Posts Tagged ‘ public transport ’

The #FreeAnnie campaign [VICTORY]

At the end of last month you might recall that I began the #FreeAnnie campaign. If you didn’t catch the post or if the details are a bit HB-pencil sketchy in your mind, you can find it here.

In the immortal words of Professor Farnsworth, “Who likes good news? Everyone? Then: ‘Good news, everyone’.

Annie sent me this message yesterday:

Haughty-Haught-Haught… Can I take a moment to thank you for your help? I’ve just received official notice that the robots who issued my infringement notice have been reprogrammed, rebooted and have come to their senses… (Or, at very least, the higher ups were not appreciating the #FreeAnnie campaign/ my incessant letters).

My infringement notice has been officially re-reviewed and Metro Trains’ plans for world domination (one $180 fine at a time) have been derailed!

Yep, #FreeAnnie led to free Annie. Well, that’s what I’m claiming.

So if you read and ‘liked’ the post, and particularly if you passed it on, used the #FreeAnnie hashtag on Twitter (@Jay3199 – magnificent!), talked about it with friends, gave a dirty look to a ticket inspector post-#FreeAnnie, or sent me any kind of correspondence re: the campaign, consider yourself a successful public transport activist.

There’s only one downside to Annie’s emancipation: the following email will never get put to practical use:

Dear Department of Transport,

In May, a commuter by the name of Annie [surname redacted] was booked by a Metro Trains Authorised Officer after she was unable to produce a valid ticket within an arbitrary period of time. Shortly after the ticket inspectors had left the carriage, Annie’s Metcard fell out of the book she was reading.

She wrote to you, detailing exactly what had happened and requesting that the $180 fare evasion fine be quashed. Instead of responding with the reasons why this was, or was not, possible, you chose to write her a letter listing the stock standard excuses fare evaders give you when hoping to have their fines overturned. It was like a David Letterman top 10, but with even more world-weariness and more than a small touch of the snide about it.

To me, this kind of response is incomprehensible, full stop. But when you add the fact that not one of the excuses had the vaguest relevance to Annie’s case, your effort goes from budgie-attacking-its-own-reflection silly to young-people-shrieking-for-no-apparent-reason-in-an-ad-for-bourbon farcical.

Imagine if all legal systems ran on the basis that the guilt of the accused should be determined by how fed up the accuser is with the defences offered by those previously accused of the same crime or misdemeanour.

Imagine if everyday life worked that way!

Think about what would happen if this strange new convention you seem to have created could be applied by those who use your rail network.

Dear Department of Transport,

Thank you for your questions regarding my non-payment of fares. 

You can probably understand that, as a commuter, I receive hundreds of excuses from Metro Trains and the Department of Transport every week. These include:

  • There was a signal fault
  • There was an ill passenger
  • There was a defective train
  • There was congestion at Flinders Street
  • One of the doors won’t open
  • One of the doors won’t close
  • Something about an overhead power line
  • One word: vandals
  • Melbourne is too small to make regular trains viable
  • There are too many new customers
  • There’s been a lack of investment (from both sides of politics)
  • We need more rolling stock
  • We need more stock that is propelled by electricity, in addition to having the capacity to roll
  • Overcrowding is slowing down trains
  • It was a very wet day
  • It was a very dry day
  • It was a very hot day
  • It was a very cold day
  • It was a mild day, but passengers were doing myki wrong
  • The system would run better without passengers
  • The system would run better without trains
  • The system would run better without the system
  • We were busy
  • We’re still getting the hang of this electrification of the network thing
  • We got distracted
  • It’s mostly your fault
  • The moon went behind a cloud
  • There was a gunman at the station
  • The dog ate our blueprint for improvement
  • Our performance statistics tell a different story
  • We thought we saw a wolf hiding in a bush and we got scared
  • Pardon our progress
  • One word: unions
  • There was a problem with the swirler thing that regulates the big machine that makes a noise like this: “brip brip”
  • Someone put an advertisement over the driver’s window and the train effectively became blind (on the plus side, we added to our monthly profit)
  • The on-board sundial was off kilter
  • Camels replaced trains at Clifton Hill and one of the camels bit some people
  • We’re moving backwards, but don’t worry, we wrote a poem about moving forwards
  • Research tells us people like sitting in the Jolimont Rail Yards for up to twenty-five minutes at a time
  • It’s the drivers’ fault
  • We thought we had enough trains, but we didn’t so we had to buy some old rattlers off a collector, who was mean and sold them to us at an exorbitant rate and now we don’t have any money left to improve the system
  • Our sextant was bent
  • A combination of factors, going forward, has meant that the system has become temporarily suboptimal across many of its key performance measures, going forward (but  we have got some good take outs from this situation and are implementing many of the learnings, going forward)
  • One word: jabberwocky
  • Our operations centre still uses computers that show chunky green text and possess 3 kilobytes of memory
  • We keep getting kerosene and paraffin mixed up
  • There are many many trains but only a few stations – you do the maths
  • A wil-o-the-whisp got into one of the engines
  • We thought we saw a wolf… again
  • Connex left the whole place in a mess
  • The Met left the whole place in a mess
  • The Indigenous people of what is now metropolitan Melbourne left the whole place in a mess
  • One word: wolves
  • Someone literally threw a spanner in the works
  • Well, hang on a second – could we at least finish our lunch?

In light of this, and having carefully read your submission, unfortunately, I cannot change my decision to ride on your trains for free at this time. 

Thank you for having me as your non-paying patron. 

