Having opened an office in lower Manhattan in November I have joined the ranks of commuters from the New York City suburbs even it if is only two or three days per week. Because I have not commuted to New York City much in my business career I actually looked at it as an opportunity to do some work as well as some pleasure reading while traveling on commuter rails for the roughly 60 minute trip from Grand Central Station. The 60 minute time does not take into consideration the subway ride to Grand Central which is a little less than a half hour door to train seat.
When watching AMC’s ‘Mad Men’ there are scenes where Don Draper commuted to New York City from the Westchester suburbs. Aside from men wearing fedoras, it’s difficult to discern any differences in the train service from 1961 – fifty years ago to today.
I have a few thoughts after commuting for a little over two months.
1) Trains look much the way they have looked (to me) for the past forty plus years I have been riding them even when not a commuter. If there are improvements in rider comfort I must be missing them.
2) Conductors are pleasant for the most part but the only technology they have is the ability to look up an on board fare on the giant strap on device they carry and then print out a receipt. This past week during one of the snowstorms the train was so crowded that the conductor could not possibly make it through the cars to check or collect tickets. As a result non-monthly passengers (like me) were given a ‘free’ ride. It’s difficult for me to believe that this situation is not completely unusual and the lost revenue is one contributing reason why the commuter railroads area always in the red. There has got to be a better way.
3) Middle seats stink on trains nearly as much as they do on planes. You just aren’t there quite as long.
4) When I ride trains in other countries people roll carts through the aisles selling food and drinks sometimes. On our train we have a bar car for the ‘evening rush’ home somewhere near the front or back or middle of the train – you never really know where. If you are hungry or thirsty on the train in the morning you are out of luck. I wonder how much incremental revenue the railroads could bring in if they rolled a cart through offering even just a few things like coffee, soda, water and a roll or bagel in the morning? Or beers, soft drinks and snacks for the evening rush?
5) There is no internet service available on any commuter railroads. After all nobody would use it right?
6) On the trains and platforms you can hear and even understand announcements – some of the time. But when there are delays there are rarely any notifications or reasons for them. Very much airline like in many ways.
I have found that for the most part people are courteous and respectful of each other and I am happy for that. But we really have no choice. After all we are all in the same boat. I’m just afraid that it is a sinking ship. We all pay a fair amount to ride the rails so don’t tell me that to receive the kind of service I’d like simply jack up prices by 25%.
Do you think we deserve better?
Having commuted by train, bus and boat–sometimes all three each way–for the last 30 years I’d have to say that very little has changed. But the MTA commuter trains are horrible. NJ Transit is much more comfortable. The only problem is you have to go to New Jersey.
Perhaps the bar car being open in the morning would be helpful, too.