Sunday, October 21, 2007

Happy Customer Appreciation Day! Have a muffin and a fare Increase

This past Thursday was customer appreciation day on YRT and VIVA. While I waited to transfer buses at Richmond Hill Centre, I was approached by one of YRT's marketing gurus and offered a muffin. I thought this was nice YRT and VIVA were honouring their customers.

Little did I know that later that night in confines of the York Region Council Chambers in Newmarket that some skulduggery was occurring (according to the local newspaper):

"York Region council made it official Thursday by voting for the increase and paving the way for the single-ride cash fare to rise by 25 cents to $3. The introduction of the $3 cash fare will give YRT and Viva the most expensive single-ride cash fare in the GTA." - York Region Media Group.

Apparently YRT & VIVA believe that a great way to show appreciation to their customers. YRT and VIVA never made a mention that they were proposing a fare increase. Some would question if it was York Region Council calling for a fare increase. Not so as it was YRT's Finance Manager who proposed the increases and many York Regional Councillors who fought the hikes against students and seniors. As I read the newspaper article, I didn't feel appreciated as a YRT/VIVA customer, I felt slapped in the face.

YRT management contend that ridership needs to bear more of the burden then the ridership currently has. Fine, then add more riders to the existing routes. Ridership has been on the rise as YRT and VIVA's ridership figures show which means more money coming in per trip. In order to continue ridership increases fares should be held at the same levels as at least the previous year and not raised. For if fares are raised, as YRT management agrees, then ridership does decline a bit. A decline in ridership will mean more cars on the road. Lets remember one of the reasons for the creation of transit in York Region was to remove cars on the road instead of adding more. So in that case the fares should be held the same.

If costs need to be clipped in order to avoid a fare increase, here are a few suggestions:

1. Cut the VIVA advertising banners that seem to be replaced three times a year due to the weather. These are mainly found in Aurora on Yonge Street, Bathurst Street near Highway 7 and Highway 7 near Yonge Street. If you provide a decent service on these routes, people will flock to them. VIVA doesn't need flashy banners to promote this. Just slap a sticker on the back the back of the existing bus fleet and forget the banners!

2. Cut the number of supervisors. VIVA and YRT have two seperate supervisory teams to oversee the buses. Can't one set of supervisors oversee both the rapid transit and conventional bus services? It seems a little outrageous.

3. Increase fare enforcement on VIVA. VIVA fares are paid on the honour system. Some people have figured out where fare enforcement is and where they are not. Fare enforcement can mainly be found on the VIVA Blue routes, hit and miss on the VIVA Purple (especially around Promenade Terminal and Richmond Hill Centre areas), and hardly ever on the VIVA Orange routes (I've only once ever seen fare enforcement in my two years of commuting daily to work on the Orange). Tickets for not paying your fare is $150 per infraction.

4. Increase enforcement of the other infractions listed and York Region's No Smoking By-Law. For to long I've seen passengers, and even drivers, smoking at the bus stops. Yet I have yet to see one fine issued. Would YRT and VIVA like to explain how the cigarette butts are found when smoking is prohibited here? Where is the enforcement at this major terminal. At $150 fine for each infraction like smoking, there would be some serious cash generated.

5. Space the buses out more. Some days on Yonge Street at Richmond Hill Centre on the VIVA Blue route I see a Newmarket Terminal bound bus pull in followed immediately by a Bernard Termainal bus. Both buses are heading in the same direction on the same route (the Bernard bus short turns on the route). The Newmarket bus will be packed to the nines while the Bernard bus be less than half full. These buses are supposed to be at most five minutes apart. It doesn't serve the customers to well if they have to be packed onto the bus and the next one is mostly empty. Run the buses on time!

6. Provide accuratly scheduled service and more people will ride with less frustration. YRT and VIVA currently don't provide resonably scheduled service. As an example, according to YRT & VIVA's online Trip Planner my trip home from work, my trip should take 81 minutes. Instead, I normally arrive home anywhere between 89 and 119 minutes. What is the main problem? My trip on the VIVA Orange from Downsview to York University is not thirteen minutes in duration. On a good day, without gridlocked traffic, it normally takes fifteen minutes. The connection, according to the trip planner should take place in one minute. The same connection time occurs at Richmond Hill Centre. To this day I have never made the two connections (@ York Unversity and @ Richmond Hill Centre). I have barely made the York University connection once. With this in mind, YRT and VIVA needs to relook at what is reasonable timing for their vehicles to get from point "A" to point "B". Failure to do so only results in frustrated passengers. Simple math would tell you: frequently frustrated passengers = loss in ridership.

7. Cut the customer appreciation day mumbojumbo. Customers of transit would feel appreciated if their fares weren't increased year after year. I don't need some overpackaged miniature muffin offered to me in order to feel appreciated. Also, I don't need a marketing student decked out in brand new kaki pants and blue YRT / VIVA sweatshirt offering me promotional items. It's even more ironic that the same day as customer appreciation day, Regional Council approves a fare increase for passengers. Way to make us feel appreciated!

8. Cut the newsletters on the buses. My Transit is a complete waste of money. The only thing YRT/VIVA needs to do to update passengers of route changes is to post it on their website, laminated posters at the affected bus stops and posters at the major terminals (e.g. Newmarket Terminal, Richmond Hill Centre, Finch Terminal, Promenade Terminal, etc.). If people are truly looking for more information (e.g. trip planning, fare information, etc.) they can either visit the website, call customer service, inquire with ticket agents, ask the bus driver or YRT/VIVA Enforcement officers. My Transit is a complete waste of money as it is printed in colour and is really only used for littering the buses and the VIVA & YRT stops. Significant savings could be had by cutting the coloured printing for this newsletter alone.

9. Provide better customer service. By cutting the number of marketing positions, increase the number of customer service representatives available on the phone to answer questions. When customers have questions or concerns they don't want to listen to prerecorded information or wait lengthy amount of times to talk to a human person. During the week at 5:00 P.M. it is not unusual to have to wait more than five minutes to speak to a live operator. If customers cannot ask their questions they are more likely to not be customers much longer.

VIVA and YRT have much to work on in order to appease customers. Making the small cuts above may not save much, but it will make it appear the YRT/VIVA operations are working to keep costs down. If customers see an efficently run system, they are more likely to swallow a fare increase. However, the way YRT/VIVA pushed through this fare increase, considering the above nine items, it seems they don't care about their customers one bit. Further proof of this is that the fare increase was approved the very same day that YRT/VIVA claimed they were trying to appreciate their customers, on Customer Appreciation Day. Yes YRT/VIVA, you really do appreciate your customers, with an overpackaged muffin and a FARE INCREASE! Yup, I feel appreciated.

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