Sincerely… etc


You can sniff and scoff at your customers’ “excuses” all you like, but let’s be honest, to any reasonable, fair-minded person,  “I didn’t have the correct coin change to pay for a fare that now costs $11.90” is far easier to accept than the circular logic of “Overcrowding is leading to late trains”.

Terrible things happen on your trains every single day. Passengers punch other passengers. Inebriates vomit all over seats and down aisles. Smart-alec little heroes ride between carriages screaming abuse at anyone who looks at them from inside the train. Fat slobs somehow manage to take up four seats. People barge on before anyone else has had a chance to get off. And you’re going to fine a woman because she forgot she was using her Metcard as a bookmark and not even extend her the courtesy of explaining why?

You expect as a kind of birthright an epic benefit of the doubt from Melburnians. How about giving it back once in a while?

Sincerely,

Jonathan Rivett

Or will I just send it, anyway?

Haught fact of the day:

I only made up two of those Metro/Department of Transport excuses listed above.

THE RESPONSE: My email to Metro Trains

In May I sent an email to Metro Trains. It started out as an opportunity for the Big Blue M to test their complaint response writing skills against the new public transport (and possibly the world) standard. It ended as an angry diatribe, I’ll admit. For this reason, if Metro had erred slightly on the side of conservatism in their reply, I would have given them some latitude.

They didn’t, however, err on the side of conservatism so much as put every single egg they’ve ever owned into the conservative basket:

Dear Jonathan

We thank you for your extensive critique of our running of Melbourne’s train network.

Your commentary is appreciated and we will consider your suggestions along with others, as we continue to do all we can to ensure Melburnians get the train service they all deserve in one of the world’s great cities.

We’re not there yet, Jonathan, but if you’ll pardon our progress, we’re getting there.

You have outlined a number of general observations and experiences which we are keen to address and consider a meeting would be the most appropriate forum to discuss your concerns.

Please let us know of your preferred date and time. We look forward to meeting with you.

We do ask for your patience as we seek to transform Melbourne’s railway to accommodate what we promise will be a world class service.

Yours sincerely

Angela Marotta

Customer Relations Manager

Big tick for spelling ‘Melburnians’ right. Not so keen on the “pardon our progress” line. But let’s get to the good bit: the suggestion that we meet.

Why beat around the bush? They’re going to whack me, aren’t they?

Dear Jonathan,

Thank you very much for your prompt reply. Unfortunately we may not be able to accommodate your suggested meeting time of 2.30 pm. Can we instead organise to meet at 2.30 am at the abandoned warehouse beside the Mobil Oil Terminal in Yarraville? (It’s the one closest to the river.) 

The possibility of being killed execution style  is one reason not to accept their offer.

On the opposite side of the gangster scenario ledger, I have for a long time fantasised about reenacting the Joe Pesci “You think I’m funny?” scene from Goodfellas in a real-life situation:

Me: Anyway… so I’m sitting down with Sam Marshall, and we’ve both had a couple of drinks each, and he says to me, he says “I thought when I first came into the bar you actually would be wearing a white chiffon scarf.”

[The Metro Trains contingent laugh uproariously]

Young Metro Representative: [laughing, wiping a tear from his eye] You’re funny. You’re really funny.

Me: What do you mean I’m funny?

YMR: It’s funny. You know. That was a funny story. We love your blog. It’s funny. You’re a funny guy. [laughing forcedly]

Me: What do you mean? The way I talk? What?

YMR: It’s just, you know. You’re just funny, it’s… funny… the way you told that story and everything.

[everyone has stopped laughing]

Me: Funny how? What’s funny about it?

Older Metro Representative: Jonnie, no. You’ve got it all wrong.

Me: Hoh – whoa. He’s a big boy. He knows what he said. What did you say? Funny how? You mean…  let me understand this, because, you know, maybe it’s me… I’m a little fucked up maybe, but… I’m funny how? I mean funny like I’m a clown? I amuse you? I make you laugh? I write my blog to fuckin’ amuse you? What do you mean funny? Funny how? How am I funny?

YMR: Just… you know, how you tell the story, you know… What?

Me:  No, no, I don’t know. You said it! How do I know? You said I’m funny. [running out of breath] How the fuck am I funny? What the fuck is so funny about me? Tell me. Tell me what’s funny!

Unlike Tommy DeVito, I probably wouldn’t ever admit I was joking, though.

Seriously though, they must think I’m funny. So funny that I have some kind of disproportionate societal influence, enough to warrant a formal brainwashing session.  And that’s what it will be – surely.

The alternative would be addressing, point-by-point, my email criticisms:

Metro Representative: “…OK – so if you’re happy with that explanation of why our staff member spent 90 seconds blasting the contents of his bronchial tubes into an empty coffee cup in preference to doing his job, we can move on to the possibility of having a fully-platinum train in operation before 2017…”

What on earth could they possibly tell me in person that they can’t tell me via email? “Going forward” is just as hollow out of a person’s mouth as it is on paper.

