Customer Service Lessons from MTA Bus Drivers

First, what I’ve witnessed…

This morning:

Bus was stopped at light, a few feet from the stop.  Someone who missed the bus, knocked on the door to be let in and asked if she could get on and the bus driver through the closed-door said, “no.” She repeated his, “no” and looked shocked as the light turned green and the bus pulled off.

Yesterday morning:

Bus driver failed to respond to any questions asked about purchasing tickets to get on the M15 X (express).

Last week:

Mom with stroller trying to get on bus before it pulled off and in the rain, pushed open stroller with child onto bus. Driver, stopped her and told her she could only get on the bus with a closed stroller and to get off, remove the child and close the stroller and then get on.


The MTA has some rude employees. For every one that is kind, there are at least two more that are complete a-holes!

My problem with all of these examples is a lack of concern or propriety shown to the customer. Actually, there is a very clear and decisive angst toward the customer. Almost as if the customer had done something wrong.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I get on the bus some mornings and want to strangle my fellow brethren, but I can’t. However, rather than act rude toward them, I just ignore them. Yep, I ignore the woman whose bag keeps hitting me, or the lady who is really taking up two seats instead of one. And in most cases, if I’m really pissed off and the bus is really crowded, I just wait for the next bus. Which will inevitably be less crowded, if not empty.  I realize that I have a choice here. I can decide what bus to take or not take and to ignore the rude antics of my fellow human, where as a bus driver can’t, but I’m also not getting paid to provide a service.

And THAT is the golden ticket.  Maybe MTA employees have a right to gripe and be unhappy (heck I am often times unhappy with my place of employment), but when it comes to the people who are paying their hard-earned money to jump on a bus or train, those employees should at the very least be polite. Why? Because the consequences can result in a loss of riders, money (MTA is always complaining about losing money) and most importantly trust and faith.

The MTA is no different from a corporation, even though it is a monopoly, and therefore should have incredible external communication. Yet they don’t. Think about the times you’ve called a number to have to go through automated prompts and then when you finally speak to someone, they aren’t helpful and are rude? I know I make it a point not to use that company any more. With all the selections out there, I can find another company to meet my needs. In the case of the MTA, the lack of respect by their employees is showing NYers that they can use alternate methods of transportation–cars, bicycles (eco-friendly, full of exercise, and inexpensive), taxis and the good old walking (I know I’ve walked on several occasions just because the bus was taking too long, or I didn’t feel like being under ground).

Every time I encounter a rude bus driver, or subway staff, my interest in using MTA declines. Yes, it’s easy, especially when you’re running late, but the fact remains that since I moved here in 2006, there have been four fee increases (I know they’re not that high, but it’s the principle), they’ve decreased service at night and staff in stations, stopped several lines, yet are still moving forward with a line on 2nd Ave (which I get will help alleviate crowds on the 4,5, and 6 lines, but that’s costing several billions of dollars they can’t afford and then you rude employees. These are all major concerns and I think any corporation would buckle down on them before they got even larger or cost them severely.

As a monthly metro card holder, I sometimes wonder what would happen if all of NY stood up and for a day didn’t use the subway or bus system. What would happen? Would our collective voices be heard? Would it change the way the MTA views it’s users? Maybe this is something we should explore…

More importantly, there’s a lesson to learn behind this: how not to treat your customers. It’s fairly simple, really. Never shut the door in someone’s face. Even if you have a schedule and you want to get going, if you have a chance to treat someone kindly, or make someone’s day a bit easier, take it. I know (from experience), that in retail, it is often, “don’t kick out your customer, even if it’s after closing because you may make a sale.” I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about helping a customer whether they buy something or not. I’m talking about going above and beyond the ordinary. That means, not forcing a mother and her child back in the rain just to close a stroller, or ignoring customers that don’t understand a new system and are asking for help. A client/customer will remember your interaction and how you treated them always. If it was bad, well, every one they know will know. If it was good, every one they know will know. Not to mention, they will come to you always, even for recommendations.

Your customer base is everything and therefore should be treated with respect and courtesy. Employees can be one of the best marketing tools if they are happy, and the worst, if they’re unhappy.  When an employee is rude or shows no decency, they are essentially saying that the company does not value them and that is never a position a company seeks.

By the way, this posting is ignoring all the other ways bad customer service can be channeled; mainly through social media avenues. I’m using my examples as a way to show why bad customer service hurts, rather than complaining about how bad the MTA is, but people have taken their complaints to twitter and facebook. They’ve blogged about their complaints. Just because a company no longer responds to emails or phone calls, or for that matter has someone who works to answer these complaints, doesn’t mean that the complaint goes unexposed.  This means companies have to be vigilant and work harder to watch when they not only have continuous bad customer service incidents, but don’t offer explanations, consolation, or at the very least an attempt at change.  It would be cheaper for all parties if the company just owned up to it and implemented the changes necessary to fix the broken issues.

Thank you MTA for showing me what I will do, should I ever have an employee, or more even.  Make sure they understand the importance of good, helpful, and solid customer service.

I’m kind of curious to know what are some good and bad customer service experiences you’ve had. If you’d like to share, please do!


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s2 stationery & designs

A rule-breaking designer, artist & entrepreneur who's passionate about paper and handcrafting stationery. I also write, travel, and focus on eco + social good.

4 thoughts on “Customer Service Lessons from MTA Bus Drivers”

  1. I absolutely love this post. I HAD to reblog it. This is something I talk about all of the time as I came from being in a management position before. There is a decline in customer service all across the board and I will agree that the MTA is definitely included in that group. Well written and well said. Thank you and keep sharing.

    1. Thank you Jen! I worked in retail for many years and even on days where I was tired and easily irritable, that never stopped me from calling other stores to find and hold an item for a customer, or going out of my way to make sure the customer got excellent service. I’m always so angry when I see people working in stores, or in a service position where they have no respect, not only for the customer, or their employer, but for themselves, too. Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for reblogging it. It means a lot that my words struck a cord!

    1. Oh, I had a bus driver close the door in my face yesterday morning. There was a bus right behind him, but they are some of the rudest employees ever. Sorry you’re having such a rough experience on the bus today!

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