Archive for the ‘Rail Travel’ Category

Service of Upgrades that Are and Aren’t

Monday, October 29th, 2018

Photo: pixabay

Shiny Apple

Some upgrades are amazing. Apple gave my iPhone 6 a new lease on life with a recent upgrade that allows it to act pretty much like one of its pricey new phones. I read that this was the latest marketing strategy for the company that formerly encouraged customers to upgrade frequently.

iPhone 6. Photo: gadgets.ndtv.com

Even so, hearing the word “upgrade” these days sends shivers my way and, in my experience, for good reason.

No Service Self Service

Have you tried the new USPS self service mailing machines? They don’t work. I don’t mean they are complicated—they literally don’t function and the old ones worked like a charm.

I tried to use several at the Grand Central post office on different days and at a satellite office with no employees. The former wouldn’t respond to light or heavy finger touches by me and countless others who ended up behind me on line for a clerk; the scale didn’t work in the latter which was problematic because I had a package to mail.

Exploding Devices

Last week almost 3,000 new body cam devices were pulled from use by the NYC police department. Why? One exploded.

Out of Order Train App & Info Man

Photo: play.google.com

The Metro-North app. “TrainTime” has issues. I couldn’t link from the TrainTime app to the specifics about substitute busses for trains I usually take so I stopped in at Grand Central Station’s customer service desk. The link was dead last Friday. The attendant explained that Metro-North needs to upgrade the app. He also misinformed me about the bus situation. Fortunately, another staffer set him—and me—straight. His excuse: “I just got to the desk.”

Not My Car

Photo: gm.com

General Motors emailed to tell me that my 2016 Chevrolet has a soft tire and to bring the car in for service. I knew this had to do with the 2016 we turned in for a 2018 earlier this year because that car always had tire issues. So I informed the dealership, from which we’ve bought and leased cars for 20 years, that GM needs to update its records. When we first dealt with the dealership our salesman took care of everything and there was never a hiccup. Since then it has upgraded with specialists in various areas of the business. This is the second such glitch we’ve encountered since we leased the 2018 model so the specialists aren’t clicking our info in all the right places.

Does the word “upgrade” excite you or make you anxious? Was it always thus? Have you encountered either super or dismal results from a recent upgrade?

Photo: siteuptime.com

Service of Why

Monday, June 27th, 2016

Why

I ask questions in every post and the question word also appears in a few titles. Today I share some unrelated observations and ask WHY:

  • Do you think a mother pushing a stroller gave her young child a tablet to stare at when there was plenty to look at on the street between the traffic, other pedestrians, store windows and dogs passing by?  The child was so little—around one–and the screen so large that he could hardly hold the device that was crammed in between his legs and the stroler. We weren’t near each other for very long but while we were, not a word passed between them.
  • Inside an elevatorDo I go to the right in some elevators and to the left in others to reach the floor control buttons and inevitably, my instinct sends me the wrong way? Why aren’t these buttons installed universally either left or right?
  • TelemarketerDo telemarketers hire people who mumble? I asked one last week—an American—to repeat what he’d said. The phone volume was fine, I clearly heard the end of his intro—“and how are you today?”—yet totally missed who he represented or the reason for his call. He slurred his words while repeating, at 200 mph, what he’d uttered countless times before. When I couldn’t decipher or isolate a single word on the second go-‘round, I hung up.
  • Do companies require their live operators/receptionists to answer the phone with a ridiculously long greeting—and not because the name of the firm is of the “Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith” variety–thus wasting everyone’s time?
  • 511 travel infoDo some general call-in numbers never work? Take 511. I access it to confirm train schedules and to learn if the railroad is running from upstate NY to NYC, and not a substitute bus. [If a bus, passengers must arrive at the station 40 minutes before scheduled departure time. Miss the bus and you wait two hours for the next one. And the website isn’t always accurate.] From upstate, the electronic voice on the phone announces I’ve reached information for the Hudson/Catskill region. So far, so good. After that, whether I respond to prompts with my voice or by punching numbers on the phone, I end up with Long Island bus or NYC subway schedules and for the life of me, I can’t reach an operator or information about the Harlem Line I take.

Do you have answers to any of these or questions you’d like to pose?

Why 2

Service of No News is Not Good News

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

Photo: dot.gov

Photo: dot.gov

In the time it took us to get home on the 7:06 from upstate NY Sunday night [normally 2 hours], we could have been in London. I don’t blame Metro-North for the downed tree on the tracks. It is culpable of having no emergency plan, exhibiting inertia in extremis, and providing neither communications/information nor safety for its passengers. Goodness knows what they would do if they had to deal with injuries.

