Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Transit riding as customer service

Not in ServiceRelated to the discussion of managing customer relationships and transit in the context of the previous entry on access to subway service and late baseball games, earlier in the week I was struck by these two different experiences riding transit:

From the New York Times, "A Bus Driver Whistles While He Works":

Dear Diary:

New York City has a public relations treasure in the M4 bus driver taking us down Fifth Avenue on a recent lazy Saturday from the Metropolitan Museum.

He jovially boomed out the stops. He was kind to foreigners without MetroCards, explaining their options and asking where they were from. He gave a “free” ride to a group of kids who wanted to go to Chinatown, because they needed to get an M5 two stops down. (“I won’t charge you.”)

And when we reached Rockefeller Center and a tourist poised with a camera, he waved to the man: “Can I be in the picture? Send your wife up here!” By then half the bus was laughing. As our driver mugged with the woman, he told the man: “Come up the steps; I’m not charging you. This is New York; you’re supposed to have fun!”

We all were cheering him on at this point.

He was the definition of “Happy in your work!”

From the Washington Examiner:


Metro's S2 bus headed downtown on 16th Street was filled with the usual suit-wearing, coffee-wielding commuters one morning, but sitting near the front were two lost-looking women dressed in casual garb and holding maps and cameras -- tourists.

As the bus approached K Street, the tourists began to panic.

"This is where we should get off to get to the Lincoln Memorial, and we can walk down," one said with a hint of doubt to the other.

"Should we get off here to go to the White House? Where's the White House? Is it close?"

When her friend didn't answer, she looked around for an answer from the commuters, but no one looked up from their newspapers and iPhones.

Meanwhile, the White House appeared through the bus' windshield, just two blocks in front of them.

(Yesterday I saw a group of people standing at 7th and "Kinkos", likely they were waiting for a commuter bus but there was no sign.  Farther up the block a perplexed woman was asking directions to a place and others couldn't help her.  I asked if she needed help and she said she was looking for the stop for the 950 bus, and I figured it was for a Maryland Commuter bus because that is the numbering system they use and that the stop was by the Kinkos.  We walked back to where the people were standing and asked if they were waiting for that bus and found out that they were.  One person epxlained further that one place was for the bus to Annapolis, and another place was for a different bus.  No signs...)

Now the first story is an anomaly because most bus drivers don't act like that. And yes, the second is more true, because typically that's how bus drivers act.

From the standpoint of delivering good experiences, the DC transit system is particularly important to developing positive images about transit more generally because many people don't ride transit in their home communities but do when they visit Washington as tourists, and their experiences with transit here--positive and negative--shape their more general perceptions and support.

Even though transit riders are often treated badly, both transit operators and the transit workers unions wonder why people often don't support transit.

It should be obvious. Riders are often treated poorly. The drivers and unions blame "management" but at the same time often don't take responsibility for their role in the equation.

I've suggested that people who work in tourism/customer service/taxi drivers etc. and that would include transit workers be trained in customer service and the area, and get refresher training as well, not unlike the program in Detroit, the Detroit Orientation Institute, that trains hospitality workers.  Also see "Taxi and bus drivers take tourism training to improve city knowledge" from the York (UK) Press.

Likely that the scores are pretty low is why WMATA doesn't want to release "mystery shopper" information ("WMATA refuses to release 'mystery rider' findings," Examiner).  But like the report cards from the NYC Straphangers Campaign, nothing prevents local transit advocacy groups for doing mystery shopping jaunts and reports of their own.

Bus map on a NYC transit busNote that bus routes with regular passengers and regular drivers tend to have more camaraderie because a goodly group of riders become familiar with each other because of their similar riding schedules.

2.  Driving a bus has to be one of the hardest jobs around.  Adding "transit ambassador" and "tourist
ambassador" to the role makes it even tougher, but worthy of additional compensation.

Of course, adding on-bus maps (something I wrote about years ago, buses in New York City have them), putting more information about landmarks and destinations on maps, and changing the automatic stop identification systems to also include points of interest in stop information (something I wrote about a few years ago, the tourist buses for Colonial Williamsburg do this) makes the system more helpful and reduces the number of queries directed to bus drivers.

For example, the bus stop announcement on a bus going west on Connecticut at K Street could go something like this:

K Street.  Transfer Point to the Red Line/Farragut North Metro.  Farragut Square.  Lafayette Park and the White House are two blocks away.  Orange and Blue Line/Farragut West Station is one block away.

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