Monday, February 13, 2012

New NJ Transit Customer Satisfaction Survey Leaves Customers Wanting

NJ Transit has been pledging to improve customer service, but this new-found attention to customer service is mostly lip service as the survey results indicate. Overall satisfaction dropped from 5.3 to 5.1 for 2Q 2012 (which is the final quarter of 2011 (we're talking fiscal years here).

That's not good by any stretch. There weren't any major weather events that could mar the commutes to speak of. Nearly every indicator that NJ Transit wants to focus on dropped from the prior survey.

For rail users, on-time performance dropped off, announcements still stink, and value is lacking.

How is NJ Transit responding to the survey results:
Customers identified fares and on-time performance as the most significant areas NJ TRANSIT needs to improve, across all modes. To address these concerns, Executive Director Jim Weinstein has committed that there will be no fare increase during the fiscal year 2012.

All NJ TRANSIT modes are operating over 90% on-time. During the 2nd quarter NJ TRANSIT Rail exceeded the published goal, operating on-time at nearly 95%, and on December 25 achieved 100% on-time performance across the entire system. Efforts by Rail Operations to overhaul the ALP-46 locomotives and employing an innovative Condition Based Maintenance program for all diesel locomotives have led to fewer service delays and improved on-time performance in the second quarter of fiscal year 2012.

Another area identified importance is improving customer communications - a key factor in making NJ TRANSIT an even more attractive and convenient travel option. With the rise of social media providing people with instant access to news, often at the very moment it is unfolding, our customers themselves are often the source of breaking NJ TRANSIT news, particularly when it comes to delays and service disruptions. To improve and expand the Corporation's communication, NJ TRANSIT has launched a social media platform whereby customers can get access to information via Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. By fully tapping into the ever growing world of social media NJ TRANSIT will be better equipped to meet our customers' expectations, enhance their overall experience and improve communications, particularly during service disruptions.

The official NJ TRANSIT Facebook page will be used to announce NJ TRANSIT events, promote marketing campaigns and help drive discussions among customers.
A Twitter profile - @NJ_TRANSIT - will serve as the official social media "face" of the agency. Unlike the automatic Twitter feeds that are generated via My Transit alerts, this profile will actually be operated and monitored by staff, enabling NJ TRANSIT to jump right into the discussion as it happens.
The Twitter page is a start and Facebook is somewhat useful, but when fellow users are sending Twitter messages to alert of delays faster than NJ Transit, then there's a communications gap somewhere in NJ Transit communications.

While riders may feel a little more secure in their pocketbooks that fares aren't going to rise in FY 2012, it's still quite troubling that NJ Transit believes that so many of its trains and buses are on time when riders know that the outcome of their commutes isn't an on-time commute. Part of the problem stems from how the agency computes on-time performance, which differs from when riders actually get on and off trains.

A train can sit in the Hoboken yard waiting for a track to open to disembark for several minutes, but it still counts as on-time as long as it is in the yard. Yet, the few minute difference can mean missed connections and countless lost hours of time over the course of a quarter for commuters.

On further reflection, I think that some of the dissatisfaction with the rail service, particularly on the Bergen/Main/Port Jervis Line may be attributed to the poor response following the double whammy of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, which caused significant disruptions to service. Service was finally restored in November, but there was significant overcrowding during the portion of the quarter when the survey was being conducted. That could certainly play a role in the low response, but that line represents only a fraction of service across all of NJ Transit operations, so the issues are systemic in nature.


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