Commuting via train in 2014. The good and the bad. Tech can make it better.
In today's age of technology, it is not too often you run into archaic systems or procedures. When you do, often times it tends to be smaller businesses, or perhaps a small town business. Now, don't get me wrong, I know there are plenty of Fortune 500 companies that are behind the times, but most are somewhat up on technology in some way.
Well, it's been awhile since I encountered something that is so far behind the technology that I was actually shocked. And, maybe I am missing some key reason why it is behind. But, today I want to discuss our recent experience with the Metra service in the Chicago area. It has been awhile since we had to venture downtown for a meeting. Most of our meetings with clients in the city are conducted via conference calls, etc. Well, this week Dave was required to be in person downtown. No problem we have two train stations here in Crystal Lake. Having two stations to choose from was the highlight of our convenience. It goes downhill after that.
In an effort to save time prior to an early morning train, I attempted to purchase a ticket in advance for Dave. I tried this the day before the trip, during business hours at 1:10 pm. Well, that didn't work. Upon arriving at the station I found out the ticket window is only open until 12:55 pm! Yes, 12:55 on a weekday. Ok fine. So then I thought surely there is a kiosk or vending machine to purchase tickets when attendant not available. Nope, wrong. But there is, however, a coffee shop in the station that is open. So I inquired on ticket purchases without an attendant and was told cash only on the train. Well, ok then.
So, fast forward to the next day, the day of the downtown trip. We discovered that the window which was supposed to be open at 5:25 am was in fact closed. The sign said "Purchase on the train, no extra fee. Cash only". Sigh. So it turns out if you purchase on the train when an attendant is on duty there is a $3 fee. So Dave attempted to purchase a round trip ticket from conductor only to be told one way only. So, since there are attendants at the Ogilvie Transportation Center, he had to purchase a return ticket from them in order to not pay a fee.
Now, I did look into online ticket purchase. It IS available, but mail order only and only 10 trip tickets or monthly passes. I did look to see if there was perhaps an app that allowed ticket purchases, etc. Well, there is a mobile site but it is strictly for scheduling, station finders, delays, etc. Although, you can manage your mail order ticket orders via the app. So, it was not really helpful.
Now, I would like to point out that at the Crystal Lake station there are 25+ kiosk's to pay for parking. It would make sense to have them parking/ticket purchase machines or just have a ticket kiosk in the station for when an attendant is not present. With all the commuters who commute to downtown Chicago who more than likely use technology on the train in the form of computers, tablets, and smartphones. Who also more than likely utilize technology at their job. Wouldn't it be ideal to make the commuter-system more user-friendly?
To offer a suggestion to the Metra lines, I would suggest the following to bring yourself up to date. Make kiosks available for ticket purchase. Update your app to allow for ticket purchases. You already have e-commerce capabilities for online ticket purchase, just expand offerings. Supply conductors with scanners to scan mobile tickets versus paper tickets. With today's technology and the prices of tickets as well as the masses who utilize the system, it is time to embrace technology and make commuting via your rail lines easier and more efficient. With digital tickets, you will cut down on paper usage, which is better for the environment. It would provide travelers with digital receipts of their tickets as well. The airlines allow you to purchase seat upgrades, check-in for flights as well as utilize digital boarding passes that you scan at the gate. Now, admittedly we don't travel this way often. So, maybe we are missing something that would've made this easier. And, by all means, if we are, please point it out and I will retract and admit to my negligence on the matter. Otherwise, Dear Metra, Technology is your friend.