Poor customer service, not snow, is MTA's problem

February 22, 2010

I read the letter from Pamela Wight, "Snow response on Metro subway was terrible" (Readers respond, Feb. 20) with interest. I have ridden the light rail to work for nearly two years. Like Ms. Wight, I have been disappointed with my experience. Let me give you a few examples from recent weeks.

On Monday, Feb. 8, I rode with a coworker to the North Linthicum station because the trains were not running out of Cromwell. An MTA supervisor was at the North Linthicum station and said a train would be there in 20 minutes. Forty-five minutes later, no train had arrived. The MTA supervisor had spent the time chatting with two bus drivers. He looked up in surprise when asked where the train was and said, "Are you still here?" He was totally unaware of the group of 20-30 passengers shivering in the cold. When asked if he would find out about the train, he said, "The radio is busy." Then he left the station.

On Tuesday, Feb. 9, I called MTA to find out if trains were running from Cromwell Station. The operator assured me they were and were running nearly on schedule. I then drove to the station, a drive of less than a mile, which took less than 5 minutes, to find out that the train had broken down in Ferndale sometime earlier and there was no service to Cromwell. The information I had been given was wrong. I took the No. 14 bus to Patapsco station and stood on the platform for 35 minutes on a windy day with temperatures in the 20s. Three bus drivers congregated nearby, chatting, appearing unconcerned that a large group of people had been waiting for some time for a train. When I asked them if there was a train coming, they shrugged and left.

On Sunday, Feb. 14, I spoke to an MTA operator. She said the trains would run on Presidents' Day on holiday schedule but could not tell me what days were considered by MTA to be holidays. Wrong again! The trains did not run on holiday schedule the next day, but the regular schedule. I had arranged for a ride into the city that morning, unnecessarily, it turns out.

These are not snow related issues. These are issues related to poor communication and poor customer service. These are problems based in poor training of employees and lack of leadership. Time and time again, I see MTA employees reflect a lack of understanding how crucial a good public transit system is to the city of Baltimore.

One bright spot in this sad saga of MTA is a fare inspector named Ms. Peyton. For a few days during the worst of the snow, everyone coming into Camden yards had to transfer to another train to travel north. I saw Ms. Peyton at Camden Yards station in the snow and wind directing people to the proper trains, trying to make a difficult and confusing situation a little easier. Every person who works for MTA should aspire to this level of service.

I frequently talk with visitors to Baltimore on the light rail. I am sorry to say that they routinely comment that they have never been on such a poorly run system in a major city. Regardless of weather, trains are not on time. When there are delays, information is not available to the riders. Drivers do not always announce stations or transfers. Trains have single cars during the heavy travel times and are badly crowded.

MTA Administrator Ralign Wells and Gov. Martin O'Malley, wake up. God forbid, but natural disasters do happen. The recent weather has been a reasonable test of the MTA's ability to handle difficult conditions, and it would seem that it has failed. The hundreds of riders who use the MTA system daily deserve better.

Martha Tolen, Glen Burnie

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