Interfaces between transit agencies and riders can often be brutal, particularly when the line of communication centers on the latter’s inability to understand why the agency does what it does. A typical customer complaint, for example, might plead for more buses during the afternoon commute and question why resources might not be diverted from those “empty buses I see running around the suburbs.” The agency is left to decide how much the customer needs to know about things like subarea equity, and thus must standardize an “information threshold” in customer relations policy.
Sometimes, there are very planning-oriented questions that arise– why isn’t destination X served, why not run along Y street, etc. Jarrett Walker has a decent example of this from a query in Bellingham, asking why WTA doesn’t serve the airport. In short, WTA responds with a very courteous and very informative e-mail which weighs the pros and cons of airport service and how the agency’s thinking is determined.
As Jarrett notes, you can’t really do this with a massive agency like Metro, with the amount of queries they get on a daily basis. As a result, it’s very difficult to get a personalized response with anything more than a nod of acknowledgement that the query was received and action was taken. A really good suggestion to combat this kind of a quandry is perhaps employing an FAQ or customer portal of sorts that streamlines common questions/complaints with genuine responses fit for a layman’s understanding.
The irony of it all is that the information is already there, albeit in the form of high-level planning and political documents that must first be unearthed from a labyrinth of a website, and then dissected. Naturally, this doesn’t have to be the case. As is with frequency maps, the task here is simply to take existing information and make it clear, concise, and understandable for the riding public.
Fortunately, a lot of this is already happening, even if it’s because of terrible circumstances. As Martin pointed out this morning, Pierce Transit’s website for Prop. 1 really is outstanding for its clarity and user-friendliness. Metro, as well, has been catching on with a cleaner interface and website for upcoming service proposals. Still, even when streamlined, many customers won’t bother sifting through that amount of information, especially with a complicated website architecture. Information for Metro’s past and current service changes, for example, are in completely different places.
Regardless what issues customers may bring up, the very fact that they have to submit an inquiry means that the information they’re looking either 1) isn’t there, or 2) is difficult to find. If these two issues can be remedied, there is much labor and grief that can be spared from dealing with the public.