Maybe this is where I need to get creative:

Dear Angela,

Thank you very much for the invitation to meet in person. Do you mind if I bring along a couple of people I know who are just as disappointed with your service as I am? If that’s sounds fair to you, are you aware of any venues in Melbourne that seat 4 million people?

or

Dear Angela,

Yes, a meeting is undoubtedly the best way to discuss my numerous concerns. And by meeting I mean a televised debate simulcast across every single TV station in Australia, including the ABC and SBS, and all the digital ones, except that one that shows people having their fortunes told. 

or

Dear Angela,

I would very much like to meet to discuss my criticisms. Although perhaps “discuss” is the wrong word. How would you feel about addressing my concerns as part of a stage musical with your CEO as the leading lady? It doesn’t have to be original

“Trains were on time when old hacks were retired
When inspectors were kind
And our carriages  inviting
Trains were on time when profits weren’t required
And the world was a ride
And the ride was exciting
Trains were on time
Then it all went wrong

We dreamed a dream of trains on time.
When hope was high
And life worth living
We dreamed of stations in the sky
We dreamed of punters more forgiving…”

or

Dear Angela,

A meeting sounds like a fine idea. Can we do it like the Sooty Show where if I don’t like one of your explanations I squirt you in the face with a water pistol or dramatically slam my face into a full bowl of cereal, spraying you with milk? 

But let’s be honest, I’m not going to meet with them. What would be the point? What new information will I get? Are they withholding important  information from the public which they only release to smart-alec bloggers? And if (hilariously) they are – is it going to be honest and insightful stuff? Is it going to answer not only my mostly flippant questions, but also the serious questions raised by people who know the system inside out, including Metro’s own drivers (some of whom are making astonishing claims about the dishonest practices and policies carried out by their employers)?

But my main concern – my main concern by far – is that if I organised a time to meet, I would then need to catch a train to get to that meeting. And the last thing I’d want to do is turn up late to such an important appointment.

Haught Feelings would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused.

The #FreeAnnie campaign

If you think the way Melbourne’s train system operates has to change, get involved in the #FreeAnnie campaign.

Haught fact of the day:

According to IMBD, the “You think I’m funny?” scene from Goodfellas came out of a real life experience Joe Pesci had had when he was much younger. The director, Martin Scorsese, allowed Pesci and Ray Liotta to improvise the scene without telling the numerous other actors involved what would happen.

The #FreeAnnie campaign

As The Age reported this week Metro Trains has, over the last year, gone into a fine dispensing frenzy.

One of the people they’ve nabbed during this period of sustained blame-shifting and misdirection is a Haught reader by the name of Annie.

Last week she wrote to me about her recent experience on a Metro train and her subsequent correspondence with the Department of Transport.

Her emails were charming, vivid and compelling. (They also included brazen raunch; during one paragraph I fainted.)

It seems that some overzealous Metro Trains Authorised Officers, followed by the Department of Transport, have got the delightful Annie mixed up with a  fare-evading black squiggle non-entity, as represented in this advertising campaign.

From her emails alone I can tell that Annie is not a scribble-based
organism. And if she is, she’s probably a vibrantly coloured one. Annie, told me in her emails to me that “I never forget to buy a ticket because it matters to me to have a healthy transport system – and the only way Melbourne’s shitty system will improve is through use and investment by the people (fares).”

With this in mind, have a read of Annie’s case:

  • Annie is on the train minding her business, reading high-quality Australian future fiction
  • Annie is interrupted by Metro Train Authorised Officers, who ask for her ticket
  • Annie can’t immediately find her Metcard and begins to search her oversized bag
  • The Authorised Officers put a very short time limit on the search, as if they’re game show hosts and Annie is a nervous contestant
  • When the time limit has elapsed, one of the Officers says “Bzzz” and the other one gets out a pencil, licks it like they did in the old days, and starts writing an infringement notice
  • As the Officers walk away, Annie makes an apologetic, I’m-not-a-black-squiggle face at some of the scowling busy-body passengers around her, composes herself,  then reopens her book and sees the Metcard fall out from inside the jacket – but it’s too late: the Officers have moved onto the next carriage
  • Several days laterAnnie receives a $180 fine

Pretty straightforward, is it not?

You’d think if Annie simply wrote a polite email to the Department of Transport explaining what had happened and providing the ticket as proof of her innocence, common sense would prevail and the fine would be quashed.

But no.

Not only was her appeal fruitless, the response email was a catalogue of irrelevant drivel. Rather than explaining to Annie why the fine would be upheld, the letter veered off onto a bewildering tangent,  listing the most common excuses the Department receives from those wishing to have their fare evasion fine overturned:

“I was running for the train”, “the queue was too long”, “I did not know it was a coin only machine”, “I was going to validate at the end of my trip”, “I forgot”, “I did not understand the zones or system”, “I only had a $20 note”.

What the Department of Transport appear to be doing is not only dismissing perfectly legitimate claims, but responding to these claims with about as much tact, professionalism and intelligence as the “Computer says no” woman from Little Britain.

Imagine if this approach to justice was conventional in the wider legal system.

Judge: “The prosecution’s case was flimsy and there is no substantial evidence to suggest that the defendant killed his mother. The defendant is obviously a model citizen and numerous people have, under oath, declared that they were with him in Melbourne at the time his mother was murdered in Brisbane. Here are some of the reasons convicted murderers have previously given this court for taking the lives of close family members: “I was acting in self defence”, “I slipped… repeatedly”, “I forgot that murder was a crime”, “I don’t know my own strength”, “I set fire to the house believing it was vacant”. I find the defendant guilty and sentence him to 35 years in prison.”

Now, I concede that I don’t know Annie personally. I concede that she may be telling fibs. I concede that she could have somehow acquired a Metcard valid in exactly the right time period and zone after being legitimately booked for fare evasion, and sent it to the Department of Transport as dodgy proof of her innocence.

That seems about as unlikely as Metro’s performance statistics, though.

