My email to Metro Trains

by Haught 20 Comments

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.

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Haught fact of the day:

The talking mountain in The NeverEnding Story was in fact a Rockbiter named Pyornkrachzark. True dinks.

Comments ( 20 )

  1. ReplyJulianne
    Dear Jonathan, I do so love your emails to Melbourne public transport authorities. However, having recently moved back to SA from Melbourne, I can tell you I LONG for Metro's incompetence because it is evidence of a public transport system, however shambolic. I was thinking you would enjoy a glorious rise to fame exposing all the flaws in Adelaide's public transport system but it has since occurred to me that there really isn't one, that I've noticed, to expose. That's a slight exaggeration, I did have the delightful experience of watching my friend's (visiting from Melbourne) bewilderment after we stopped at a crossing for a passenger train, consisting of two carriages, to pass. As the second carriage passed she looked astonished and then peered down the tracks from whence the train had come as though the rest of it might, at any moment, appear. When it didn't she looked at me in blank disbelief and I was able to indulge the urge, suppressed thus far, to fall about laughing. It's up to you, come, don't come, either way please do keep writing to transport "authorities". What about the transport minister while you're at it? Or the secretary of the Dept. Yours etc Julianne
  2. ReplyStefan Carey
    Still waiting for the handholds near doors several years after they were promised. But the rebranding looks flash!
  3. ReplyVeloaficionado
    Dear Mr Haught, As a representative of Metro, I will take the opportunity to reply to your latest letter. At Metro, we pride ourselves on keeping abreast of all commentary on our performance, and although some may call this paranoid and in the vein of witch-huntery, Section G-37-B is very good at its job. The surveillance equipment they deploy is second to none, and the data encryption and database security employed is world class, deep within the reinforced concrete 3rd basement level where it is stored. So rest assured that we are aware of your reputation and previous correspondence with other instrumentalities and businesses, and we wish to reassure you that we take your views of our performance very seriously. However, we must take issue with absolutely everything that you say, even that we seem to employ public image management that is somewhat amateurish and implausible, or to you, it seems, laughable. We have spent a substantial amount of public money on such well-credentialed public relations advisors, who have offices in major European capitals and both the east and west coasts of the US. We have to trim our expenses elsewhere, perforce. Only supplying paper cups to our employees for the purposes of expectoration, is, regrettably, one of these. In the "good old days", of non-benchmarked performance, full public ownership and trains that always ran on time (with the greatest extent of track of any metropolitan transport system in the southern hemisphere in the late 1940s), even the most monosyllabic long-term employee of 25 and more years standing could look forward to a silver-chased, embossed leather personal foldable spittoon as recognition of years of arduous service standing in grey drizzle, exchanging glowers with passengers, sorry, customers. The timetabling and punctuality issues that you refer to in your, quite frankly, spiky and provocative missive, are nothing out of the ordinary. The government makes us publish figures, and, well, we just go along with it. We keep getting paid as long as we do so, and so far, the arrangement seems to be working. What they actually mean is, well, in line with the average Australian approach to getting things done, that, it sort of works. A bit. Mostly. We try very hard to sell this to our French management team, who often fly over and drop in for a Lan-Choo and a Tim Tam, and I think that they are gradually getting their heads around it. One thing I do take exception to in your communication, is that you appear to be a racist, of the blackest hue. Yes, many of our customer service frontline strike team are from an ESOL background, and are developing their English language skills on the job, however, you appear to be selectively applying this to certain instances. It is natural that when under threat they may retreat into their most familiar idiom, and appear to be of a sub-normal or infantile understanding, however they are perfectly suited to the tasks delegated to them. It is the customer service tasks that, repetitive as they are, are core to their reason for existence. However, even the most dedicated operatives will have lapses. It is unfortunate that you personally have seemed to happen on a relay of them having a bad day. It is also unfortunate that other passengers, sorry, customers have an identical experience at a similar time. We are working to get the customer/operative 'bad hair day' synchronicity 'out of sequence', but like a couple of dissimilar car blinker relays, they will always come back into sequence occasionally. Apart from Singapore (which seems to be a whole society of anal-retentive obs-comp. weirdos) EVERY public transport system IN THE WHOLE WORLD has filthy toilets. It is a defining characteristic of the medium. I'm sure that you would feel uneasy in going into, for instance, the station conveniences at Narre Warren and NOT find cigarette burns on the toilet roll dispensers, and semen stains from mistimed and poorly aimed attempts at copulation or auto-erotic satisfaction. So just back off on the shit stains issue, ok? If in fact you did make mention of it. But if you did, don't. Ok? Right. Remember, we know where you live, and we're still enough part of the government (just) that we can have our contacts at the State Law and Order Unit come and pay you a visit at 4 in the morning. They won't knock, and you may have to call a locksmith and a glazier afterwards, Don't say you weren't warned. On a lighter note, we are happy to announce that we are 'gettin' down with da homies' to coin a phrase, and have introduced an "app" for the new "smart-phones" to tell people where to go, and how to get there, using 'public transport'. It seems to have provoked much discussion, and has raised the profile of our 'brand' enormously. People are still getting where they need to go, so it must be working. An initiative we are working on is introducing the "smiles per hour" ratings for our stations and trains. A pink smiley face sign will be telling you that people smile at each other where we operate, and that this is the best, surest and even the only way to get through the privations, tribulations, vicissitudes and upheavals that is a natural correlative of traveling with other people that you have not chosen to travel with, who quite possibly do not grasp the concept of adequate personal hygiene, the ability to pay for a ticket, anger management issues and adequate mental health to get through simple