Thursday, 26 April 2012

It's the communication that's the problem.

Travelling home in peak hour from Flinders Street station today was not fun.  My travel time is usually about fifteen minutes when things are going well.  Tonight it took over an hour - but that's not the point of this post.  The point is about communication and how necessary it is when things are going wrong.

It all started when I arrived at the Elizabeth Street entrance and saw a larger than usual crowd trying to get through the barriers. From what I could see, only one barrier out of six was working for myki tickets.  The other five were flagged for Metcard only.  An aqua clad mykimate was valiantly trying to bark reminders about how to touch on properly as the people were still standing on Flinders Street as the traffic started to move.  I can't imagine the strategic decision behind this, so can only suppose that the barriers were Metcard only because they weren't working for myki.

I quickly left there and saw from the timetables that something was up.  It appeared that my next train was over 20 minutes away, which I knew couldn't be right during peak hour on a week day.  I entered the station through platform one and headed for platform 9, hoping that there would be a train.  It wasn't listed anywhere and there were no staff on the platform to ask.  I went back up to the concourse and the nearest staff were down the other end.

They told me to go to platform nine and when I provided feedback about the lack of staff to ask, the woman shook her head and said in a less than passionate tone that she would pass it on.  I felt that this was not something at the top of her priority list.

Back down to the platform I went.  As I arrived, I received an SMS alert letting me know that all trains on my line were delayed because of a signal fault at one of the inner city stations (South Kensington).  As I read that all evidence of my train disappeared from platform 9.  I looked for someone to ask.  Still there were no staff.

Up to the concourse again to speak to the same woman.  She looked thrilled to see me.  She argued with me, saying there were announcements being made.  It turns out they were being made on the concourse, but not on the platforms where actual people were waiting to catch actual trains!

Then I realised that there was another train line that I could travel on to get me one stop away from where I was aiming.  The information woman was not helpful in this regard and I worked it out myself.  Along with most other people.  The train was PACKED.

As we approached North Melbourne station the train stopped in the middle of nowhere.  The driver informed passengers about what was going on!  And suggested that people standing in doorways actually leave the train to assist with quick disembarkation .  He reassured everyone he had mirrors and could see the platform and that no one would  be left behind.  What a difference this communication made!  We were still sitting between stations, but there was an air of relaxation once we had been informed.

Why can't everyone at Metro Trains recognise this need for information.  We know that you can't help it if a VLine train trips the signal and causes a fault, but we also know that you can help the quality of your communication.  The travelling public needs information about what's happening when things don't work according to plan.

By the time I arrived home at 6:20pm, I was very happy not be jostled against a stranger's armpit.  With the beginnings of cold weather, the trains smell like wet dogs and mothballs.  It's awful.


  1. You need to direct a condensed version of these comments to Metro's feedback department. They'll fob you off with crap about how they're doing their best, etc. But complain anyway, waste their time, and when you don't get the response you deserve bump it up to the PTO.

  2. Hi Andy. I agree with every aspect of what you've said, right down to being fobbed off. The phone number for Public Transport Victoria is saved in my "favourites". I love the irony...I go through the process of listening to the promises about how I'll hear back within seven working days and give them the feedback that that NEVER happens and that I ALWAYS have to call back. When I call back they add "action" to my case.
    I think feedback is critical and that everyone should register their feedback every time. Without this, nothing changes.
    Thanks for reading.

  3. Keep meticulous records of your contact with Metro (and any other PT company/body). If they don't respond - or at least not satisfactorily - raise a complaint with the PTO and dump all your notes on them.