Sunday, July 30, 2017

I'm going off the rails on a crazy train

I have a "love-hate" relationship with SEPTA, the entity that provides and operates public transportation in the Philadelphia and suburban area. It is one of only two transit authorities in the United States that operates all five major forms of land transportation (buses, trains [regional rail], subway and elevated trains, trolleys and trolleybuses). SEPTA, an acronym for Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority, does none of them well.

I have been a regular commuter on the SEPTA regional rail for over ten years. Sure, it's a pleasure not to have to drive to work and fight traffic, especially in bad weather (which Philadelphia gets a lot of). But. in those ten plus years, SEPTA has exhibited some of the most consistently worst service I have ever seen from a consumer-oriented company. My morning train — the one I take to work at the same time every morning — has never ever been on time. Ever. A SEPTA representative, who was handing out some public relations material one morning at the train station near my house, told me that "railroad standard" allows trains to be within six minutes of the scheduled time and still be considered "on time." I scrunched up my face and replied, "First - the standard is determined by the industry itself? Then why bother to make a precise schedule if the listed times are, in reality by your own admission, approximate times. Second - if the medical profession worked that way, a doctor could remove your kidney, but, since it's within the area of the appendix, it's still considered a successful procedure." The SEPTA guy laughed, shrugged his shoulders and handed me a pamphlet.

The staff on the trains are pretty rude also. They rarely announce upcoming stations. They snap at commuters with questions. They are the furthest thing from courteous. And they never apologize for the train being late, or crowded, or hot (in summer, when the air conditioning fails), or cold (in winter when the heat fails). My feeling is: they are already at work. What do they care if you're late for work.

So, with poor service, late trains and rude employees, SEPTA feels totally justified in raising fares and not doing a thing to improve themselves.

Yesterday was the clincher. I boarded my train at the train station near my suburban Philadelphia home. It was late, as usual. I found a seat in the last car and sat down. Something on the seat across the aisle caught my peripheral vision. I turned my head and saw a rather large key resting in the center of a seat meant to accommodate three passengers (a "three-seater," as we regular commuters call them). I instantly recognized the key as one used by train conductors to open and close the train doors, as well as operate other functions aboard the train. From my observations, it is an integral piece of equipment in a train conductor's arsenal and one that should be kept close at all times. By this one was alone on a empty seat in a train car conspicuously devoid of all SEPTA personnel. I immediate pulled my phone from my pocket to snap a picture and display it on Instagram for all the world to see. (I regularly chronicle SEPTA's and SEPTA rider's infractions on Instagram, mostly blatant violations of the "Dude, It's Rude" campaign that attempts — and fails — to discourage people from putting their bags, backpacks or briefcases on the empty seat next to them, while offering a gentle reminder that seats are for paying customers.) I quickly focused and got the shot, frantically tapping out a smart-ass caption to accompany the image. I chose to go with: "Is that the key to the entire SEPTA Regional Rail System just, absentmindedly, left on a seat? Ahh, SEPTA, it's a good thing you don't guard our nuclear weapons." Because my social media accounts are linked, my message appeared on Twitter, as well.

Well, SEPTA's social media account (for reasons only known to them) follows my Twitter account (@joshpincus for those of you who dare). Almost immediately, I was contacted via Twitter by one "KW" who was monitoring the SEPTA Twitter this particular morning. This was our exchange:

This little conversation shows SEPTA's sheer laziness and complete lack of customer service. Sure they are confined to 140 characters per message, but they didn't come close to the limit. They barked questions are me, a customer, as though I were responsible for their error. "What train? What car number?" Not a "please" or an "excuse me" or a "would you mind." The train number and car number are two pieces of information that are not easily ascertained by the general public. These numbers are usually posted on the lighted informational boards at the train stations (My station does not have one of these boards.) or on the SEPTA smartphone app. Train numbers are never used by commuters and are the source of confusion when SEPTA uses them in updated schedule and train arrival announcements. My admittedly rude reply ("I don't work for SEPTA") was still met with a pressing and impolite demand for these obscure identifiers. I finally conceded and pulled up the app on my phone to find which train number I was currently riding on.

The train pulled into Suburban Station, my destination for work. I rose to exit the train. A spotted a guy sitting in the seat when I had seen the key. He gathered his belongings (which were disobediently occupying the space next to him) and, in one motion, scooped up the key with his stuff. He palmed the key like a seasoned magician and scooted out into the train aisle just ahead of me. He left the train. He did not appear to be seeking out a SEPTA employee.

Will this guy be opening and closing the doors on tomorrow's commute? I don't know. Will he be making any unscheduled stops based on a whim? I don't know. Will that key be dangling from a chain, RUN-DMC style, the next time I see him on the train? Perhaps.

Do I really care? I do not.

1 comment:

  1. Courtesy is getting rarer and rarer, but then you could've given the key to the driver who is probably in trouble now. Tsk, tsk.