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Meeting Minutes Jan 17, 2008

A meeting of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council (MNRCC) was convened at 12:00 pm on January 17, 2008 in the 10th floor conference room, MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City. The following members were present:

James F. Blair
Richard Cataggio
Norman S. Werner
The following members were absent:

Francis T. Corcoran
Gerard Kopera (E)
Thomas M. Jennings
In addition, the following persons were present:

William Henderson – PCAC Executive Director
Jan Wells – PCAC Associate Director
Ellyn Shannon – PCAC Transportation Planner
Tom Tendy – MTA/MNR
Jeff Watson – MTA/MNR
Naomi Klein – Westchester DOT
Barry Adler – Concerned citizen
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the January 17, 2008 meeting and the minutes of the November 7, 2007 meeting were approved.

Chair’s Report
The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.

Board Report
Jim Blair reported that the December Board meeting was largely devoted to consideration of the fare increase. He stated that the PCAC’s board representatives voiced their concerns about deferral of service enhancements until first quarter tax revenue results are available. The deferral was a condition of the New York City Mayor’s appointees’ support for the fare package. Mr. Blair said that the Capital Program will be released to the Board in February and adopted in March to meet the deadline specified in congestion pricing legislation. Mr. Blair said that he had discussed the likely content of the Capital Program with Metro-North officials and that there were likely to be no significant changes the spending priorities that would have been expected in light of the existing Capital Program and commitments that have already been made.

Mr. Blair also highlighted the report that had been prepared by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Workforce Development. He said that the report promises to be a useful tool in restructuring the relationship between the MTA and its workers. Ellyn Shannon noted that one emphasis of the report was the benefits of breaking down barriers between operating agencies and allowing for the free flow of ideas and best practices between them.

Mr. Blair also reported that he will attend the next Connecticut Rail Commuter Council meeting. He said that the Connecticut Council had been conducting surveys of riders on line. Tom Tendy of Metro-North said that one should be very cautious in interpreting on-line surveys, as without proper controls one is never sure what the data gathered in them actually represent. Bill Henderson said that the LIRR Commuter’s Council had looked at on-line surveys and had found major problems with ensuring that a representative sample of riders are reflected in the survey results.

Old Business
Rich Cataggio asked whether there was anything new with the MTA’s move to shared services. Mr. Blair said that shared services is still a live concept within the MTA but that it is taking time to translate it into action. Mr. Cataggio stated that the MTA has made a large investment in PeopleSoft, but that investment is only a good use of funds if it is implemented across all of the agencies in the MTA.

New Business
Rich Cataggio announced that he had seen an announcement that Charlie Zabielski, Metro-North’s Director of Marketing, is retiring. Mr. Cataggio noted that Mr. Zabielski has been a good friend of the Council and encouraged the members to attend his farewell on February 8 if they are so inclined and able. In response to Mr. Cataggio’s inquiry, Mr. Henderson said that the PCAC could cover the cost of attending the farewell from the member expense budget.

Mr. Henderson introduced a set of proposed bylaw changes relating to attendance that were developed by the PCAC Executive Committee. A copy of the proposed changes is attached to these minutes. A motion was made by Mr. Blair and seconded by Mr. Cataggio to adopt the changes. In accordance with the Council bylaws, the issue will be considered and voted upon at the next Council meeting.

The Council briefly discussed the effort to recruit new members. Mr. Henderson said that he has been in communication with several County Executives’ offices, and that Westchester County has received letters of interest from six individuals and has said that they will be reviewed for recommendation to the Governor in January. Mr. Henderson said that he will follow up his contacts with letters to the County Executives stressing the importance of representation on the Council and asking for prompt action on recommendations of prospective members to the Governor. Mr. Blair said that he had attended a Westchester Business Council meeting where Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano had said that he is very interested in rail transportation.

Introduction of Thomas Tendy, MNR Director – Customer Services
Mr. Tendy said that he has been focused on quiet customer service initiatives that seek to attract the discretionary rider. An example that he provided is the changeover of Grand Central Terminal information booth personnel from a mixture of NYC Transit and Metro-North staff to all Metro-North staff, which is to start on Friday, January 18. In preparation for this change, Metro-North staff members have been trained to answer questions dealing with both Metro-North and NYC Transit services. This will be more convenient for the customer than the prior staffing pattern where one had to choose the correct window to get information on one service or another.

Mr. Tendy also noted that Metro-North had increased customer service staffing at Poughkeepsie on Saturdays. He said that Poughkeepsie Saturday ridership is the second highest of any station outside of New York City. At Poughkeepsie, added staff members include a second ticket seller and a roving customer service representative. Mr. Tendy noted that adding new customer service functions sometimes requires extensive discussions with union representatives, as they may not fit neatly under existing job descriptions, and there may be suspicions that new functions are veiled attempts to cut jobs.

Poughkeepsie is also scheduled to receive information screens similar to those at Croton-Harmon. This will not make this station a part of the Model Station program, but the screens will save ticket sellers time that would be spent in answering frequently asked questions. Another improvement is that Metro-North is now providing ticket seller training for new employees, which has not been done in ten years. There is now a two week orientation and training period, which is followed by a ninety day qualification period. The purpose of this change is to reduce customer complaints.

In response to a question from Jan Wells, Mr. Tendy explained that the orientation period is an opportunity for new employees to better understand the MTA structure and gain experience with the system. Mr. Blair noted that implementing a training program sends new employees the message that the Railroad takes their job seriously and depends on their best efforts. Mr. Tendy said that existing employees will receive one day of refresher customer service training.

Mr. Tendy said that in 2008 there would be an increase in the number of field managers who are providing employees throughout the system with supervision and instruction. This is part of an overall effort to elevate professionalism, which also includes providing uniforms to front line personnel and possibly bringing ticket office employees together through conference calls. In addition, email access has been provided to station personnel who have not previously had it. Mr. Tendy said that he would like to use mystery shoppers as an evaluation and training tool, but has not been able to do so because of budget constraints.

Some other improvements that have been provided for customers include putting access to lost and found services and elevator status information on the Metro-North website. The Model Station concept is being tested and developed at the White Plains station, and software development for the required systems is now taking place. The installation of a higher speed communication backbone is now in progress to enhance communication to existing stations, while stations are being given additional infrastructure to support enhanced communication and security as they are rebuilt.

Mr. Tendy was asked whether there had been a reaction to the use of recorded celebrity announcements in the system. He said that he was not aware of any positive or negative reaction.

The meeting was adjourned at 6:30 pm.

Respectfully submitted,
William Henderson
Executive Director