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Mass Transportation

April 2, 2011

I love the idea of taking a train versus most other mass, long distance transportation. It was a weekly thing for me back in 2001 when I was working in Oakville, Ontario. I think I was spoiled by the short 4 hour ride and the First Class service on Via Rail, though. With the full meal service and incredibly comfortable seats, it was all train travel should be.

A few weeks ago I worked an arrangement with my current employer to alternate working weeks in Michigan and New York. So this coming week I’ll be working in Michigan. Definitely a great thing, but the logistics of the following weekend put a small glitch in the plans. See, Jason has a soccer tournament in Indianapolis, IN. My original plan was I would be working in NY that week, fly to Indy for the tournament and then fly back, or better yet not fly and ride home with the family. Well, now it’s actually working out opposite that so I had to make different arrangements to get to Michigan for this weekend so I can take the flight from Indy to Syracuse after the tournament.

Airline prices are simply outrageous!!! Over $400 for a one way flight Syracuse to Detroit! This after the $200 I already paid for the round trip Syracuse-Indy flight. Lucky enough, Amtrak runs through Syracuse to Toledo, OH and then there’s a bus to Ann Arbor. That works! And for only $76 that’s a deal. I spend that easily on the tank of gas, tolls and snacks it takes to drive the 7 hours, plus the wear and tear on my car.

The flip side is that the only train between Syracuse and Toledo runs overnight, 10pm – 6:30am. I prepared myself for the idea of trying to contort my body for sleep in a regular seat, but 3 1/2 hours into it and sleep just ain’t happening for me. Sure these seats are far more roomy and accommodating than the average airplane seat — even most First Class seats — but it’s the constant bumps, rocking, swaying and general train noises that are keeping me from getting any shut eye. Then there are the stops every hour for the next station. Part of the experience, I guess.

I really feel bad for those people who have the extra 4-5 hours to Chicago, IL.

Since this is the only train that runs this route, I have to wonder why there isn’t one earlier in the day? I’m certain the dismal economic situation Amtrak always seems to be faced with is a factor, but what about providing convenient schedules for it’s customers? I’m lucky I don’t need to take the train from Toledo to Syracuse as that runs something like 3:00am – 12pm!!! While the train is a cost effective option, looks like the car is still my preferred mode for the regular commutes.

Oh, I almost forgot the real reason why I started this. It was going to be a rant about poor customer service. When I think about it, it’s a rare occurrence in today’s hyper-focused customer-centric world that I experience poor service. I even go out of my way to be extra diligent looking for good service (like the girl at the Hampton Inn outside St. Louis who scrapped the ice from everyone’s car that morning in January – yes – told her manager that was one of the best things I’ve ever seen).

The incident at hand tonight was initially something I overheard and the rude tone this attendant took with a couple passengers. It was just so venomous and condecending. Shortly after, though, was the moment that got me fuming.

At the previous station stop, the seat pair next to me opened up, so I took the opportunity to jump over giving me and other guy room to stretch out. When the attendant made his rounds he noticed something wasn’t right since my ‘card’ identifying my final stop wasn’t over my seat. Oh, no! The audacity that I would move!! In his best “elementary school-bus driver” voice tells me to “get back in your seat!”

“Thanks, but I’m fine here since it’s open seating,” I said with a smile.

“You’re not listening to me. Get back in your seat. I’m saving these seats for the families I have coming on.” It was all I could do to not laugh, but I smiled and watched him turn around. I stayed in the seat and on his next pass, after there were no families boarding at the next station, he moved my card to me seat! I guess I’m allowed to sit where I’m most comfortable after all.

Ah, the fun of travel. That week in Florida can’t come soon enough.

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