Amtrak Customer Advisory Committee

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railiner

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Seems like there would be no shortage of eager volunteers to serve on such a committee...I don't see why they couldn't reinstate it with all volunteer help...
 

Devil's Advocate

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Seems like there would be no shortage of eager volunteers to serve on such a committee...I don't see why they couldn't reinstate it with all volunteer help...
I do not doubt there would be no shortage of volunteer customers, but which of Amtrak's employees do you expect to "volunteer" for work related duties on their own time? At my own job we host interns who only earn a minimal stipend but also chew up a lot of support hours. That's where the real cost lies.
 

pennyk

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I do not doubt there would be no shortage of volunteer customers, but which of Amtrak's employees do you expect to "volunteer" for work related duties on their own time? At my own job we host interns who only earn a minimal stipend but also chew up a lot of support hours. That's where the real cost lies.
The committee members were all volunteers. We had travel requirements for which we paid out of our pockets. However, the director was being paid and I presume that Amtrak employees who attended the ACAC conferences and helped administer the committee were all getting paid for their time.
 

Devil's Advocate

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The committee members were all volunteers. We had travel requirements for which we paid out of our pockets. However, the director was being paid and I presume that Amtrak employees who attended the ACAC conferences and helped administer the committee were all getting paid for their time.
I'm not against advisory groups in general but I also don't expect employees to work for free and I'm somewhat dubious about how much power these groups have to actually improve anything until the Mica dining directives are weakened or removed. I'd probably feel differently if we were still living in the Chef Inspired era. Change was pretty slow back then but at least things were improving. Now change is fast and common but nearly all down hill (from my perspective).
 
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railiner

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I don't advocate for anyone to work without compensation, but for some, certain things are a "labor of love"...I would cite as an example, all of the management personnel that would volunteer to work the "Amtrak Autumn Excursion" trains. The train crew and the LSA's were paid, but the rest of the help was doing it on their own time.
 

jis

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I believe the decision was financial. Although the costs of the maintaining the committee were not large, there were costs. I am not overly optimistic that the ACAC will be reinstated.
I as a Council Member of RPA have significant reservations about getting the RPA involved in Amtrak's Customer Advisory Committee. Amtrak should reinstate it and run it themselves. It is difficult for a passenger advocacy group to push passenger agenda specially when their view differs significantly from that of Amtrak management, if the activity makes them beholden to Amtrak for funding. It is a not so subtle conflict of interest. So I would generally oppose RPA trying to get back into that business though Jim Matthews probably wants to. Of course any number of RPA members and indeed anyone else too can choose to volunteer for such a committee should Amtrak set one up and ask for volunteers.

Also RPA could set up its own committee to address concerns of Rail Passengers (not just Amtrak passengers). There are oodles of issues on the NEC about lack of coordination between Amtrak and the various Commuter roads, specially ones that are not contracting for service provision by Amtrak. There is currently no place to discuss and formulate proposals, advisory or otherwise, on such matters. I know, almost every rail operator hates the thought of having such a meddling outfit sitting around, so they try hard to make sure it does not happen, and when it does they try to stuff it with their own potted plants, as NJT tried, and was recently blocked by the Governor.
 

dlagrua

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I believe that the customer advisory function is now being done in a different form. This week I received a customer survey from Amtrak and was able to add my comments and suggestions. Point is that Amtrak is still receiving customer input but in a different form. Every passenger now gets to state their opinion.
 

Devil's Advocate

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I believe that the customer advisory function is now being done in a different form. This week I received a customer survey from Amtrak and was able to add my comments and suggestions. Point is that Amtrak is still receiving customer input but in a different form. Every passenger now gets to state their opinion.
None of the survey's I've received came directly from Amtrak. They were all from third party services that collect and collate the results into a series of dashboards and spreadsheets. Free form text is converted into condensible data by being scored against various words and phrases that attempt to discern motive and disposition. At some point that particular campaign ends and everything is packaged into a PDF report and sent to the customer, who may or may not be Amtrak. That's not to say these campaigns don't serve a purpose, but they're more about monitoring broader trends than guiding a specific policy.
 
