If you’re riding an NJ Transit train or bus and you strike up a conversation with an earnest, pleasant-looking man with a short, well-manicured beard who seems very interested in your traveling experience ... you just might be talking to the agency’s chief customer experience officer.

Stewart Mader, NJ Transit’s new customer advocate, sometimes rides the rails or takes a bus and doesn’t tell anybody who he is, so he can get a better passenger perspective and find out what’s working and where the problems are for travelers.

Prior to joining NJ Transit, Mader, who describes himself as a professional transit rider, established a 16-member PATH Riders Council four years ago.

He plans to create a similar type of council at NJ Transit to help the agency understand the needs and frustrations of the people who use the system on a regular basis — and make improvements.

He said in his first 100 days on the job, “I’ve been out on 15 of our bus routes, nine of our train lines and two light rail systems.”

“Whether I’m riding unannounced or announced, I talk with customers throughout the trip and I also observe things," Mader said.

Mader said when Amtrak work was being done at Penn Station in New York last May, NJ Transit had to make platform changes for arriving trains, so he went out and joined crowds getting off those trains in the morning to see where the “pain points” were — where they were bunched and squeezed as they walked into the main concourse inside of the station.

“I was looking for where could we make any adjustments to make passenger flow better, improve signage or messaging, making sure multiple doors were open and accessible," he said.

He stressed his job as a customer advocate is to look for problems travelers are facing, "getting right in the way a customer would, observing with them and seeing where they have an area where we could improve.”

Mader said he can then take that information and work with bus, light rail and rail operations managers to improve things and make the commuter experience better — or even just spread the word about something on the NJ Transit website.

He said he's helping to improve the NJ Transit website and app, and helping make social media connections with customers more comprehensive and effective.

Mader said it’s important for Jersey residents to keep in mind any time a big operation like NJ Transit is working on significant change, “there’s a period of time where a ton of progress is being made, but it isn’t immediately evident to everybody, customers and the public, partly because some of the progress that we’re making takes time.”

He said as NJ Transit continues to train more engineers and make other improvements “what I want customers to know is there’s a ton of change and progress happening and they’re going to begin to see more and more of the fruits of that in the coming months.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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