and basic daily transactions and processes. We carry everyone, and all their phobias and inadequacies, including your own lack of forbearance and good humour, if you will permit me to say, and scrubbing vomit off 30 year carpet in Hitachi trains is not how most of our customer service associates would choose to spend their time, if they had their druthers. So, in conclusion, sir - we know your name, we know your reputation, and we will be watching you very closely from now on. We are always open to suggestions as to how we can improve our service and product to the consumer. We have a comprehensive and compendious catalogue of suggestions, and we can cross-match every new whinge and whine with those previous going back to the 1970s. We are well aware of every problem inherited from the previous administration of the transport system in this city, and the cesspool of such, whilst not being drained, is at least being flushed through with such as yours. One hopes that it is is not so large, nor so misshapen, as to get stuck further on in the process of complaint management. Yours, E. Wasserschiet Complaints Management Division, Section G-2-B Your Train People
  4. ReplyDamo
    Perhaps all the new on-train advertising counts as 'Clear signage'..
  5. Replyspeccygirl
    yes - compared to NZ where I am from - at least there is a public transport system here. Also I have to say the station attendant (on duty until 9.30am) at my western suburbs station is lovely and helpful in every way. But there are some appalling stuff ups - I've just started changing at North Melbourne station for the Upfield line to go to work. The number of times it's run late and then in the last two minutes before it's arrived they've announced it's running express (to make it run on time I guess?) is appalling - leaving lots of stressed out commuters to try and figure out alternative transport arrangements (basically it's made people - including me- late for work).
    • Replyspeccygirl
      I should mention that on one occasion the decision to run express caused great distress to one passenger (who seemed to have some kind of intellectual disability) who constantly screamed out "f***ing bulls****" for about 5 minutes as we screeched through several stations. I think all the other passengers understood how this gentleman felt...
  6. ReplyRoscoe
    Perhaps Biff Pelican is Metro senior management ... bringing life and proactivity to our commutes. Outside of work Biff is a mild-mannered father of two who likes nothing better than spending Saturday mornings giving his Toyota Prius a jolly good buffing.
  7. ReplyNick_j
    Part of the reason Metro's punctuality figures are so astounding - they consider any train that arrives/departs within 5 minutes of scheduled time to be "punctual".
    • ReplyHaught Blog
      Extraordinary. They give themselves massive leeway, but refuse to extend anything like the same courtesy to their passengers.
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  9. ReplyPops
    Your description of the 12th time the station announcer tried to make his warnings clear brought to mind a night footy game I attended at Etihad or whatever it was called years ago. Nice stadium, the echos burst your eardrums which is good news because it gives the horrid $8 bucket of chips an extra escape route. But I digress. My brother and I - fresh from yet another Richmond embarrassment - went to Platform 9 where the overhead signs above the crowded escalators advised a Glen Waverley train would depart in 53 minutes. Due to the peculiar manner they use calculators, this train was to be part of their 97%. Upon disembarking the escalator, we noticed the electronic sign at the platform said "Ferntree Gully". Mmmm. Maybe it's the missing 3% after all. But then the Foreign Sounding Station Announcer (I'm not racist but) advised a crowded platform every 30 seconds in an increasingly louder and faster voice to ignore the overhead sign because the next train is a Belgrave Train. For the next 58 minutes (see how the train was on time because it was only 5 minutes late?) the Announcer must have made nearly 100 announcements saying things like DON"T GET ON THIS TRAIN COS IT WONT TAKE YOU WHERE IT SAYS IT'S GOING. It's a Belgrave train!!!!! I repeat "IT'S NOT A FERN TREE GULLY TRAIN - Louder and faster every time. Everyne on the platform was enjoying his performance considerably more than the 150 point hiding the Cats gave the Tiges. So the big moment arrives and the train creeps into the station. The sign on the front of the train says "Glen Waverley" and the rotating LED sign inside the train says Flinders Street. Outside, the Announcer is having a heart attack still telling everyone it's going to Belgrave, while everyone looks up and sees the overhead signs still saying Fern you know where, then having a peak inside to see the Flinders St LED, There must have been 1,000 people on the platform and no-one got on - except my bro and me, and we had a very comfy trip free from noisy Geelong Supporters all the way to Glen Waverley. I'd like to thank Metro for their highly personalised service. A six carriage train for just me and my brother. That's the sorta service we need from Public Transport. Top Marks, but I do sometimes wonder what how everyone else got home,
  10. ReplyAdrian
    Jonathan, if you are for real then I applaud you. I have been fighting Metro pretty much ever since they took over from Connex. I have challenged them on so many grounds, but I have found them to be arrogant, dismissive, evasive and full of spin in their responses. They have got away with so much over the last three years. I even wrote to the Minister of Transport about the persistent 'cheating', and although Metre was fined a few million soon after that they still seem to be running the show their way. I even received a reply [apparently] from the Chief-of-Spin, but that was just full of platitudes and party line stuff, avoiding the real issues. It is absolutely scandalous that now they have reached a reasonable punctuality rate for a few months [not that this means much because a monkey would be able to orchestrate the 88%] they seem to think the job has been done. Yet every day there are massive disruptions caused by signal failures, track equipment faults, and defective trains. They boast of spending 2 million dollars a day on maintenace and improvements. I would say that the disruptions now are far more common than they were under Connex. But of course Metro will blame that on years of neglect, not poor management. Even worse is that their record on organizing quick, safe and sufficient replecament transport is worse than appalling. Metro is possibly the most blighted company ever to set foot in Melbourne. They adopt a cyncial approach to everything, which includes their training in customer service. I too have had many experiences of poorly trained, rude, incompetent staff. The prospect of another few years of this shambles leaves me cold.
    • ReplyHaught
      Another few years at the very best, I'd imagine.
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