Long Island Rail Road customer service has a new face, and his name is Justin.
The LIRR's newest customer service ambassador, Justin Peterson, began his new job last week assisting confused commuters in Jamaica during the morning rush and at busy Penn Station in the evening.
Peterson is the first person to fill one of the seven newly created customer ambassador positions. The LIRR, which has received more than 2,000 applications for the jobs, plans to fill the rest in time for the holiday season.
LIRR customer service ambassadors will be recognizable by their red blazers, vests and caps. Peterson, whose uniform hadn't arrived yet, opted Friday for a brown suit, a red tie and an orange LIRR customer service vest.
"It's nice to be able to help someone that is in a rush or is worrying," said Peterson, of Wheatley Heights, who has worked with the LIRR for seven years, most recently in its storage department. "You're able to help them and they calm down and they're able to make their train."
The customer service ambassadors, who will be paid up to $54,000 a year, receive about a week of training before being thrown into the deep end of the LIRR pool.
Helping others navigate
Armed with smartphones and tablets equipped with various internal LIRR applications, the ambassadors will be available to answer a host of questions including "When is my train leaving?" "Where do I find Amtrak?" and "How do I get to the Empire State Building?"
At Penn Station last week, Peterson was a welcome sight for first-time LIRR rider Natasha Pollard, of Wilmington, Del. She was heading to Farmingdale for a conference and could not make heads or tails of the departure boards that surrounded her.
"I saw him and I said, 'Are you helping people?' and he said, 'Yes, I am,' and I said, 'Perfect,' " said Pollard, who spent several minutes with Peterson asking questions and learning how to read a timetable. "That is exactly what they need to do, especially in a city like New York."
Focus: busiest times, places
The customer service ambassadors will be concentrated in Jamaica in the mornings and Penn Station in the evenings, but will also be assigned to Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn and other busy stations as needed. Some ambassadors will be posted behind podiums at designated locations in stations, while others will roam around, searching for customers who look like they need help.
LIRR president Helena Williams said the goal in creating the new position was to supplement the railroad's various high-tech customer service efforts with a human touch.
"You can't beat the old-fashioned face-to-face," Williams said. "Our goal is to ensure that we are communicating with customers as effectively and efficiently as we can."
In another LIRR first, the ambassadors will work "split shifts" of four hours in the morning and four hours in the evening, with four hours off in between.
Transportation Communications Union general chairman Arthur Maratea, who worked with the LIRR to create the new position, said he was very proud to have the new customer service ambassadors on the job, and that they will be especially invaluable during a service disruption or major travel days, like next year's Super Bowl in New Jersey.
"I really feel the commuters are going to like this," Maratea said. "I do see it growing, and even doubling."