Subway Report Cards…… Hmm Sound Familiar?

On May 15, MTA NYC Transit President Howard H. Roberts Jr. announced his intentions to create a riders’ report card. Here is an article talking about his intentions courtesy of the NY Times:

Griping about subway service is practically a vocation for many New Yorkers. Yet it often goes hand in hand with the conviction that no matter how much they complain, no one is ever likely to listen.

But now the man who runs the city’s subways and buses says that he actually wants to hear their complaints. Howard H. Roberts Jr., appointed last month as president of New York City Transit, said yesterday that one of his first major initiatives would be a system of rider report cards for subways and buses.

Riders on each line will be asked to grade different aspects of service, including the cleanliness of cars and stations, safety and the responsiveness of employees.

He said he would also ask riders to list the three things that they thought most need to be improved.

“I want to know what passengers want,” Mr. Roberts said yesterday during a wide-ranging interview that touched on topics as diverse as dirty subway cars and his affinity for the poetry of Robert Frost.

“I think too often people sit around in offices like this and say, ‘O.K., I know better than the customer what it is they want and so this is what we’re going to do.’ I want the customer to drive the priorities.”

The first report cards could appear this summer on the No. 7 line, Mr. Roberts said. He envisions cards that would be handed out to riders as they exit stations, and which they could fill out and mail in at no cost.

By the fall, he said, he hopes to bring the report cards to every line in the system, and bus lines as well.

Mr. Roberts said that he did not expect to be able to respond with a single solution that would work for all lines.

“It may very well be that different subway lines in the city will have different priorities,” he said. “If it’s cleanliness on the 6 line and it’s security on the A line, those are the things that have to be my first priorities on their lines.”

Mr. Roberts declined to say how he would fill out one of the report cards, but he had his own complaints about cleanliness. He said that he too often found cars that were dirty and full of trash when riding the subway to work as early as 4:30 a.m.

Mr. Roberts had been on the job less than two weeks when Daniel Boggs, a track worker, was struck and killed by a No. 3 train near Columbus Circle on April 24. Five days later, Marvin Franklin, another track worker, was struck and killed by a G train at a station in Brooklyn.

Mr. Roberts, as transit chiefs have in the past, promptly began a comprehensive safety review. But he did it in a very visible partnership with Roger Toussaint, the president of Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union.

That cooperation has contrasted with the tense relations between labor and management that prevailed in recent years at the agency.

To a large extent, the tone had already been set by Elliot G. Sander, the executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, who hired Mr. Roberts to succeed Lawrence G. Reuter, who retired.

But in choosing Mr. Roberts, Mr. Sander knew that he was hiring someone with a history of getting along with labor leaders — a history that had not always worked out well for Mr. Roberts.

This is Mr. Roberts’s second stint at the transit agency, and he is now in the unusual position of having been hired to run an organization where he was once fired. He first came to work there in 1981, as vice president for finance and then as the vice president in charge of buses.

He was fired in 1986. Mr. Roberts said that it was a result of his closeness to the labor unions.

Mr. Roberts, who is 67, went on to work at Citibank, where he said he first saw customer report cards used to improve service.

He worked from 1989 to 1997 at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, the transit system for the Philadelphia area, where he used similar report cards.

Mr. Roberts’s formative years were spent in the Army. He graduated from West Point and then served for 20 years, retiring as a colonel.

Mr. Roberts said that the Army taught him about honor and duty; then he handed a reporter a sheet of paper with the final stanza of a Robert Frost poem, “Two Tramps in Mud Time.” The poem is a meditation on the things a person does out of necessity and the things he does because he chooses to, and Mr. Roberts said he planned to have the stanza posted on his office wall.

The poem says, in part: “My object in living is to unite/My avocation and my vocation/As my two eyes make one in sight.”

“That sort of describes why this job means as much to me as it does,” Mr. Roberts said. “Very few of us get to combine our vocation and our avocations and very few of us get to play for mortal stakes, and soldiers and doctors and leaders of transportation organizations and a very few other people do that.”

When I heard about this report card, the first question I asked myself is does this plan sound familiar? Why yes it does, it is pretty much the same concept that the Straphangers Campaign has executed for the last # of years.

I must say this was not the only question that came to mind though. The next question I asked myself is why are the report cards being handed out to straphangers as they exit the station? I think the cards should be handed to straphangers as they enter the system.

In my opinion you would get a better response from the program. Many would be inclined to read it as they are waiting or riding the subway. The odds say that by handing them out to people exiting the system, it is more likely to get thrown away. There are so many distractions for people that this card would get lost in the shuffle. I wonder if Howard & Co. thought about that when they were brainstorming!

In the end I still would like to know one thing. Why make a big deal about your idea when it is pretty much a knockoff of an already well known idea? I can’t answer that question for you but if I ever speak with Howard, I’ll be sure to ask!

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