Low blow? Yeah, well, here’s the problem: if Metro and the Government want to adhere to a policy of cynicism, mistrust and never giving the benefit of the doubt, they have to understand that two can play at that game.

If the best they can do when justifying individual fines is let out a great big sigh about how weary they are of bad excuses, they might want to think about tightening up their own material.

“Due to a signal fault…”, “due to an ill passenger…”, “due to congestion on the network…”, “due to a defective train…”, “due to an unprecedented surge in passenger numbers…”, “due to chronic underinvestment in the system…”

Are those ad nauseum excuses somehow less tiresome than the ones detailed in the letter Annie received?

If you can detect a little bit of hypocrisy here, and think a $180 fine for not producing a ticket hiding inside a book is excessive, start talking about it.

How good would it be if we could get #FreeAnnie trending on Twitter. How good would it be if we caused such a stir on Facebook that the Department of Transport were forced to withdraw their arrogant dismissal of her letter? How good would it be if, by sharing, commenting and discussing we made some change – however small – to the way train passengers are treated in Melbourne?

Want to give it a crack?

UPDATE:

The campaign worked!

Well, Annie has been freed and there was a campaign. And the campaign came before Annie’s fine was waived, so…

Read all about it here.

A [FAUX] RESPONSE: My email to Metro Trains

Last week I sent an email to Metro Trains.

I haven’t yet heard anything back from an official representative, but reader Veloaficionado has had an excellent stab at responding on their behalf:

Dear Mr Haught,

As a representative of Metro, I will take the opportunity to reply to your latest letter. At Metro, we pride ourselves on keeping abreast of all commentary on our performance, and although some may call this paranoid and in the vein of witch-huntery, Section G-37-B is very good at its job. The surveillance equipment they deploy is second to none, and the data encryption and database security employed is world class, deep within the reinforced concrete 3rd basement level where it is stored.

So rest assured that we are aware of your reputation and previous correspondence with other instrumentalities and businesses, and we wish to reassure you that we take your views of our performance very seriously.

However, we must take issue with absolutely everything that you say, even that we seem to employ public image management that is somewhat amateurish and implausible, or to you, it seems, laughable. We have spent a substantial amount of public money on such well-credentialed public relations advisors, who have offices in major European capitals and both the east and west coasts of the US.

We have to trim our expenses elsewhere, perforce. Only supplying paper cups to our employees for the purposes of expectoration, is, regrettably, one of these. In the “good old days”, of non-benchmarked performance, full public ownership and trains that always ran on time (with the greatest extent of track of any metropolitan transport system in the southern hemisphere in the late 1940s), even the most monosyllabic long-term employee of 25 and more years standing could look forward to a silver-chased, embossed leather personal foldable spittoon as recognition of years of arduous service standing in grey drizzle, exchanging glowers with passengers, sorry, customers.

The timetabling and punctuality issues that you refer to in your, quite frankly, spiky and provocative missive, are nothing out of the ordinary. The government makes us publish figures, and, well, we just go along with it. We keep getting paid as long as we do so, and so far, the arrangement seems to be working. What they actually mean is, well, in line with the average Australian approach to getting things done, that, it sort of works. A bit. Mostly. We try very hard to sell this to our French management team, who often fly over and drop in for a Lan-Choo and a Tim Tam, and I think that they are gradually getting their heads around it.

One thing I do take exception to in your communication, is that you appear to be a racist, of the blackest hue. Yes, many of our customer service frontline strike team are from an ESOL background, and are developing their English language skills on the job, however, you appear to be selectively applying this to certain instances. It is natural that when under threat they may retreat into their most familiar idiom, and appear to be of a sub-normal or infantile understanding, however they are perfectly suited to the tasks delegated to them. It is the customer service tasks that, repetitive as they are, are core to their reason for existence. However, even the most dedicated operatives will have lapses. It is unfortunate that you personally have seemed to happen on a relay of them having a bad day. It is also unfortunate that other passengers, sorry, customers have an identical experience at a similar time. We are working to get the customer/operative ‘bad hair day’ synchronicity ‘out of sequence’, but like a couple of dissimilar car blinker relays, they will always come back into sequence occasionally.

Apart from Singapore (which seems to be a whole society of anal-retentive obs-comp. weirdos) EVERY public transport system IN THE WHOLE WORLD has filthy toilets. It is a defining characteristic of the medium. I’m sure that you would feel uneasy in going into, for instance, the station conveniences at Narre Warren and NOT find cigarette burns on the toilet roll dispensers, and semen stains from mistimed and poorly aimed attempts at copulation or auto-erotic satisfaction. So just back off on the shit stains issue, OK? If in fact you did make mention of it. But if you didn’t, don’t. OK? Right. Remember, we know where you live, and we’re still enough part of the government (just) that we can have our contacts at the State Law and Order Unit come and pay you a visit at 4 in the morning. They won’t knock, and you may have to call a locksmith and a glazier afterwards, Don’t say you weren’t warned.

On a lighter note, we are happy to announce that we are “gettin’ down with da homies”, to coin a phrase, and have introduced an “app” for the new “smart-phones” to tell people where to go, and how to get there, using “public transport”. It seems to have provoked much discussion, and has raised the profile of our ‘brand’ enormously. People are still getting where they need to go, so it must be working.