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dlagrua

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None of the survey's I've received came directly from Amtrak. They were all from third party services that collect and collate the results into a series of dashboards and spreadsheets. Free form text is converted into condensible data by being scored against various words and phrases that attempt to discern motive and disposition. At some point that particular campaign ends and everything is packaged into a PDF report and sent to the customer, who may or may not be Amtrak. That's not to say these campaigns don't serve a purpose, but they're more about monitoring broader trends than guiding a specific policy.
True but I believe that the survey may have been done on behalf of Amtrak. The survey does not ask your name or email. It is an anonymous survey that appears to be tailored to passenger rail travel. Can't say for sure but who else could use such data?
 

Devil's Advocate

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True but I believe that the survey may have been done on behalf of Amtrak. The survey does not ask your name or email. It is an anonymous survey that appears to be tailored to passenger rail travel. Can't say for sure but who else could use such data?
It could be the folks behind Amtrak Vacations, America by Rail, Bank of America, a public policy group, or an anti-rail group. Basically anyone who thinks they can find usable data in the results. Purchasing email lists to send surveys is relatively inexpensive and can be used for all sorts of disparate reasons.
 

railiner

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It could be the folks behind Amtrak Vacations, America by Rail, Bank of America, a public policy group, or an anti-rail group. Basically anyone who thinks they can find usable data in the results. Purchasing email lists to send surveys is relatively inexpensive and can be used for all sorts of disparate reasons.
I tend to agree with this to some extent. I suspect the motivation behind much of these 'survey's', is more for 'data-mining' then actual feedback...
 

sttom

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None of the survey's I've received came directly from Amtrak. They were all from third party services that collect and collate the results into a series of dashboards and spreadsheets. Free form text is converted into condensible data by being scored against various words and phrases that attempt to discern motive and disposition. At some point that particular campaign ends and everything is packaged into a PDF report and sent to the customer, who may or may not be Amtrak. That's not to say these campaigns don't serve a purpose, but they're more about monitoring broader trends than guiding a specific policy.
From an IT perspective, there is no reason for Amtrak to make the platform to do the survey in house. Most basic IT functions like data input, websites, sales systems and so on can all be purchased from an outside vendor. There are also plenty of them to choose from. I had to run marketing research surveys when I was in college, using Google Forms to run a survey is incredibly easy. As to what they are using the data for and who is sending them, they should at least tell you the later. I doubt some anti rail group would have some up to date record of who is riding Amtrak and when. As for the why, assuming it is Amtrak or someone affiliated with them, I doubt they are doing this just for the sake of doing it. Since it would cost money to send the survey and have people read them and see if there is anything useful they can parse from it. From my experience of running these in college, out of 100 responses, you might only get 1-3 written responses that are actually insightful. Also, the survey's statistical validity is questionable since only people who absolutely hated something or absolutely loved something will respond. You can go look on Yelp and see that in action, lots of 1 and 5 star reviews, not nearly as much in the middle.
 

pennyk

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None of the survey's I've received came directly from Amtrak. They were all from third party services that collect and collate the results into a series of dashboards and spreadsheets. Free form text is converted into condensible data by being scored against various words and phrases that attempt to discern motive and disposition. At some point that particular campaign ends and everything is packaged into a PDF report and sent to the customer, who may or may not be Amtrak. That's not to say these campaigns don't serve a purpose, but they're more about monitoring broader trends than guiding a specific policy.
When the Amtrak Customer Advisory Committee was operating, every time an ACAC member traveled on Amtrak, he or she was required to file a trip report with Amtrak. For the last few years, a Pronto Forms app was used, and, in my opinion, it worked well. The trip reports provided valuable information, including photos, to Amtrak regarding on-time performance, food, crew, restrooms, stations, safety issues, overall cleanliness, etc. The trip reports were read and results were forwarded to the appropriate management. Positive changes were made based on these trip reports.
 

railiner

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I have been on many ocean cruises. These are always concluded with a request for a satisfaction survey...at first writtten, and more recently via email.
I used to take the time to honestly, and thoroughly complete these, but I have never gotten any acknowledgement about my responses and comments, even when they asked permission to do so. I suspect them offering these surveys is just 'for show'. Twice I suspected they never even looked at them, and to try to support that opinion, I concluded my comments, offering them first $20, and later $50. to the charity of their choice, just to acknowledge my response.
I never did receive any response. Of course, that in of itself doesn't prove my point, but still.....?
 

