Recent letters to Amtrak
19 June 2007
Dear Amtrak Customer Service,
I am currently a graduate student at U. C. Berkeley and regularly use your Capitol Corridor service from Davis to Richmond. I generally depart on the 6:35 a.m. train and return on the 5:57 p.m. or 7:17 p.m. trains. The trains have always been clean and comfortable.
While I am aware that my commuting circumstances are extreme in terms of time and distance, I am appalled by the lack of punctuality of your train service. After 12 months of monthly $282.00 passes, I have found it a very rare circumstance for trains to arrive or depart at their scheduled times, especially in the evening. And, even after the train is en route, substantial delays are likely. In my opinion, this is dishonest business practice and an important safety issue. I understand that the track is shared and hence prone to some delay but little attempt is made to keep trains on schedule. In fact, the only thing that is timely on the Capitol Corridor is the collection of tickets and the obnoxious advertisements from the cafÃ© car. No earnest attempt is made to compensate customers for the significant delays (my combined delay today was 1:45 minutes, and no, vouchers for the cafÃ© car wonât do) nor are there any announced plans to improve the service.
Among the goals of Amtrak should be to make public transportation a viable option for commuters in an effort to reduce the environmental and social impacts of daily driving yet, how can one choose a service that has such a poor reputation for reliability? Even with my very flexible work schedule, the Capitol Corridor has become an untenable option.
It is easy to criticize without making suggestions, so here are three that I was able to think of during my wait on the 6:35 train this morning (1:15 delay) and at Richmond Station this evening (:30 delay).
1) Airlines make publicly available their on- time statistics. You should make these available monthly and annually to riders so they can make an informed purchase. I seriously doubt this will improve your ridership, but it will at least be honest.
2) Safety should be a primary goal, and in urban areas with high crime rates (Richmond, for example) punctuality is a safety issue and not a courtesy. If the train is going to be significantly delayed, security should be provided. During one of my more memorable delays, several passengers were left in Richmond at night for more than 2 hours while we were harassed by beggars and potential criminals. One individual told me to âbe cool and not get shot.â
3) Compensate passengers for their time. This could work on a sliding scale where refunds are provided depending on the duration of the delay, and after a specified amount of time the ride should be free. For monthly passes, a reduction in the following monthâs fare should be provided.
My most memorable delay occurred a few years ago when after a 5 hour delay well past midnight, the train blew through Davis station without stopping. When I finally reached the conductor, he was busy tucking his shirt in as if waking from a nap. Customers then had to wait more than 30 minutes for cab rides back to Davis. When I complained about the service at Davis station, I was offered a $5 voucher for the cafÃ© car, as if a cold soda and a bag of chips would make everything better.
I presume that this is not the first letter to cross your desk regarding the tardiness issue, and it certainly will not be the last. I feel it is my duty, however, to try to make suggestions and raise awareness to ease the life of several of my fellow commuters whom I see stressed by this issue daily. You should consider that every minute of delay caused by the poor train service is time that these individuals could be spending at home with their families. You should, at the very least, make a concerted effort to help them get home safely and on time.
14 November 2007
Dear Amtrak Customer Service,
I have attached a copy of my previous letter for your review as I have not yet received a response.
After 5 months of commuting via alternative methods, today I decided to give your train service another try in the hopes that it had improved. The morning commute (6:35a) went well, and your train was only a few minutes late. The evening train (5:57) surprised me as it left perfectly on time! In fact, I was a few minutes late and had to watch the train roll off back towards Davis and wait until 7:17.
In my previous letter, I mentioned that I felt that Richmond station was unsafe, and I have to report that it has not improved. Some improvements to the BART area have been made, however, and I hope to see this trend continue.
As I was awaiting the 7:17p train, a Bakersfield bound train made a brief stop. In the past, I have used this train in order to get to Martinez station as a waypoint in order to use its indoor space to get ahead on work. This has never been a problem with your staff in the past, and indeed when I asked if I could use the train to get to Martinez on my route home, the ticket checker gave me his approval. However, he then punched my 10- ride ticket and informed me that another punch would be deducted once en route to Davis.
When I responded in disbelief, the checker told me that I was wrong and this is the normal procedure. He then told me that other trains had been giving me âfree ridesâ and that I was a non- paying rider. To be clear, I have always paid for your services, usually with a monthly ride pass or a 10- ride ticket. He then demanded an alternative form of payment for the ride to Martinez. When I responded ânoâ, the disagreement escalated to an argument and I then asked to see the boss or conductor. I must honestly confess that I was frustrated and angry at this point and was not as cordial as I should have been. The ticket checker then told me that I would not see the boss, and I would just have to accept the situation. At this point I decided to let the argument go, and, if necessary, contact customer service.
The ticket checker soon returned and proceeded to tell me that he had talked to his conductor and the situation was decided; I was clearly wrong, and never had a chance to win the argument anyway. Essentially, he wanted to let me know that I had lost, and he had won. I told him fine, and that I would handle the problem through normal service channels. I thought that the situation was surely resolved.
Instead of letting it go, he continued to argue telling me repeatedly that I was âin the wrongâ ,âdidnât understandâ, and he needed to point that out for me. He continued to make snide remarks, spelling out his name for my âlittle letterâ (I was working on my laptop at the time, but not on this letter) and made several disrespectful smirks until finally walking away. His parting comment was âits tough to get a little dose of reality, isnât it?
Even if the standard practice is to punch the fare card twice in these situations, I hope that you will agree that I should have never been treated so disrespectfully. I was accused of being a freeloader and then harassed by a person who just needed to feel good about winning a petty argument with a paying customer. He intentionally sought to escalate the argument to achieve some sense of personal satisfaction. I am amazed by this persons attitude towards me, and shocked by his confrontational demeanor.
I wonder if he feels that the argument was worth $10.80? He says that âitâs tough to get a little dose of realityâ, well, how about never getting the business of an honest, reliable customer again? And, as you can probably tell from my letter, I will not remain quiet about my experiences on Amtrak.
Most importantly, I am disappointed that Amtrak still cannot fulfill my needs as a Bay Area commuter. I will be returning my 10- ride pass for a refund this evening.
P.S. Copies of both letters have been forwarded to the Davis Enterprise.