TagDon Orseno

What if Metra employees were late to work as often as Metra passengers?

trainmageddon

A malfunctioning Metra Electric train in January. Photo by Eric Rogers.

It was a big deal to news media this morning when new Metra CEO Don Orseno reported at an Illinois House mass transit committee hearing that the commuter-focused rail system experienced a 30% on-time rating in January, when the “polar vortex” hit. (Apparently polar vortex is not an event that happens to a place, but is the name of a climate pattern that’s always there hovering above Canada and occasionally dips down over the United States.)

Most Metra passengers are commuters, going to work. A hair over 300,000 travel each weekday; service is drastically lowered on weekends and holidays, offering less than half the service of weekdays.

What if the organization of Metra, including all 2,500 employees in addition to the contracted railroad workers (let’s say 3,000 people), showed up to work with the same performance rating that their passengers experience?

First, Orseno – a career railroader who drives to work from Manhattan where a train comes leaves three times each day – would miss 11 work days of work each year (of 260 work days), based on their overall 95.8% on-time rating in 2012. Some routes are worse and others better. But collectively 3,000 people would miss 32,760 work days each year. That’s a lot of missed work.

Put another way, everybody – all 3,000 of them – is going to show up 20.16 minutes late to work because they’re missing 87.36 hours each year (of 2,080 hours they’re supposed to work and being 4.2% hours late). But again, I have no idea who’s working 8 hours and who’s working longer. (One of the problems Metra had during #Chiberia is that many workers hit the federally mandated limit and there weren’t always workers to take their place.)

Thankfully the Chicago Transit Authority, Pace, and ever-expanding highways and tollways are available to pick up the slack in Chicagoland’s transportation supply.

Another thing, this post is full of averages of averages, so it’s really imprecise. Today, Metra was reporting delays on a single train run of 16-100 minutes – a pretty broad estimate, but another train had a possible delay of 26-110 minutes. During the worst storm Metra experienced on January 5th and 6th, some train runs dumped passengers on platforms in subzero temperature.

Orseno reported today at the committee hearing that a “I don’t want to say middle-level” manager at Union Pacific made the call to dump the passengers. This has been “corrected” by only allowing a senior level staffer at Union Pacific make this call. Metra, which doesn’t have any performance-related incentives in its contracts with the freight railroads, apparently cannot stop this decision.

I’m waiting for the day when Metra is run like a transit system and not a railroad.

Note: I excluded vacation days because, well, no law requires organizations to offer paid or unpaid vacation days and there are probably several tiers of vacation-giving at Metra that I don’t know about.

Can you rely on Metra after hearing a story like this?

Tweet shows a different Metra line but is representative of experiences since #Chiberia began in January. 

My friend Shaun relayed this story to me about his coworker who rides Metra’s BNSF line from the Aurora/Naperville area, the commuter train in Chicagoland that carries over 300,000 people each weekday but fractions on weekends (because it rarely runs).

The train he was about to board Wednesday morning with several other people arrived and when the doors opened only one of the two sliding doors opened. The other one was stuck shut. So he “touched” it to get it to open up and the conductor yelled at him.

The conductor said “we’ve told you several times to not do that!” seemingly referring to other people who had done so, not my coworker himself. The conductor told him a guy at the last stop did that and it “broke the door.” (sounds like it already was!])

The conductor told him it would be a $500 fine if it happened again. At that point my coworker said he just shut up. When my boss tried to get on the train the conductor told him he wasn’t allowed to board! There was apparently plenty of room to get on so this was at the “conductor’s discretion.” Coworker had to wait 20 min for the next train [in single digit temperatures, no less], missed a meeting, etc…

Just completely shocked me that they wouldn’t let him on the train for pushing the door open (no sign, conductor wasn’t at the broken door to tell people not to touch it, etc.).

This started a conversation about our perceptions of Metra.

Steven: “It’s right that the new Metra CEO [Don Orseno]* wants to work on communication, but I think he needs to emphasize customer service overall.”

Shaun: “In Ogilvie Transportation Center tonight, same announcement played: ‘some trains are delayed. We will continue to update you.’

Every few minutes — no actual information. Lot of work to do I’m guessing. Wonder how many Metra people in charge ride their trains.”

Steven: “I rarely ride Metra for ‘important’ reasons (like going to work or for meetings). The last time was on the Electric to a meeting in South Shore in October.

Every time I ride I feel that the lumbering of the trains as they exit the stations (switching tracks, they sway side to side) is analogous to how Metra operates: ‘move in a slow, heavy, awkward way’.”

Shaun: “It reminds me of a novelty train ride. Like at an amusement park.

I only take it from work to home. To work is too risky. CTA is consistent (lately actually, Red Line at morning rush is so frequent I don’t even check the arrival times while walking to the station).

Kind of funny how you say you can’t rely on Metra for work or meetings, considering that’s what people use it for.

* Orseno, who’s been there for decades, said at the Metra board meeting where he was promoted to executive director from his interim position that he drives to work because the SouthWest Service “doesn’t get him to the office early enough, or home late enough” (Chicago Tribune).

However, Orseno lives in Manhattan so you can see how the infrequency would be a problem: this station only has three trains per direction per day. Remember from my previous post that Chicago rapid transit service has only shrunk since 1950. I wonder what he can do about that…

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