Devil's Advocate

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As to what they are using the data for and who is sending them, they should at least tell you the later. I doubt some anti rail group would have some up to date record of who is riding Amtrak and when. As for the why, assuming it is Amtrak or someone affiliated with them, I doubt they are doing this just for the sake of doing it. Since it would cost money to send the survey and have people read them and see if there is anything useful they can parse from it.
Industry groups, think tanks, and policy platforms can call themselves whatever they want, including names and phrases that imply the opposite of their true intentions. So even if a survey gives you a name and purpose that's no guarantee of anything. If a business sells customer data it's often to a middleman with little incentive to seriously investigate whoever is buying content on the other end. If you doubt Amtrak would allow someone to impersonate them look at how many people mistake this very forum for Amtrak despite being owned and operated by a private for-profit business. The cost of a basic email campaign is so low almost any group with can afford them.

Twice I suspected they never even looked at them, and to try to support that opinion, I concluded my comments, offering them first $20, and later $50. to the charity of their choice, just to acknowledge my response. I never did receive any response. Of course, that in of itself doesn't prove my point, but still.....?
Even if someone reads that statement they probably can't act on it. I worked for a business that conducted rolling surveys and even when someone wrote something very helpful or serious we couldn't respond directly since we had to follow rules established before the campaign started. Sometimes people would write things completely unrelated to the survey, like admitting to a crime or sharing thoughts of suicide, but we still couldn't reply or forward their message unless there was an established process for that. I mean technically you could do anything you wanted but you'd risk your job in the process.
 
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sttom

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Industry groups, think tanks, and policy platforms can call themselves whatever they want, including names and phrases that imply the opposite of their true intentions. So even if a survey gives you a name and purpose that's no guarantee of anything. If a business sells customer data it's often to a middleman with little incentive to seriously investigate whoever is buying content on the other end. If you doubt Amtrak would allow someone to impersonate them look at how many people mistake this very forum for Amtrak despite being owned and operated by a private for-profit business. The cost of a basic email campaign is so low almost any group with can afford them.
If there were a screenshot of this survey I could confirm this, but if the group is using Amtrak's imagery to get "dirt" on Amtrak, and isn't doing so without Amtrak's authorization, that would lead to at least copyright infringement. Which if I've heard correctly, this forum had to deal with several years ago. If you are really that concerned with who is sending the email, you can check the email address when you go into the email about the survey. The last email I got from Amtrak was a promotional email from amtrak@e-mail.amtrak.com If you're getting emails asking you to complete something from somewhere you don't recognize, don't do it. But if the survey is from we-hate-trains@kochbros.org and it doesn't use Amtrak's imagery in the email, then its on the person for filling it out for giving them information.

Even if Amtrak does sell data on its riders, which I looked and there doesn't appear to be any reporting that it does or anything on their income statement that seems like it could be selling data. And from the reporting that I have managed to find, Amtrak is very opaque with the data it does collect. So I'm not that concerned with them selling data to anti train groups or anyone really. Your email address being in Amtrak's database (or any company's for that matter) also isn't very telling. They can buy your email of a mailing list, so the person buying the data may not even know if the data is first hand data or not.

Also, any data that would hint at Amtrak's ridership or sales numbers aren't going to be sold off quickly. I would imagine that would be a huge scandal if Amtrak leadership approved of selling of data that could hint at their financials before they reported to Congress or the various state governments.
 

Dakota 400

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I have been on many ocean cruises. These are always concluded with a request for a satisfaction survey...at first writtten, and more recently via email.
I used to take the time to honestly, and thoroughly complete these, but I have never gotten any acknowledgement about my responses and comments, even when they asked permission to do so. I suspect them offering these surveys is just 'for show'. Twice I suspected they never even looked at them, and to try to support that opinion, I concluded my comments, offering them first $20, and later $50. to the charity of their choice, just to acknowledge my response.
I never did receive any response. Of course, that in of itself doesn't prove my point, but still.....?
Your suspicion is reasonable and is shared by many. As an experienced cruiser, I have gotten some feedback about comments that I have made on such surveys. Lots, no. But, in speaking with on board ship Officers, the surveys are read, tabulated, and the results sent to the appropriate ship. Not sure that I am allowed to mention a certain cruise related web site, but many of us who participate on that site are certain that Message Boards are monitored by that cruise line (or at least was; may not now be because of the layoffs that have occurred).
 

