Metra Not Customer Friendly

From the front page of the Chicago Tribune April 26, 2010.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the RTA’s Metra commuter trains to and from Chicago are featured in a critical article on the front page of the Tribune today.

The beef is that riders can’t access the internet on the train.

It reminds me of the first thing the Regional Transportation Authority did when it took over the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad’s trains.

Under Northwestern operation, there was water available on the trains. One would take a little paper cup, push a button and out came drinkable water.

The first noticeable change under RTA management in the late 1970’s was the covering of the water dispensing part of the commuter cars with a stainless steel panel.

A real loss for those who commuted over an hour. Think McHenry County, where the fastest train to Crystal Lake was about an hour.

So, RTA’s commuter service started out ignoring customer wishes. Riders number 150,000 a day now.

Metra commuter cars at grade crossing next to the Downtown Crystal Lake train station.

Last year, Metra, created in the early 1980’s to give suburban politicians their own patronage haven, had to be hounded into the late 1900’s on the use of credit cards.  It took a bill sponsored by State Rep. Michael Bond (D-Grayslake).

Want a ticket, have cash. Or a check in some instances, like for monthly passes.

Now, it appears the Tribune is about to start another campaign to improve customer service on the trains. It seeks Wi-Fi.

Simplistically, one might ascribe the three failures in meeting customer needs to the monopoly nature of the rail service. But, the Chicago and Northwestern had a monopoly and still provided water for riders.

And other commuter lines in the USA have managed to figure out how to allow customers to access the internet. Santa Fe, New York, Boston, Silicon Valley’s run between San Jose and Stockton, even Amtrak on the East Coast, manage to provide internet service.

The Tribune article notes that Metra’s response is basically “providing wireless internet is too expensive and technologically challenging.”

Probably none of McHenry County Blog’s readers are old enough to remember when railroads were THE high tech part of the American economy.

Metra’s advice to those who want train internet service is to buy through their cell phone providers. The Tribune says the cost is $20-60 a month.

Metra could, of course, provide the service and charge for it.

Rep. Bond is sponsoring another bill to require it, the Tribune says.  Something about bringing Metra into the 21st Century.

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