Metro riders’ council working on ‘customer pledge’


Passengers crowd a car at Metro Center. Should a customer pledge include a standard on rider comfort? (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

The citizens panel that advises the Metro board is trying to narrow down the things that riders want most out of their transit service. The Riders’ Advisory Council plans to present the list to the board members in the hope that the board eventually will adopt a customer pledge.

On Wednesday night, the council held a brainstorming session at Metro headquarters in which members discussed potential elements of a service pledge. The session illustrated that it’s easy to come up with specific complaints about poor service, such as train doors closing after just a few seconds, and much harder to narrow them down to a handful of elements that could be part of a pledge.

Ben Ball, the council chairman, said after the meeting that developing the pledge “is less about anecdotes and more about ‘This is what I want.’ ” I sense they don’t want the resulting document to be longer than the 10-point program in the U.S. Bill of Rights.

Council members have researched the pledges offered by some other transit systems, as well as the various standards used by Metro. General Manager Richard Sarles created a quarterly report called Vital Signs. The board has adopted several standards about Metrorail service. And there are service goals incorporated in the strategic plan called Momentum.

What the council has in mind is a more focused, more visible document in support of the riders’ basic interests. And make sure it’s not in “transit speak,” said Carol Walker, the council’s vice chairman for D.C. (No references to “headways,” for example.)

Some of the other issues that arose as they reviewed other transit pledges and standards:

  • What categories should the pledge cover? Safety and security, certainly. Should there be an element related to staff courtesy? To fares? To communications with riders?
  • Where could a customer take a complaint after reading the pledge? Some other systems  have nice-sounding sentences in their pledges that say nothing. Riders must be able to tell whether the transit agency is adhering to the pledge. And what are the consequences for violating the pledge?
  • How specific should the language be? On communications, for example, should there be a requirement to notify riders about any delay likely to last a certain number of minutes? In an emergency, should train operators be required to communicate with their passengers every X number of minutes, or should the standard be more aspirational, as in “within a reasonable time”?
  • When something goes wrong, what does a rider most want from Metro?

Fred Walker, a council member from Fairfax County, made a good point in suggesting that the group also look at private companies’ pledges to their customers. “Everyone has the same issues,” he said, citing Johnson & Johnson’s “Our Credo” as an example. (See a pdf of the one-page credo.)

Ball said the council will continue to work on the language, get feedback from Metro staff and then present the proposal to Metro board members for their consideration this fall.

What do you want them to include?

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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Robert Thomson · August 7, 2013