me_little_me

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As for the why, assuming it is Amtrak or someone affiliated with them, I doubt they are doing this just for the sake of doing it. Since it would cost money to send the survey and have people read them and see if there is anything useful they can parse from it. From my experience of running these in college, out of 100 responses, you might only get 1-3 written responses that are actually insightful. Also, the survey's statistical validity is questionable since only people who absolutely hated something or absolutely loved something will respond. You can go look on Yelp and see that in action, lots of 1 and 5 star reviews, not nearly as much in the middle.
I think you made some assumptions here. The filled in responses can be machine read these days and any confusing answer can just be thrown out by those same machines. As for comments, they might be there just to make the surveyed feel they had real input and/or just the presence of a comment can be detected by those same computers and all that is counted is how many people actually commented or commented on a specific question without bothering to care what was said. For online surveys, the computer can easily just look for the presence of a few key words, again without actually reading and/or interpreting the results.
 

Devil's Advocate

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If you are really that concerned with who is sending the email, you can check the email address when you go into the email about the survey.
I'm not that concerned about who is sending me email. I just don't think it accomplishes much to answer these surveys based on my experience with the other side. If you do believe it's worthwhile that's fine and I hope I'm wrong to your benefit. For me if something is worth reporting it's probably worth calling Customer Relations or posting on Twitter where it can potentially get more eyeballs and attention. For what it's worth there seems to be more interest in points based surveys and employee comment cards so if I were Amtrak that would probably be my primary choice for seller initiated customer interaction.

When the Amtrak Customer Advisory Committee was operating, every time an ACAC member traveled on Amtrak, he or she was required to file a trip report with Amtrak. For the last few years, a Pronto Forms app was used, and, in my opinion, it worked well. The trip reports provided valuable information, including photos, to Amtrak regarding on-time performance, food, crew, restrooms, stations, safety issues, overall cleanliness, etc. The trip reports were read and results were forwarded to the appropriate management. Positive changes were made based on these trip reports.
I wish Amtrak had published findings from this program when it was still in effect. Sometimes improvements are missed simply because you don't think to look for them. Back when I was a routine passenger I know I sometimes missed changes because I'd seen a given outcome enough times to assume it would simply never change. Can you give any examples of what your team saw and how it was improved or corrected over time?

Tagged because of change that added question. @pennyk
 
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OBS

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Your suspicion is reasonable and is shared by many. As an experienced cruiser, I have gotten some feedback about comments that I have made on such surveys. Lots, no. But, in speaking with on board ship Officers, the surveys are read, tabulated, and the results sent to the appropriate ship. Not sure that I am allowed to mention a certain cruise related web site, but many of us who participate on that site are certain that Message Boards are monitored by that cruise line (or at least was; may not now be because of the layoffs that have occurred).
This has been my experience as well. It is surprising how many members from here I have seen on the cruise related web site!
 

railiner

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This has been my experience as well. It is surprising how many members from here I have seen on the cruise related web site!
Why should that be surprising? People interested in train travel are often interested in other modes of travel....I divide my time between the CC cruise forum, various bus forums, airline forums, old car forums, etc....
 

OBS

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Why should that be surprising? People interested in train travel are often interested in other modes of travel....I divide my time between the CC cruise forum, various bus forums, airline forums, old car forums, etc....
Totally true. I just love the surprise of reading Cruise Critic and realizing "hey, I know this person from AU...."
 

Bob Dylan

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Totally true. I just love the surprise of reading Cruise Critic and realizing "hey, I know this person from AU...."
I'm not interested in taking a Cruise( I did mine in the 60s Courtesy of the US Navy lol), but I enjoy reading about others Travel and adventures on them.

I do like riding Ferries!!
 

Dakota 400

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This has been my experience as well. It is surprising how many members from here I have seen on the cruise related web site!
Why should that be surprising? People interested in train travel are often interested in other modes of travel....I divide my time between the CC cruise forum, various bus forums, airline forums, old car forums, etc....
We are travel aficionados.
 
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