Posts Tagged ‘ trains ’

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.

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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:
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