An initiative we are working on is introducing the “smiles per hour” ratings for our stations and trains. A pink smiley face sign will be telling you that people smile at each other where we operate, and that this is the best, surest and even the only way to get through the privations, tribulations, vicissitudes and upheavals that is a natural correlative of traveling with other people that you have not chosen to travel with. We carry everyone, and all their phobias and inadequacies, including your own lack of forbearance and good humour, if you will permit me to say, and scrubbing vomit off 30 year carpet in Hitachi trains is not how most of our customer service associates would choose to spend their time, if they had their druthers.

So, in conclusion, sir – we know your name, we know your reputation, and we will be watching you very closely from now on. We are always open to suggestions as to how we can improve our service and product to the consumer. We have a comprehensive and compendious catalogue of suggestions, and we can cross-match every new whinge and whine with those previous going back to the 1970s. We are well aware of every problem inherited from the previous administration of the transport system in this city, and the cesspool of such, whilst not being drained, is at least being flushed through with complaints such as yours. One hopes that it is not so large, nor so misshapen, as to get stuck further on in the process of complaint management.

Yours, E. Wasserschiet

Complaints Management Division, Section G-2-B

Your Train People

This is a good time to thank everyone who’s emailed, messaged or commented on the blog (or the Facebook page), or reminded me I owe a cafe money, since I began having Haught Feelings a couple of months ago.

Keep the correspondence coming.

Haught fact of the day:

I once saw a banana drop onto the ground from the trouser leg of a man walking down Swanston Street. When he realised that several people had witnessed the event he ran away very fast. If it had been a cartoon – and it nearly was – he would have left a him-shaped cloud of dust.

My email to Metro Trains

I wrote a letter to Metro Trains.

Exciting times.

Dear Metro Trains,

My name is Jonathan Rivett. You might know me – I’m kind of a big deal.  (I have many leather-bound books, and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.)

If you’e not familiar with my work, here’s a quick summary. A couple of weeks ago I became very, very famous when I posted on my blog an email exchange between me and Yarra Trams.

I sent them my account of a tram trip my wife and I had endured during which a drunk man abused passengers in a theatrical baritone. I felt that Yarra Trams had been less than truthful with their insistence that the police had been called once this man’s antics had gone from entertaining to distressing and wanted to know the real story. It was an immensely humorous and exquisitely worded piece of correspondence.

Instead of coming back with a hollow, supermarket-bought reply email, Yarra Trams responded in kind. I posted their brilliant email on my blog. The radio station 3AW found it, then The Age got wind of it and the rest is history.

Anyway, long story short: I thought I’d give you a chance to better your bitter public transport rivals.

Now, you may be thinking: ‘What a contrivance! He’s going to make up some spurious claim just so he can demand a thoughtful reply email.’

In fact, I have a back catalogue of unsent Metro Trains complaints that, if put down on paper, scrunched into a ball and launched into space, would quickly begin orbiting the sun and become our solar system’s fourth largest planet.

The hardest part about writing this email will be choosing which of the sixty-five billion incidents I should mention.

Here are some from Flinders Street alone:

Not long ago a Metro customer service rep couldn’t help several passengers frustrated by a faulty myki barrier because he was too busy clearing phlegm from his throat – for one and a half minutes. He finally got around to dispensing his wisdom once the offending green stuff had been deposited in his cardboard coffee cup, which remained in his hand as he told the commuters that they were “doing it all wrong”.

Another time, a woman approached a platform attendant to clarify when a train was coming and, presumably because she was “of Asian appearance” (as they’d say on Crime Stoppers), got this response before she could even start the question: “No. No. Me no help. Me very busy – have many many work to do.  Thank you. Good bye.” The woman walked away and uttered a sotto voce “Bugger this” (in a bit of a Queensland twang), at which point the Metro representative turned around and warned “Mind your language, missy.”

I once witnessed one of your platform announcers become so angry when a commuter ignored their advice to “stand clear – the train is now departing” that they began to repeat the instruction into the microphone. The fourth time was loud, the fifth time was very loud and then it just got silly and people on the platform had to begin covering their ears. During the eighth “STAND CLEAR”, his voice cracked and from then on it sounded like he was doing an unsophisticated Will Ferrell impression. By the twelfth and final one (the one where I thought I saw blood come out of his ear), the person he was screaming at had long since boarded the train, which was at that point leaving the station.

These are just some of the more picturesque examples that come to mind. The problem with this email, I think, will be the lack of bowled bread loaf and Biff Pelican references for you to play off. And there’s a good reason for that – the bizarre behaviour of drunken passengers pales into complete insignificance when put side by side with your customer service.

Everyone understands that you have infrastructure problems that aren’t of your making. What few of us understand is your unfailing commitment to terrible, terrible communication and your unstinting lack of respect for the punters, the people who hand over their hard-earned to keep you afloat.

Why do customer service people stand in front of barriers at Caulfield Station during peak hour so that one or two are effectively out of use?

Why do your express trains regularly stop at all stations and vice-versa?

Why is sitting like a stale bottle of piss between the MCG and Federation Square now the most time-consuming (involuntary) pastime in Melbourne?

Why do you persist with this “It’s all the customers’ fault” mentality?

Why do you have so many of your surliest and most bitter employees in ‘customer facing’ roles?

Why do the numerous Twitter accounts pretending to be your company offer more insightful and timely information than the actual Metro account?

Why do you bother retaining the Metro Promise section on your website when every single bullet-point is farcical?

