Photo by wongjunhao.

Metro staff presented the results of the Labor Day track maintenance to a Board committee yesterday (audio). According to the staff member giving the report, Metro successfully completed the track repair, and the shuttle service provided was a success.

However, Metro Board Member Jeff McKay(?)‘s experience with similar shuttle service was anything but smooth. According to Mr. McKay, he and dozens of other customers waited 35 minutes for a shuttle from Rosslyn, and when it arrived, there were four of them at the same time.

When the customers finally arrived at the Pentagon station platform, they found out that the train had left just a couple of minutes before, taking only three people, and the wait for the next train would be 40 minutes. Mr. McKay asked the station manager why there was no communication between the station level and the street level, where a bus supervisor could have alerted the station and train operator to hold for incoming passengers. According to McKay, the station manager told him that due to a new safety policy, he was not allowed to use his cell phone. However, this is not accurate; the new policy only applies to vehicle operators, not station managers.

Another Board member (Catherine Hudgins of Fairfax?) asked Metro staff about other customer complaints recieved that weekend. Staff said that they received only 90 customer service complaint phone calls that weekend, which was pretty good considering their ridership. The only problem is that the customer service phone line is only open from 8 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday. My calls to that line outside of business hours were directed to call back later, with no option to leave a message.

Staff also did not mention the customer service complaints they recieved from other methods. Metro accepts customer service complaints via the web. Since last year, they have returned emails to the customer service email address without response.

Unlike other government agencies in the area like Arlington County (@ArlingtonVA), DDOT (@DDOTDC) and other transit agencies like BART (@SFBART), Metro’s twitter account doesn’t follow anyone, and to my knowledge has only responded once via Twitter to a customer complaint, when I directly brought the customer’s complaint to the attention of Metro by another means. Other companies like Comcast track traffic on Twitter to get a sense of their customer’s complaints and needs.

Metro has to do the track maintenance sometime, and it’s tricky to move customers in shuttle buses that get stuck in traffic and carry far fewer people than a train. However, Metro needs to know how customers feel about its service. Of course, they also have no money. Is Metro doing enough to listen to customers? Should the complaint line let people record voicemail messages? Should WMATA listen to what its customers are saying on Twitter or is that a waste of time?

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Michael Perkins blogs about Metro operations and fares, performance parking, and any other government and economics information he finds on the Web. He lives with his wife and two children in Arlington, Virginia.