CTA responds to post on communications problems during outages
A week ago, I posted an open letter I sent to the CTA chairwoman and president about "Some lessons to be learned on employee, customer communications during service outages." On Saturday, I received a reply from Terry Levin, the CTA's vice president for customer service. It follows:
Dear Mr. O'Neil:
Just speaking for myself, I can assure you that your concern is being taken very seriously. In fact, President Kruesi made direct and forceful reference to your letter and the comments on your Web site at last week's meeting of his top staff.
The basic feeling at the CTA on this issue is the same as I've seen reflected those posts and in the communications we have received directly from our customers: that the announcements have improved in recent weeks as both Ms. Brown and Mr. Kruesi have made it a top priority, but also that there is still significant room for improvement. You can be assured that everyone here is working on those improvements.
One of the challenges the CTA faces in making announcements is that it can often take some time for us to determine if a delay will be relatively brief or not. One example is when a customer falls ill on a train and paramedics need to be summoned, which happens regularly (but happily not frequently). The response time of the ambulance cannot be predicted in advance and we do not know until the emergency crew arrives if they will immediately remove the stricken person from the train or will decide they must begin medical treatment on the spot, prior to moving the victim. The latter means a significantly longer delay.
It is a similar situation when there is a mechanical problem on a train. Nine times out of 10, it is a minor glitch that the train operator can fix within a couple of minutes. It is only when those efforts fail that we know a situation exists where the delay could be longer and, by that time, it obviously is already in progress.
Another example, very recent, is a situation yesterday (Friday) when a person was on the tracks of the Blue Line's Cermak branch at California. This type of emergency happens all too often on the rail system and requires that we turn off the power until we know no one risks electrocution. In the vast majority of cases, the situation is resolved in very short order when the person is arrested or has run away--too short a time for most people to change their travel plans or for us to need a bus shuttle around the closed section of tracks. Friday, however, developed into a stand-off that lasted much longer than usual and required a major response. It did, however, take time to evolve into that situation.
All of these examples are designed only to describe how it sometimes is not possible to estimate the nature or duration of a delay until we are some minutes into it. None of these examples are meant to imply that there is any reason we cannot make meaningful announcements to keep our customers as informed as possible.
I have not encountered anyone at the CTA--from the very top to the rank-and-file workers--who is satisfied with the current situation and does not believe it can and should be improved. You can be very confident that strong efforts are under way to implement significantly better announcements when rail service is interrupted.
One thing that would be enormously helpful to us would be if your readers let us know about any specific situations in the future where they are not satisfied with the announcements. For those on the trains, it would advance our efforts greatly if they took note of the run number or car number so that we could pinpoint the exact train where the announcements were not satisfactory.
At a rail station, the badge number of any CTA employee would be very helpful. Part of the initiative to improve announcements must be to identify any employee who is not performing his or her duty as instructed. Knowing the exact time of day also would allow us to understand what was known and not known at that moment about the cause of a delay.
In the meantime, we appreciate you voicing your concern, which we very much share.