Photo: ewashtenaw.org

Photo: ewashtenaw.org

We were whisked off two trains with no explanation other than that only one track was in service. The first train we were on was jammed. Most passengers had suitcases, dogs, cats, bicycles, and packages or some combination.

After the first passenger dumping, when a second train arrived, a trainload of disconcerted people piled in the closest doors. We ran on the platform with our suitcases toward the back where the cars were emptier and we could sit. With many still on the platform—us included–the nasal beeping noise warning that the doors are about to close rang out at its standard time. But the numbers of passengers to embark was many times the usual. The warning was the only sound. Where was a conductor to say: “Please move along quickly but don’t worry, we’ll wait for you all to get in.” Nowhere.

Settled in the second train we were soon shocked when a conductor announced that we must all exit the train at Pleasantville and take a bus to North White Plains. Still nobody said why.

yellow school busThere must have been 1,000 people pouring out of the station on to the street. Eventually we saw three traditional yellow school busses. The scene reminded me of exiting the train station in Venice to access water transportation. In Italy it was also crowded and unnerving but we didn’t wait long and soon we, and our suitcases, were on board a vaporetto.

We confronted a very different situation in Pleasantville. Like Cinderella’s sisters—remember they tried to squeeze their huge feet into the diminutive slipper–hundreds surrounded each bus with hopes that they’d be one of the 45 adults to make it inside. It was survival of the fittest, strongest, pushiest and youngest. Friends who exited the station from a different place reported a woman pulled a man off a bus by yanking at his leg. One said, “I can still see a woman pushing her bicycle onto the bus. She was the first on and there was no room for the bike.”

Between our luggage and the ridiculous, frantic crowds we weren’t going near the mobs to try to get on. A vest like this--not this person. Photo: article.wn.com

I approached a man with a florescent orange vest with RR logo [like the vest in the photo from wn.com, at right–not this person] who was texting in the shadows behind the crowd. I asked what the backup plan was as clearly we weren’t fitting on a bus. He said there were four busses [we’d seen only three] and that it takes 25 minutes to drive to North White Plains. Half an hour later a fourth school bus arrived causing another riot scene. That one left with every inch of space filled with people—even in the aisles–which looked dangerous. The other drivers took the maximum permitted and didn’t leave the station until the aisles were empty. The crowd had become more frustrated by this time and this driver didn’t fight it. 

We spoke with the only police officer we saw. He knew—and did—nothing but said: “I’m here to make sure you don’t kill one another,” and then he walked away. He wasn’t near the mobs.

 vintage train setIn all this time not a chirp from Metro-North. We wanted to know if a crew was working to remove the tree, if someone was scouting up grownup busses with room in the belly for suitcases—anything official. Passengers continued to spill out of trains from up north to face scant transportation with us.

After an hour+ our friend John stormed into the station and down the stairs to the platform followed by Bob and us. He said it was clear that the only way we’d get back to the city was by train. Guess what we found: A train with people pouring out of it because it was changing direction and was now heading to Grand Central. There had been no announcement to alert the passengers upstairs.

I’ve enjoyed and depended on the railroad in many countries as well as here. I am fond of many of the conductors who take our tickets on the Harlem Line. Yet I feel ashamed that a major source of transportation in the NY metro area is as backward and unprepared as this line was on Sunday.

Why:

  • Would the RR accept more passengers from other stations when it couldn’t deal with those already waiting for busses in Pleasantville?
  • No megaphone or intercom updates from headquarters or the employee on location?
  • No local authorities to organize the passengers so we’d have a safe, fair way to get on a bus in a civilized manner?

And, how well could this crew handle a derailment with injuries or other emergency?

Photo: iridetheharlemline.com

Photo: iridetheharlemline.com

Service of Travel II

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Airport Trave

It’s vacation travel time again—three friends are leaving for trips this week.

I’ve covered the topic in countless ways: About a friend’s nightmare–literally spending the night at an airport when her flight was cancelled in “Service of Travel” and in “Service of Gagging Customers,” about the aftermath of the Costa Concordia accident. There was “Service of Good Samaritans,” about railroad travel and an amazing, caring conductor; “Service of Tourism,” about Portland, Maine that does a stupendous job and more.

Here’s today’s lineup:

Wait a Minute or 20

Customer service nowA colleague was on hold for 22 minutes Friday in response to an urgent message left by her airline about her return flight three days later. The recorded wait message repeated incessantly “we will be right with you” instead of a truthful “There are 40 people ahead of you,” or “Your wait will be approximately 20 minutes.”