What you can expect from Metro:

  • Clean, comfortable, safe and punctual rail travel
Why not just add trains made entirely of platinum, sleepers made of unicorn horns and new stations in the sky?
  • Clear signage and increasing levels of real-time information updates
When you say “real time information updates” are you talking about when platform announcers make hilarious low-ball guesses at how late a train is going to be?
  • Proactive plans and actions to ensure your safety
Proactive actions? I don’t even know what that means.
  • We will bring stations to life, for everyone everyday
What, like in The NeverEnding Story when that mountain starts talking?
  • We actively encourage feedback, listen to customer views and act on them
Are you regretting this one yet?
  • We collaborate with other public transport operators to deliver seamless tram, bus and train service links
I’ve noticed one or two seams, I have to admit.
  • Regular sweeping and cleaning of stations and convenience facilities
Is a convenience facility another name for a dunny? If so, when you say “regular”, what are we talking – bicentennially?
  • Reconfigured train carriages to make peak travel more comfortable
Show me a person who finds peak hour train travel comfortable and I’ll show you a person with a fetish for claustrophobia.
  • We stand behind our promises.
If I were you, I’d stand behind solid things, not abstract ones, because a lot of people want to throw things at you.

As for those stats that you publish on the percentage of late trains and cancelled services – please! If you’re going to fudge figures, you either have to go the full Saddam Hussein or try for a more subtle – and potentially believable – deception; say 12% for “Punctuality” and 65% for “Delivery”. At the moment, with your 92s and 97s, you’re in no man’s land. Either make us laugh at your outrageous braggadocio or make us cock our heads and think “I guess it’s possible.”

Do your senior management group ever travel on the train during peak hour, and if they do, what in buggery do they make of the shambles that is their network? Do they laugh? Do they weep? Do they delude themselves into believing everything’s fine? Do they not really care as long as they keep getting subsidised by the government?

One thing they talk about a lot is improvement. They told us we’d notice it the moment Metro took over from Connex. When we noticed the opposite, they told us to be patient. When still no improvement came, they told us it was definitely coming. If you only answer one question in my email, it’s this: when? When can we expect to see this improvement? When are we getting the “world-class” system you promised? When can taking a train be a pleasant experience for Melburnians?

That just about brings my email to an end. And now the whole of Australia – and much of the world – waits with bated breath to see what you come back with.

If you can’t go all Sam Marshall on my arse, my advice would be to at least avoid corporate weasel words and keep the  passive voice to a minimum.

With much sincerity, some anticipation and very little  hope,

Jonathan Rivett

My feedback has successfully been submitted and my case number is 2012/80818.

Haught fact of the day:

The talking mountain in The NeverEnding Story was in fact a Rockbiter named Pyornkrachzark.
Other emails I’ve sent:
 __________________

THE RESPONSE: My email to Yarra Trams

You may have noticed by now that I believe sarcasm is the second highest form of wit (lavatory humour being the first). Today, however, I write without even the slightest hint of it.

You may remember a few weeks ago I posted an email I had sent to this mob:

If you didn’t catch it, you can read it here.

I write the emails I send to well-known people and organisations, imagining very different reception scenarios. In the case of the Jim Beam email, for instance, I imagined a chimpanzee being slightly surprised by the noise of the email chime, making a little noise of distress, then (inexpertly) pressing the delete button with his long index finger, just like he’d been taught to.

In the case of the email I once sent to Kyle Sandilands, I imagined Jackie O phonetically reading the email on a tablet computer out loud from the side of a pool in which Kyle was lolling, and giving up after the second paragraph (and the fifteenth time Kyle called her a “dumb, illiterate moll”).

In the case of the email I once sent to Margaret Court, I imagined Margaret herself hissing at the screen and then escaping into the night through the window in the form of a bat.

When I sent my email to Yarra Trams, I imagined an overworked 21 year-old on their ninety-eighth email of the day (at ten past nine in the morning) scanning my email, seeing the word ‘poo’ and bringing up the “excrement-fouled tram’ template.

I imagined wrong.

What I got was nothing short of genius. Not a template at all – a real letter written by a real person.  A talented person. A person I now want to meet and drink beer with and possibly give a little kiss to at the end of the evening (and I fully realise Sam may well be a man).

Why am I still speaking about it? It speaks for itself:

Dear Mr Rivett,

Thank you for what is, by far, the most entertainingly written feedback I have ever received. Your recount of events that occurred on the evening of 13 April 2012 was at once concerning and humorous.

While I have attempted to respond in a manner befitting the feedback we received, I do not wish to give you the impression that your observations and concerns have been disregarded or taken lightly.

When I read the first of the drunkard’s ramblings, I took his question to mean ‘Is it to be that we are engaged to be married?’ As I continued reading, I attempted to jam his square peg outbursts into my round hole understanding of his first question. I soon realised I couldn’t make any sense of it, but I feel better knowing that you were equally confused. Also, I agree that “screamed he” is perfectly acceptable under the circumstances.

Notwithstanding my concern for Mr Pelican’s disruptive behaviour, I would like to think Biff was bowling his baked goods from somewhere near the centre of a B-class tram towards either end – there is a hatch in the floor at each end just behind each of the driver’s cabins. While hitting the sides of the hatch would send the unsliced wholemeal delivery off towards point or square leg (or in real terms, and annoyingly for all parties concerned, getting lost between seats and the legs of other passengers), pitching the loaf on the front or rear edges of the hatch could certainly be regarded as landing it in a ‘good area’.

I also hope Biff Pelican’s name is not indicative of what he does in his spare time. But I digress.

