Sunday, February 20, 2011


I apologize to some. This will be one of those rants that's of interest to few of my general readers, I suspect.

I don't drive.

I don't like it.

I'm not very good at it.

Mind you, I have higher standards for what "very good" is for me than a lot of other people have for themselves, which, I promise, is more trouble than it's worth. I'm probably about as good as half the people out there driving.

Of course, I think about half the people out there driving are being irresponsible in doing so. If we didn't have such a cultural dependence on driving and a social bias against not driving, I think everyone would be safer.

And growing up in Seattle with King County Metro, that was never a major issue in my life. Sure, it created minor inconveniences from time to time, but overall I was still happier with it.

Because, as I said, I hate driving.

And moving to Austin, and being new to town and only having so many places I needed to go, CapMetro was just great. It's way, way cheaper and, in general, runs along the major areas and works fine.

Then, the only argument I had against it was it's ludicrous, and often tedious, tendency to stop at every block going through downtown.

But I have to say that in the last months since new president and CEO Linda Watson took over, all of the things that were occasional annoyances before have become nearly intolerable.

Buses run later or even, a remarkable amount of the time, early. Routes are moved around, which seemed potentially beneficial at times, but mostly has just made things less useful.

The only thing better is that they have closed off a couple of stops downtown, which has annoyed lazy bastards more actively than it has pleased the rest of us.

And worst of all, the customer service has gone from mildly inadequate to belligerently offensive. In the last 9 months, I haven't had a single call to CapMetro that wasn't obnoxious and worthless.

As a person who has worked customer service for decades, talking to CapMetro Customer Service is embarrassing. I have never, ever spoken to a customer service center that was more stressful and less helpful in my whole life. And obviously it's not the only customer service I've spoken to that was less than I'd expect of myself.

But if I contact them, they don't even make an attempt to feign empathy, even when something goes wrong like a bus coming absurdly early or driving right past customers.

And on days like this, when the Austin Marathon takes up the downtown streets, their incompetence is shown off. Mind you, given the task of explaining why they're re-routing buses so far away from their regular routes that they no longer even pretending that they serve the needs of transit customers and only waste gasoline and labor can't be easy, but CapMetro customer service happily provides answers without any consideration for its accuracy or value to person on the other end. Each agent providing a completely different story, none even related to what's true and none matching the last.

It would have been more useful to call a stopped clock.

Mind you, I can't wholly blame Watson. She inherited the job of making MetroRail into something workable or profitable, which is kind of like being hired to be Sisyphus.

MetroRail is one those transit projects where a city spends a ridiculous amount of money to build a tiny fraction of the transit system that would be helpful and then everyone involved tries to figure out why only a tiny fraction of people use this ridiculously useless system.

And now those of us who use the once useful transit system are asked to pay for them to flush more money into the pre-failed one, with bus rates going up in order to subsidize lower rail rates, in order to try to attract more people to ride a rail system that frankly just isn't very useful to the majority of Austinites, and lower rates don't come close to addressing that.

Frankly, as noted in Happy Birthday, Kim!, I owe CapMetro at lot, but I'm coming to the end of my patience.

1 comment:

Erica McKewen said...

Hi, I'm Erica and I work in the communications dept. of Capital Metro. Thanks for the feedback on our system. Like you, I think some things we do really really well and other things we need to improve.

The Austin Marathon (and a lot of other big events with street closures) are a huge challenge for us. We have an internal task force that plans our detours and communications and whatnot related to big events/detours. Customer Service is represented in that group, along with bus operations, marketing, and communications. The biggest problem that we have, in my opinion, regarding the detours, is that we lack an efficient way to get out updated info *as the event is taking place.* We do all this planning ahead of time, and we publicize the information and post signs, and the customer service team is well versed on those plans. But. We get into the event, and the city has changed the times of the street closures, or additional last-minute street closures have been added, or because of crowds the police have had to direct traffic--causing more detours, or the race runs long and the detours continue past the timeframe we told customers... etc. etc. Personally I think we need some kind of opt-in service *by route* that would alert you by cell phone msg regarding service delays or detours specific to the bus route/routes you're interested in. We don't have anything that customized in our bag of tools. Maybe in the future.

Regarding your bad experience with the customer service line, I am sorry. I will share your feedback with the manager of the customer service team.

Thanks for riding with us!

so I can empathize with you. It is

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