Once there was a live voice she asked the customer service staffer why she’d been bumped and was told “I don’t know” and was then given an option for her return flight of the day after her original flight.

Could the airline run smoothly if its operators and crew showed up a day late for their jobs? And what if, for this phone call, she wasn’t on a landline or with access to electrical outlets but on the street or on a bus with a mobile phone that needed a charge?

All Aboard

Railroad tracksArthur and Pauline Frommer are my companions on Sundays as their weekly radio travel program coincides with house and garden work and errand time. I looked up Arthur’s early May blog post “Americans Were Recently Made Aware of How Much We Spend on Air Transportation As Compared With How Little We Spend on Rail Transportation,” because I couldn’t forget what he’d said.

As a result of reports about the Sequester’s affect on air travel, he figured out that air traffic controllers cost the Federal Government $13 billion a year, “And that’s only a fraction of the much larger amount spent each year by the federal government on air transportation,” he wrote. He continued: “By contrast, we spend about 1 billion dollars a year subsidizing Amtrak.”

He reported that he’s reprimanded every time he suggests the government subsidize railroads with comments such as: “How horrendous!” and “How incredible to suggest that the federal government should dig into its pockets for rail transportation. How anti-American! How anti-free-enterprise!”

He wrote that he responds, “Absent from their arguments is any mention of the infinitely greater sums the federal government spends on highways and vehicular traffic, and on airports and aviation.”

CNN.com corroborated Frommer’s figures and identified the fact that many are choosing the railroad.  “In fiscal year 2012, Amtrak was approved to receive an operating subsidy of $466 million. The remainder of government help for capital improvements and debt service was estimated at $950 million,” according to CNN.

“Nearly 90 percent of the rail service’s ridership since 1997 has been on trips under 400 miles. Along with a 55 percent jump in passengers, it generated a positive operating surplus of $47 million in 2011, according to a new report released by the Brookings Institution.”

Ruining It For Others

PinnocchioIn “Service of Reviews,” in a previous post, I wrote about the self-serving, fraudulent kind, a subject also inspired by Arthur and Pauline Frommer.

In a recent program they mentioned yet another executive caught red-handed. I found, on line, the complete story in the article “TripAdvisor reviewer exposed as hotel executive: A senior executive at one of the world’s largest hotel groups has admitted breaching TripAdvisor’s rules by posting dozens of glowing reviews about the firm’s properties,” by Oliver Smith in The Telegraph.

Smith reported that Kwikchex–that he described as an “online reputation management firm”–identified the reviewer and his true stripes. TripAdvisor rules, wrote Smith, state that reviews “‘written by ownership or management; including past employees or anyone associated with/related to employees of the property in question’ will not be permitted. It adds that ‘individuals affiliated with a property may not review other properties of the same type (accommodation, restaurant, or attraction) within the same city or town, or within 10 miles of that property.’”

The executive admitted he’d written the reviews explaining that he’d visited and graded each property, had given high ones to competitors and hadn’t always been complimentary about his own. Smith quoted why the executive chose to use a pseudonym: “Because I cover such a wide range of travel experiences, it would not be appropriate to review them as a company representative….. However, it is fair to say that my professional position should have been mentioned in any reviews of hotels.”

Shop Early and Often

Booking airline tkts on line“Attention All Passengers: The Airlines’ Dangerous Descent—And How To Reclaim Our Skies,” a book published last year by a well regarded travel journalist, William J. McGee, opens eyes on a range of topics.

The disclosure that Arthur Frommer landed on in his blog is worth sharing. He wrote McGee “is claiming that numerous airlines have begun collecting data on their passengers and would-be passengers–their previous purchases, the extent of their cost-conscious attitudes, their race, income and gender, whether they make impulse purchases or else ‘shop around’–and then tailoring the prices offered to them according to those personal characteristics. Two passengers requesting the same flight at the same time are quoted different prices on the airlines’ websites!”

In Pauline Frommer’s interview with McGee it was clear that you get the best price if you don’t buy the first time you visit an airline website. Keep checking at different times.

Unrelated to this interview, Pauline Frommer has frequently advised callers planning to travel with others not to book all the tickets at once because you’ll pay more for each ticket than if you book one at a time.

Do you have tips—and/or positive/negative airline customer service experiences–to share? Do you believe online customer reviews? Should the government increase its railroad subsidies?

Modern railroad station

 

 

 

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