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29 June 2011

An Open Letter to Metra

Dear Metra Customer Service:

I attempted to board outbound train #2101 at the Grayland stop with a bicycle this morning at 6:50 AM.  According to your schedule, this train permits up to 15 bikes per train.  I and another cycling commuter were turned away by conductors with whistles, shouts, and hand-waving.  He and I both asked why, and were both told "no bikes!" as the doors closed.  Now destined to be late for work, my best course of action was to return home and drive, which I did.

At just after 8:00 AM I called your rider services line to complain about being denied service, and was treated very rudely by Gloria.  She raised her voice and interrupted me multiple times on the phone call, despite my attempts to simply lodge my complaint and move on.  It was during this unpleasant conversation that I learned that the reason I was denied service by Metra was because the Taste of Chicago was going on at the Lakefront, and Metra will allow no bikes in either direction on any train during that festival.  I was also told that I should have known this because "it's on the website."  By the end of the call, I suspected that my concerns were being ignored, so I asked Gloria to read back my complaint, which she refused to do.  I asked to talk to her supervisor; Hersey (best guess on his name) got on the line and implied that I was the one being unreasonable, but did eventually have Gloria read me back my complaint.  Whether it went anywhere from there, I have no idea.

I pointed out to Hersey that I could find no mention on the Metra website that I could not bring a bicycle on an outbound train at 6:50 AM because of a festival downtown (behind the train) that starts at 11:00 AM (4 hours after I would have disembarked). After 2:00 PM, I received a voicemail message giving me instructions on how to find the information - apparently it took Metra employees six hours to find the information on your own website!

And where can it be found? On the front page, which shows important service announcements that might affect your customers' commutes as well as "News" about Powerpoint presentations from your CEO and updates about how you are trying to designate some cars as "quiet"? No. On the schedule of my train line, the page most likely to be bookmarked by your customers, and the page that states that 15 bicycles are allowed per train? No. On the Service Updates page, which duplicates the service announcements on the front page? No.  In fact, there are no links on the front page that take me directly to a page stating this policy.  The only page that I could find that stated that bikes were forbidden today was your Metra Bicycle Policy 2011 page.  The most direct route from your front page to this page is:

1) Click on Service Updates on the top menu bar of the front page.
2) Click on Bikes On Trains on the left menu of the Service Updates page.

Your level of customer service when I called was not great, but Hersey did a competent job resolving the situation; that is not the reason for this letter.  However, I have two issues with your Bikes on Trains policy:

1) The policy is illogical and arbitrary, making it impossible to use common sense to follow, and making it necessary for me, your customer, to memorize this policy so that I can jump through the scheduling, logistical, and procedural hoops.

2) The policy is very poorly communicated, being tucked away on your website in a place where common sense would not dictate I look while planning my commute.  One would think that if there was an exceptional situation that might result in your customers being stranded at the station, it would be good business to highlight that information to prevent letters like this one from being sent.

In the end, one thing is clear: I cannot rely on Metra for transportation.  If I am to commute from my home in Chicago to my work in Glenview, I must rely on my own transportation or experience an unacceptably high risk of not getting to work.  Metra clearly does not want bicyclists as customers, despite paying lip-service through your confusing and discouraging policy. As one of the millions of Chicago citizens that supports Metra through my sales taxes, this saddens me.


Mark McCracken

P.S. This open letter, delivered to you as an email, has also been posted to my public blog at http://riskofruin.markmccracken.net.

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