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How can NJ Transit repair its image with commuters?

Crowded NJ Transit train
(deej_vegas via Twitter)

NEWARK — What can NJ Transit do to repair its image with commuters demanding refunds and cursing out the railroad agency on social media?

In addition to getting the trains to run on time, discounted fares and refunds might be the ticket.

But a continuing streak of long delays and overcrowded trains and stations have seen NJ Transit commuters turn up their criticism, awaiting what will result from the finger pointing between NJ Transit and Amtrak, which operates and maintains the tracks, equipment and facilities.

“While certainly the folks at New Jersey Transit are doing their best to apologize … sometimes it has to go beyond an apology,” said Ken Mizrach, a crisis communications expert at Rutgers University.

He says riders are not getting the expected seamless ride to-and-from work. Mizrach said they need to remember that good public relations put the customer ahead of profits.

“If they’ve got to give something back to the consumer, that’s one way to deal with the public relations angle on this. Sometimes you’ve got to the give the consumer something they don’t expect, like perhaps even reduced-fare tickets or different types of schedules that make it easier for commuters to go to and from work,” Mizrach said.

NJ Transit delays could get worse before they get better

“You’re dealing with high emotions and you’ve got to address those emotions. It’s one thing to say, ‘We’ve got infrastructure problems; we’re going to fix it.’ Now you have to think in terms of what are you going to give the customer to make them at least feel like they’re being taken care of,” Mizrach said.

Many customers have said they want refunds for their tortured rides.  NJ Transit’s refund policy states that they do not issue refunds for one-way, round-trip, round-trip excursion, and rail off-peak round-trip tickets because they do not expire. However, refunds can be issued for unused 10-trip tickets, weekly and monthly passes and Newark Air Train tickets.

NJ Transit did not return several messages seeking a clarification on the policy. Their website instructions state that unused tickets must be mailed, but some riders might use their app as a ticket.

Reporter Dino Flammia called NJ Transit customer service as a customer and said he was put on hold for two minutes after asking his questions.

“She came back on and read me the exact refund policy we’ve been looking at all day. I told her I’ve already seen/read that policy, and she said it’s all she knows, too.”

“One thing she did say was that when you send in a refund request, you typically include a letter explaining why you want a refund. But she could not say which reasons would be eligible for a refund, or if passes need to be unused,” Flammia said.

Amtrak continued its track maintenance and inspection on Wednesday without major delays developing. Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman on Thursday will announce plans to make major improvements to the infrastructure to the 112-year-old New York Penn Station.

The New York Times reported that Amtrak is considering an aggressive plan that would close multiple tracks at New York Penn Station for days or weeks to make repairs, which would also cause extensive delays.

Gov. Chris Christie in a statement Wednesday said he is glad to see Amtrak make “long-ignored repairs to infrastructure at New York Penn Station and throughout the Northeast Corridor.”

“The condition of the overhead wires and the tracks and the rest of the infrastructure is just as important on the Corridor in New Brunswick as it is going in and out of Manhattan.”

The governor said that he is “closely monitoring the situation to make sure these repairs by Amtrak address our deepest safety concerns and that they are done in the most timely fashion to reduce inconvenience to riders, while ensuring long-term reliability.”

Dino Flammia contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com.

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