In undercover effort, MTA rates station clerksBy
The MTA’s station agents have made the headlines lately. Over the summer and into September, the stories concerned the MTA’s plans to eliminate a few hundred agents and the potential impact unstaffed stations would have on the system. A few weeks into the great Station Agent Elimination Project, nothing much has changed underground.
Meanwhile, at the same time as efforts to cut the station agents gained headlines, the MTA was engaged in something of a sting operation. Using college interns to pose as subway riders, the line general manager on the Number 4 line graded his station clerks. Eitan Gavish and Pete Donohue have a little bit more about this story:
Subway managers on the No. 4 line used college interns posing as straphangers to rate clerks in terms of how helpful and courteous they were when approached. “It’s like a mystery shopper program,” NYC Transit Charles Seaton said Friday, referring to storeowners’ use of fake shoppers to review staff and other retail workers. The young subway sleuths in Operation Courtesy made their rounds on the Lexington Ave. line during the summer.
Results are still being compiled, but some workers behind the glass apparently needed immediate polishing. “Some have been spoken to on an informal basis,” Seaton said, stressing the reviews will not lead to disciplinary charges. “You get all kinds. You get nice people, some not so nice at all,” said a clerk, who also did not want to be named.
William Henderson, executive director of the MTA’s Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, said he believed the vast majority of clerks were professional. “There are people who are very good, friendly and adept at dealing with the public, and some who may need to be coached a little bit on how to do a better job,” Henderson said.
That is, word for word, the Daily News’ entire story. Considering the implications of the eventual report and the ways in which Transit went about assessing their workers, that’s a rather short piece.
So without having the report in front of me, I can make a few educated guess about what we’ll find out and what it means for the station clerks. I think we’ll find out, as Henderson said, that some are better than others at their jobs, but I think we’ll find out that far more of the station clerks are either apathetic or disrespectful toward straphangers in need. I say that not out of malice for the station clerks but from first-hand experience underground. Some station clerks are very friendly; others can’t be bothered for the time of day and wouldn’t know their ways around the neighborhoods in which they work.
The real impact of this report though will be twofold. First, how will the MTA work to correct the problem of poor customer relationships? In the end, station clerks, while they serve a job, are the faces of the MTA. They are what many New Yorkers consider to be the epitome of the MTA. If the station clerks are rude, straphangers think poorly of the entire system. If the experiences at the booths are bad, riders are bound to consider the agency inept in its hiring and personnel decisions. A better training program for station clerks will be a must.
On the other hand, how will station clerks — union employees, at that — respond to the MTA’s backhanded attempts at judging them? At a time when Transit is trying to eliminate station clerks to save jobs, the clerks are being undermined in a sense by their bosses. Instead of an open review process, the MTA has employed an undercover system to judge first hand just how these employees are doing in their jobs. At a time when labor relations are tense, this move might not go over too well.
The commenters on the Daily News aren’t too sympathetic to the station clerks, and stories of rudeness abounds. I’ll pass final judgment when the report is released, but in this area, the MTA can show improvement.