Friday, April 20, 2007

High Water Condition

If there were an award for obscuring simple explanations with stupid, pseudo-technical terminology, then we have a winner. As we all know, NYC was hit with record rainfall this past Monday when a northeaster dumped almost 7.5 inches on us. So what would you guess to be the most fundamental problem people experienced on roads, in tunnels, and in basements? Take a guess. That's right - "flooding". Funny word, isn't it. The LIRR thought so to, so they decided to call it a "high water condition." At this point, I feel obligated to state upfront that this will be more of a rant, but there is a moral to this story so please bear with me for a moment.

I'm not against the word "condition", its just that it should be reserved for instances where an explanation cannot be described by a single word. For example, one could say with a straight face that a fire can cause a smoke condition. You couldn't really say that its smoking or smokey, because that just sounds silly. But when there is an over-abundance of water, where places are inundated or unnaturally submerged, you can state with confidence that there is flooding.

As you can guess, this past storm resulted in flooding at certain locations which in turn caused pretty bad delays on the LIRR. Delays are a widely expected consequence of flooding, and if flooding can cause problems, just imagine what high water conditions can do. Apparently, high water conditions just piss people off. Maybe the LIRR wanted to build it into something bigger. Perhaps "flooding" didn't sound serious enough, and riders would have complained that the delays were unwarranted from just a little flooding. Oddly, I think it had just the opposite effect. Using a ridiculous phrase like that actually toned down the seriousness of the situation. Flooding implies that there is too much water, overflowing, etc. A high water condition implies nothing. So when those words were said over and over again on the PA system, I'm sure I wasn't the only one who thought -- how high? How much? Do they mean high tide? I bet that the energy used to transmit those wasted words through the air violated some environmental law.

OK LIRR, here's the lesson for today. Simple explanations have a better chance of achieving the desired outcome. So how about this for a very real and powerful statement, "there will be 30-40 minute delays due to flooding at the east river tunnels." I am sure that some of you will say I am making too much of this. But like every other commuter that stormy day, I just wanted to go home, see my family, and tackle that high hunger condition.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Five minutes late.....right on time!

Schedules. Without them, I guess the railroad just wouldn't run. What amazes me about the LIRR's schedules is the precision in which they are established. Perhaps it goes to that level of detail to instill confidence in its riders. People feel good thinking that they can catch the 5:38:32PM train to Ronkonk... Ronkohoma... Ranchomonga... whatever, way out on eastern LI. Unfortunately, what the LIRR has not yet figured out is that you really need to follow the schedules you set.

Let's take the 8:05AM train from Kew Gardens as an example. What impresses me most about that particular train is how consistent and precise it is in its lateness. So much so, that passengers begin sauntering down to the platform at about 8:08AM. Why? Because the train rolls into the station at exactly 8:10AM. You can imagine how upset passengers are when the train, on rare occassions, arrives "early" at 8:05AM. Interestingly, the LIRR has had every chance to correct this issue because it publishes new schedules about every 2 months. You would think the new schedule would just show an 8:10AM train, or maybe an 8:09AM train as a compromise for the lazy commuters. Yet it remains listed as 8:05AM. Perhaps the LIRR just can't make it any faster, so it leaves that train on the schedule as a constant reminder of a goal it just can't achieve. It's almost like the pair of "skinny pants" that we haven't worn in years but still keep hanging front and center in our closet because, one day, we'll fit in them again. Hey, LIRR, get rid of the skinny pants, you're not fooling me!

The NYC subway system has schedules, too. Not many people know that, but even more importantly, not many people care. That is probably the case because there are usually enough trains during rush hours such that a passenger knows that he or she can just get the next one. But have you ever noticed how much less frantic the riders are that take the subway, even on off-peak hours? Sure, you get the occassional wacko who yells "hold the door" even though he is a half of a block away from the station, but the majority of the commuters just calmly wait for the next train. Penn Station, on the other hand, looks like a jailbreak at evening rush hour. I'm sure that most of the people trying to catch a 6PM train are big NFL fans, because I've seen runningbacks with less impressive moves. Someone should tell Eric Mangini to buy monthly passes as part of the NY Jets training. I'll stop on that point, but please stay-tuned for a future discussion on the madness at Penn during rush-hour.

