010 questionnaire, and trailing the 96 percent rating by riders on both the Harlem and Hudson lines.
The New Haven Line's on-time performance through September was at 95.2 percent, compared to 96.7 for the entire line.
New Haven Line riders gave the railroad a 90 percent approval rating in 2008, an increase over the 85 percent rating in 2005.
Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said the railroad had expected more discontent from New Haven Line riders due to the testing and manufacturing delays with the first of the state's new M-8 cars, compounded by a harsh winter that knocked more than half the weather-prone M-2, M-4, and M-6 cars out of service.
"It was a bad winter and the people are tired of waiting for the new cars," Anders said. "We're just as anxious to see the new cars as the riders are."
As in years past, New Haven Line riders displayed a much higher degree of dissatisfaction than Hudson and Harlem line customers who have newer rail car equipment.
In the survey, 61 percent of New Haven Line riders ranked the availability of seats on trains satisfactory, while just 37 percent were satisfied with the cleanliness of restrooms, and 69 percent were satisfied with onboard temperatures during winter and summer months.
"We're disappointed the M-8s have not arrived as quickly as our customers and we wanted them," Anders said.
Metro-North now has 32 of the 405 M-8s ordered by Connecticut in revenue service, allowing them to cover about 30 train runs each weekday and slightly fewer on the weekends.
John Hartwell, a Connecticut Rail Commuter Council member, said he was most struck by the survey response showing the percentage of New Haven Line riders who felt train service was a good value for the money fell from 69 percent to 65 percent.
With fare increases of 19.25 percent scheduled over the next seven years, customers are likely to become less content with service without improvements in communications and reliability.
"That is a striking number to see that only two thirds of the people think it is a good value," Hartwell said. "It's important that they start to think about why that is and how they can make it better."