Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Problem Mitigation LIRR Style

I went to Penn Station on Monday Night to buy the ticket that I couldn't that morning due to "delays" in processing credit or debit card transactions. I reasoned that the problem must have been fixed by now and in the outside event that it hadn't I could always go to the bank, get some cash and conclude the deal at a human operated window.

A good plan that survived contact with The Enemy1 for about a nanosecond.

The lines for the ticket machines were so long they stretched the width of the concourse and impeded the flow of commuters trying to either get to their trains or to a different ticket machine. Lines for the people windows were shorter, but were not moving as far as I could see. I sighed, checked the clock and got on line.

Now you would have thought that given that the ticket machines had a problem that was causing congestion and had been having that problem all day that the LIRR staff would have organised some of those tape/rope and pillar things you see anywhere a queue will form to get the inevitable long lines collapsed into some sort of controllable and manageable formation, one that didn't have Penn Station knocked to its knees, but you'd be wrong. No, to the staff of the LIRR , this was all a bolt from the blue; totally unpredictable and something they couldn't possibly have foreseen in any way, shape or form. Another win for the I.Q. Brigade.

As for the actual problem, well, I still don't know for sure what it was (I can hazard a guess that hinges around Daylight Savings Time and single points of failure2) but the machines all have status displays up high where everyone can see and each one was periodically announcing it wasn't taking Debit or Credit cards only to announce it was a few seconds later. Another triumph of automation from the people who gave us the Harold Junction Capital Improvement Plan3. People were having to try multiple cards in multiple machines and wait for minutes while the transactions either cleared or timed out.

What added a piquancy to the whole affair were the once a minute announcements that the LIRR would be honouring March tickets until 10 am on tuesday. People weren't buying this tale, since most of them had had a similar ride in to mine in which a surly conductor snarled that I would have to have my ticket punched to "cancel it". Too late to argue the toss if the conductor on the ride home wasn't in on the latest version of the policy.

I really think that at times like this the whole bloody bunch of them should be forced by state law to wear oversize shoes and red noses. Maybe then we'd see a gradual improvement in what we get for our capital outlay.

  1. The Long Island Rail Road
  2. The single point of failure is something of a design motif for the LIRR and one I feel they wouldn't abandon simply to ensure things worked
  3. An all summer delaying tactic that had us having to catch earlier trains while the LIRR tore up the junction just east of the East River tunnel entrance. Their excuse was that when they were done the all-too common "train stuck behind Amtrack train stalled in Harold Junction" scenario would be a thing of the past. On the first day the junction re-opened for business, my first train into Manhattan was delayed behind an Amtrack train stalled in Harold Junction

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