Imagine if we all could arrive at work later than we are scheduled to, but still get paid for the full day. We can just tell our bosses that its close enough. It wouldn't be long before our paychecks start reflecting our lateness.

I suggest to the LIRR that it give a long hard look at its schedule, and just face the facts. I also recommend that it stop trying to come up with schedules down to the millisecond. How about this as an incentive? If a train is 5 minutes late three times a month due to reasons other than an accident or weather, then monthly ticket holders should get something in return - like a coupon for a free Ben & Jerry's or Starbucks coffee. That won't help us passengers get any closer to our skinny pants, but at least the LIRR will get in shape.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

"No service this evening"

This past Thursday night, as I was settling in to the coveted 'next to the door' spot on the 6:39PM train, I heard the announcement all commuters dread. As usual, its timing was perfection. Two minutes prior to that train's departure, a garbled statement was blurted out over the PA system, "There is no service to Forest Hills and Kew Gardens this evening." That was all it said, and with it, I knew that an adventure was about to begin.

As I left the train, I braced myself for the common scene of Crazy White Guy & Old Lady tag-teaming the conductor. I was not disappointed. As the Crazy White Guy railed on about unrelated grievances of years past, the Old Lady demanded why the LIRR didn't tell everyone sooner. Apparently, a recently disabled train prevented all other trains from stopping at the two stations. Eastbound? Westbound? No one knew. But the fact that the conductor could not explain that the LIRR could not have ever predicted to the Old Lady in advance that this was going to happen, made the situation explosive. As Old Lady kept the majority of the crew tied up, Crazy White Guy was at his finest. Perched on his mental soapbox and clearly enraged, he began screaming and spitting while staring at no one in particular. At this point, I decided to jump in.

Using soft yet stern talk of logic and common sense, I temporarily calmed the Crazy White Guy, which gave me just enough time to ask the conductor if we can take a train to Jamaica in order to take another one westbound to KG or FH. The conductor disappeared into her cabin to communicate with the dispatcher, but in doing so, abruptly shut her window to block the noise. Unfortunately, that gave Crazy White Guy a second wind, in which he demanded that she be fired while getting the rest of the commuters riled up. Again, I calmed him using everything short of dangling shiny objects in his eyes. That gave us just enough time for the conductor to come back with good news: another train was adding stops to accomodate KG and FH customers. Whew! The LIRR came through! However, this could have been handled much better.

I do not work for the LIRR, but I can bet that this was not a unique event. One would think that there are procedures in place that all but automate the response to such a situation, including coaching the crew on what to say and how to say it. Thinking from a commuters point of view, particularly one who lives on eastern Long Island, an announcement like that is tantamount to saying "you're screwed, find a hotel." How about saying, "Attention passengers for Forest Hills and Kew Gardens, due to a disabled train, the 6:39 will not be stopping at those stations. Please standby on the main level for further instructions, which will be announced shortly." Announcing that there is "no service" without any possible recourse puts people in panic mode.

I forgot to mention that while all this went down, a fellow commuter asked me what was going on. When I told him that the train was not stopping at FH or KG, he replied with a look that pretty much said, "Suckers". I'm sure that asshole lives off of exit 900 on the LIE and should have been more considerate. You know who you are.

Lessons learned for the LIRR: coach your staff on the 'what, when, and how' to communicate with customers. Most people understand that problems happen, but commuters that are wound up after a long day, with only one way to get home, react very badly to poorly worded announcements.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Our mission

The mission of is to be the voice of all the hardcore NYC commuters that suffer twice daily at the hands of the Long Island Railroad. Or, this could be a way for a crank like me to vent frustrations while being a thorn in the side of our MTA.

Just in case it was not made clear in my introduction, yes, this will be a rant at times, but my intentions are not completely selfish. Indeed, the ultimate purpose of this site is to get the MTA to acknowledge certain shortcomings in the LIRR system and to implement what I think are obviuous solutions. Oh, and did I mention that I will rant at times? With that said, let the fun begin and feel free to comment!