LIRR riders were less satisfied with the railroad’s service last year than during any time in at least a decade, according to the agency’s latest customer survey.
In the survey released Monday, 76 percent of customers reported being satisfied with the railroad overall — down from 77 percent in 2017, which was the lowest since the railroad began using a percentage scoring system in 2009. Riders’ unhappiness was even lower during the peak travel times, when 68 percent of customers said they were satisfied, down from 69 percent in 2017.
The railroad surveyed its customers in June, and received responses from 12,891 riders. The low marks coincided with the railroad in 2018 reporting its lowest annual on-time performance since 1999. Also last April, Phillip Eng took over as president of the LIRR, replacing Patrick Nowakowski, who previously ran the commuter railroad — the largest in the United States — since 2014.
The survey was discussed at Monday morning's meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board’s railroad committee, where some committee members took issue with the nine-month lag time between when the survey was taken and when its results were released. On Monday evening, the railroad experienced delays on the Ronkonkoma, Huntington/Port Jefferson and Oyster Bay branches because of a fallen power line on the tracks west of Hicksville.
The LIRR said “a record number of track work programs and signal improvements,” which resulted in train delays and other service disruptions, contributed to the overall drop in customer satisfaction on the survey. The Ronkonkoma branch, which was affected by work on the LIRR’s effort to complete the installation of a second track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma, scored the worst in the survey, with just 59 percent of riders saying they were satisfied — down significantly from 71 percent in 2017.
The Port Washington branch, which does not pass through Jamaica and therefore avoids service problems there, had the highest satisfaction rate of 86 percent, up from 81 percent the prior year.
There were some positive trends in the survey, including among “reverse peak” riders, who travel east during the morning rush hour and west in the evenings. They reported being 87 percent satisfied with service, up from 79 percent in 2017.
And while the railroad, as usual, earned some of its lowest marks in the category of cleanliness, there were some signs of improvement. “Train interior cleanliness” earned a score of 75 percent, up from 73 percent. And 39 percent of customers said they were satisfied with train bathroom cleanliness, up from 35 percent in 2017.
The railroad earned its highest satisfaction score for its mobile ticketing app — 92 percent. It scored 91 percent in the category of overall “courtesy and responsiveness” of LIRR employees.
“Bottom line — this survey continues to demonstrate that, regardless of circumstances beyond their control, the efforts of our employees are still appreciated by our customers,” said Anthony Simon, general chairman of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union — the LIRR’s largest labor organization.
Eng said Monday that the railroad continues to see positive results from its LIRR Forward service improvement initiative, which began shortly before the survey was taken.
Before a Westbury grade crossing accident and derailment Feb. 26 caused 338 delays over a three-day period, the LIRR was on pace to reporting an on-time performance rate of 94.2 percent for the month, an improvement over last February, Eng said. Ultimately, 92.1 percent of trains ran on time in February.
“We are committed to focusing our limited resources on those areas we can control and have the highest value while we better prepare ourselves to respond and mitigate impacts during events that we cannot control,” Eng said.