Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dear Nathaniel Ford - Headlines

Dear Nathaniel Ford,
Two headlines caught my eye this morning.
The Examiner heralded a 10 year low in Muni customer satisfaction (csat to us in the biz); the Chronicle included an item about your possible exit for the DC system. An interesting and challenging day for you, no doubt.

Even though I haven't heard from you, I hope you secretly read my little blog. If you do, you know that I think Muni could have major impacts by implementing a few simple customer service tenets. Riders know that things like fires in the tunnels, crowded trains at rush hour, and fedex trucks blocking buses are (sort of) beyond your control. But we also know that basic courtesy makes us feel better.

The driver who informs us about a delay. The gate agent who looks up and smiles at patrons. The station manager who is willing to give directions. The custodian who says, "Excuse me." All these things would help. And, Nathaniel, as JLo once said, "Love Don't Cost a Thing."

These things are about making riders feel good, but, Nathaniel, they also build empathy for the organization. When an organization's staff behaves humanely toward its patrons, we begin to like them and the organization more, even if other failures persist.

That's how you improve customer satisfaction.

But as it is, it's hard for us to build empathy when we see expensive systems like Clipper and broken flat panel screens. It's hard for us to build empathy for drivers who have a 100 page list of work rules.

Nathaniel, I know that these work rules are the bane of your existence. That's what we have in common. But maybe you can work with the drivers to instill a culture of basic customer service. It would go a long way.

Thank you. Have a nice day.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Dear Nathaniel Ford - Responses

We haven't met, spoken, texted or even emailed yet. The closest we've come was a form letter telling me that Muni Customer Services' goal "is to provide timely, convenient and safe service, and your input is very important." The form letter assured me that someone from marketing would be in touch, and someone was!
A nice woman named Gina Zagata offered to make an appointment for me so I wouldn't have to wait in line for my son's youth pass. It's a kind offer and it solves my problem, but it doesn't address the core problem with the youth pass requirements. My plan is to get the pass the same way everyone else has to and document it here on the blog! It'll be a little foray into photo journalism.

Gina also told me that you're thinking about opening a second customer service center in the Presidio to help parents out. That's a great idea Nathaniel, except I think that the geography might prove challenging. Here's a map of where the public schools (and the kids who probably need muni passes the most) are in San Francisco:

 Here's another map that shows how Muni serves the Presidio:

Consider this:
  • You're creating a location to better serve families who need to get Muni passes in person.
  • The location is not near the schools that most families visit between five and ten times per week.
  • The location is only lightly served by your own transit organization.

It seems like another good idea, poorly planned. That's what your organization is becoming known for.

Nathaniel, by now you've probably guessed that I'm the kind of person who writes letters, makes calls, and sends emails. Heck, I even go door-to-door about some issues. 

Here's the roster and responses I've gotten so far:
Rachel Norton responded really quickly and promised to find out what the SFUSD could do to help parents. She didn't know anything about this problem.

Her SF School Board colleague Hydra Mendoza hasn't responded to me yet. I thought she would because we met when she visited the Political Action Committee to which I belong to ask for our votes. Maybe she doesn't see this as a campaign issue that would appeal to parents. 

Bevan Dufty, my D8 supervisor, sent me a nice email and promised to work with Diana Hammons of SFMTA to understand the issue. 

He also contacted Boe Hayward and Janet Martinson at SFMTA.

Gavin Newsom hasn't responded to me yet. He used to respond to me really quickly when I was a journalist. Now that I'm just a politically involved rabblerousing citizen, he's a bit slower to reach out. Alas. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dear Nathaniel Ford - Friday Night

Dear Nathaniel Ford,
For some reason, Friday evenings seem to be the most challenging for you to get us citizens home from work.

Maybe the drivers, the highest paid in the country, all have weekend places out of reach of the fog so they leave early on Friday to beat the traffic, which is exacerbated by everyone who drives to work knowing that it's going to hard to get home. (You can see the irony here, right?)

Nathaniel, here's a photo I took at Montgomery Station on Friday at 6:45 p.m.:

An L train had just left the station. J Church and N Judah riders were milling about in a sea of resigned discontent. One man pleaded for divine intervention.
Here's a photo I took a few seconds later:

That train is an L. A second L was in the tunnel just behind it.

Finally, the sign got it right.

Nathaniel, I posted an entry just a few days ago wondering how the dispatch of trains can be so screwed up.

You know what would be really great, Nathaniel Ford? 
If there were some way you could align resources and dispatch trains to fit in with the completely predictable patterns of city commuters.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dear Nathaniel Ford - Clipped

Dear Nathaniel Ford,

For the past five years or so, I've been redeeming my commuter check at Rossi's Deli in the Castro in exchange for an adult and a youth Muni pass. Simple. Fast. Friendly.

Now I learn that the Clipper card will make my life far more convenient. That may be true. I expect that the Clipper won't be demagnetized by the 15th of each month, forcing me to replace or go through the motions of putting the broken pass into the machine before the muni attendant will let me through. That part is good.

But Nathaniel, are you really going to force me to come to the SFMTA Customer Service Center to submit a form in order to get what I've been buying from Rossi's for years!?

Have you noticed that the hours of the SFMTA Customer Service hours are limited to Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.?

That's when I'm working, Nathaniel!

And the last two times I went there on my lunch break, the waiting area was so crowded that I could see I'd be waiting far longer than the time I had.

Should I take time off from my job?

I wish I worked for the city. Then, my yearly time off would include:
10 - 40 vacation days
13 sick days
12 paid holidays

Here's what I get:
16 paid days off including sick time.
5 paid holidays

The SFMTA Customer Service Center is closed on every single paid holiday I have off.

Nathaniel, why do I need to complete a form and drop it off in person to get something that the nice man at Rossi's could hand across the counter to me?

I keep hearing how San Francisco wants to make the city friendlier for families. How is it friendlier to make me jump through hoops?

You know what would be great, Nathaniel?

If I could get my kid's Clipper card without having to sacrificing precious time off.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Dear Nathaniel Ford - Art Project?

Dear Nathaniel Ford,

I'm sure you know by now that the past couple of days have seen major failures in the evening commute. On Wednesday, my commute home involved 9 stops and took about 45 minutes. From the frighteningly crowded Powell platform, I rode in to Embarcadero. That platform was equally crowded so I squeezed into a J Church and rode home. (See previous announcement about The Silence of the Drivers; our Wednesday driver was so silent in the face of delays that a number of people in the car started making false announcements. "Next stop, 18th and Market. We should be there in an hour." Funny. Sad.)

Last night, it was my usual four stops, but it still lasted for 40 minutes. When I arrived on the platform, the announcement was:
2 car - L - in two minutes.
1 car - K - in three minutes.
1 car - J - in five minutes.
2 car - L - in six minutes.
And so on.
I let the first L pass. It was packed and I figured I'd jump on the K.
Then a 2 car N appeared.
Another pair of Ns followed a minute later.
Then nothing for 8 minutes.
Yet the announcements continued to promised the much desired Ls and Ks.
I began to wonder if it was a performance art piece along the lines of the French Avant Garde. I pictured an artist named Simone pitching her twisted idea to the SF Arts Commission.
"We shall emphasize the banality of commuter expectations by making meaningless announcements and releasing trains in an endlessly absurd pattern."

You know what would be great, Nathaniel Ford?

If the evening commute took advantage of the predictability of our city workers' actual travel patterns. I do it the same way every day. I see many many fellow passengers each day.

Perhaps we're banal in our predictability, but is that any reason to subject us to absurdity?