Getting back to the crux of the matter, a call was indeed made by our driver to our Fleet Operations Centre (FOC), logged at approximately 6:35pm, alerting them to the behaviour being exhibited by Biff’s arch-nemesis. (Not “control room” or “HQ”, I’m afraid, but I hope this name still appeals to your Dick-Tracy-esque ideals). After attempting and failing to deter the drunkard with an announcement via the public address system, FOC contacted the police. Four times. After the fourth request to have police meet the tram, a Yarra Trams Response Unit (is that ‘Dick Tracy’ enough?) became available and was instructed to intercept the tram (ok, so Response Unit might not have hit the mark, but surely ‘intercept’ is a winner, no?). After our Response Unit arrived, our Fleet Operator received a call at 7:16pm from a Senior Sergeant of Fitzroy Police who advised that no other police were available to attend, and that as such, he was on his way himself. He arrived four minutes later at 7:20pm.

Please accept our apologies for what you and your wife experienced on our Route 86 tram. Just as your questions are based on the predication that the police could not have possibly taken so long to respond to our call for assistance (and the cause for delay must have been within Yarra Trams), our Fleet Operator also believed that police would be available to meet with the tram in a timely manner. Regrettably in this instance, there were no police officers available to attend to the tram until 7:20pm, which contributed to the negative experience of those customers onboard the first Route 86 tram.

I appreciate your good-natured approach to this incident, and I thank you again for taking the time to provide us with your wonderfully written feedback.

Spare a thought for the Yarra Trams Response Unit staff who drove the drunken man home.

Should you have any further queries or comments regarding this matter, please feel free to contact me directly via reply email, or by calling me on 9619 3311.

Kind regards,

Sam Marshall
Customer Relations Officer

I am tempted to call Sam as offered, but know I would get shy and giggly and have to hang up quickly.

I can’t believe Yarra Trams received an email that ended with “…if you could respond as entertainingly as I have complained, I would be most grateful” and didn’t put it in the “arrogant fuckwit” outbox AND had a crack at responding entertainingly AND consummately nailed it AND found a balance between humour and facts AND satisfied pretty much every one of my concerns.

Brilliant.

If Jim Beam want to know how to make something go viral they can put aside their  incomprehensible, cacophonous clusterfuck of an ad and take a leaf out of Yarra Trams’ book. Confound expectations, ignore corporate cliches, respond to cricket references with cricket references.

If you don’t recommend, refer, repost or retweet another of my posts ever in your life, do it to this one and give Yarra Trams the widespread adulation they deserve.

Haught fact of the day:

I once sent an email to Gasp Jeans’ Prahran store and within a few months it had closed down. Coincidence?

Yes.

Grape Men quote of the day:

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…”

“It’s fuckin’ April, you stupid fuck!”

“…tooooys in every store…”

“Eh, you hear this fuck?

“…but the prettiest sight to see…”

“I think he has pretty good voice, actually.”

“… is the hobby that will be…”

“Hobby? You silly fuck. It’s holly. Holly.”

“…on your oooown front door.”

“Leave the man alone. He got voice of angel.”

“But he doesn’t even know the fuckin’ words. Why would there be a hobby on your front door? It’s not even… a thing. It’s a fuckin’ abstract fuckin’ noun. And it’s fuckin’ April. AND HE’S FUCKIN’ WEARING SLIPPERS!”

“You are grump. You are grump man.”

___________________

Who are the Grape Men?

Find out here.
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My email to Yarra Trams

Earlier today I gave Yarra Trams the benefit of my feedback:

Here’s a transcript of what I wrote:

Dear Yarra Trams,

Last Friday my wife and I decided to take the 86 tram (citybound) to a party in Gertude Street.

My wife calls the 86 a “colourful” tram and, insofar as this is a euphemism for any or all of “a little bit weird”, “often wet of floor”, “generally carrying at least one commuter who surreptitiously masturbates in transit”, etc, etc, she is right. We know what to expect when we hop on the 86 and, compared to taking a Metro train, the 86 is usually a pleasure – the occasional progress from one stop to the next alone is a hugely appealing differentiator.

On Friday night, though, we experienced something that even we (tolerant of the usual poo smells, early morning alcohol consumption of other passengers, and barnyard animals) found confronting.

We got on in Preston and immediately got our first “bit of 86”. A man of about 50, apparently drunk, confronted a person and asked theatrically “IS IT TO BE THAT WE ARE ENGAGED!?”

Do you know what this means? I don’t, but when it’s delivered like a line from quite a good production of King Lear, as it was in this instance, it’s strangely compelling. (By the way, I hope I’m not boring you with apparently minor details, but I know you probably get quite a few of these kind of complaint letters and most will be boring and some will lack the requisite level of explanation, and I wanted to make sure this one is neither mundane nor insubstantial.)

Anyway, the man’s target didn’t respond and he went on to the next person: “DO YOU ENGAGE!?”

Again, no response. This time he followed with “AN ANSWER IS REQUIRED!”

He was being quite aggressive in his manner, even if his language and delivery remained quasi-Shakespearean.

Still no response. Now the tram stopped, the doors opened and a man came on with his partner. “DO YOU ENGAGE?! WITH THE WORLD!? DO YOU?!” he screamed in the man’s face.

“Yes. Constantly,” replied the man, finding a seat and sitting down beside his partner.

This is what the inebriate seemed to be seeking and he sat down opposite the man. “AN ANSWER IS REQUIRED!” screamed he (“screamed he” seems more appropriate than “he screamed” in this case).

“Well, I’m afraid I have answered,” replied the gentleman with scrupulous courtesy.  It wasn’t matched by a young fellow a few seats down who yelled “Leave the bloke alone, you idiot!”

This did it. The drunk swung around in his seat and hollered “SHUT UP! SHUT THE FUCK UP!” Still – and you have to give the man credit for this – he managed to sound like Christopher Lee playing a particularly unhinged villain.

He returned his attention to the polite gentleman and said, “You MUST engage!”

The gentleman said he didn’t appreciate being yelled at. There was a brief pause before the drunk leaned forward and began screaming abuse into the gentleman’s partner’s face. She seemed disgusted and the gentleman demanded the drunk stop.

He yelled a few more baritone expletives then found another victim: “ENGAGEMENT IS A MANDATED REQUIREMENT! THERE MUST BE ENGAGEMENT!”

This, plus louder and louder “FUCK OFF!”s went on and on down High Street.

At one point an 86 regular who we know as Biff Pelican (because that’s what he once introduced himself as), boarded the train carrying a half-finished bottle of fruity lexia and wearing the expression of a man not entirely sure where he was, what he was doing there or why his trousers were sodden. (He was also wearing what looked like carbonara sauce, and a few pieces of penne pasta in his beard, if that helps.) Within seconds of sitting down, he was face to face with the angry tram bully. Usually it is Biff Pelican making preposterous announcements to commuters and asking questions with no sensible answer (once I saw him bowl a loaf of bread down the aisle like a cricket ball and yell “Good area, Biff!” after it hit a woman hard in the leg), but he was out of his league here. It was like that horror movie sequel which starts with the giant sea monster from the first film being devoured whole by a sea monster twice its size. Biff was off at the very next stop.

After more appalling behaviour from the drunk, there was an intervention. A message over the tram’s PA, coming from Yarra Trams’ control room (or whatever you call it – I hope it’s “control room” or “HQ”) directed at the man, told him that he needed to settle down or risk arrest. He ignored it and a second announcement made it clear that the tram would be stopping at Clifton Hill where police would be waiting.

This was a relief to us, and I imagine to all of the suffering passengers. But only for a moment. Clifton Hill seemed suddenly to be several thousand kilometres away. Every pause at traffic lights or a stop seemed to go on endlessly and, all the while, the drunk man’s cacophonous nonsensical pronouncements and insults continued.

Several people couldn’t put up with it and clearly got off well before they were supposed to. At one stage the drunk followed a man around the tram for ten minutes demanding he “engage” with him. He was frequently threatening and there was a sense that at any moment he might become violent.

Finally we arrived at Clifton Hill. The tram stopped, the doors opened and… nothing happened. There were no police. We waited. The man continued his dramatic performance, always seemingly on the precipice of blowing a vital internal valve.

We waited for what must have been half an hour for the promised police. When we eventually saw them, it was far too late. In fact we weren’t even in the tram – or at Clifton Hill for that matter. The driver had asked everyone to disembark and board the tram behind us. Most (the ones who hadn’t got a taxi or a bus) had followed these instructions, but the drunk and a group of teenage boys remained (the boys put the man at the centre of a juvenile game, in which they played the macho heroes – “You wanna say that to our face, man?” – until the bloke got close to them and threatened them at which point they squealed like Justin Bieber fans and ran, arms flapping, to the other end of the tram. They then resumed the macho show, then squealed, went macho, squealed, went macho and so on). With the little smart alecs riling the nutcase, the tram continued on, the driver having said he hoped the police would “catch up”.

The police arrived AFTER we’d been informed over the PA (of the second tram) that the drunk had finally got off the tram in front and was no longer a danger.

Why?

Why did you say the police had been called when clearly they hadn’t? Why did the driver tell us the Yarra Trams HQ were “having trouble getting through”? (Having trouble getting through to the police? What – for 45 minutes?) Why did we see a car with Yarra Trams livery before we saw a police car? Why did we wait around like a stale bottle of piss hoping something might happen at Clifton Hill if the police hadn’t been contacted? Why was a man capable of intimidating the magisterial Biff Pelican allowed to roam around on a tram roaring threats and abuse at passengers for an hour or more?

By bringing up these questions with your inaction, you’ve demonstrated ineptitude of the Metro Trains variety. Sorry, I know that’s the worst insult a public transport organisation can have thrown at them, but it’s true.

I look forward to hearing your explanation – and if you could respond as entertainingly as I have complained, I would be most grateful.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Rivett

I’ll let you know when I get a response.

Update:

Read Yarra Trams’ scintillating reply.

Haught fact of the day:

The myki ticketing system was recently voted The Biggest Piece of Shit in the History of Civilisation by every single newspaper of record and ratings agency in the world. And the United Nations. And the International Monetary Fund and the World Health Organization. And the Country Women’s Association. And every single university in the world.

And NASA.

And the Red Cross.

Grape Men quote of the day:

“You… you hard all you life, you know.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean, mate.”

“You work hard. Many hard. Many hard. But… you… don’t… you know… necessary… get what… what… ”

“You don’t get the respect.”

“That’s it. That’s it, mate. You don’t get the fuck respect you fuck deserve.”

“It’s bullshit, mate. I know. I know that all too well, mate.”

“It’s fuck horsehit.”

“It is. It is. You’re right. You’re right, mate. Aaaanyway. Let’s try to start this bloody lawnmower.”

“OK. But first I do fart and I do piss on Enzo’s car.”

___________________

Who are the Grape Men?

Find out here.
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Other emails I’ve sent: