Why not remote agents for many unmanned stations?

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me_little_me

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With modern telecommunications, one remote agent could cover multiple no-longer-manned stations via bidirectional video.
You would press a button at the local station while standing in front of a camera. The video screen would show expected wait time and queue length.
When the agent appears, you can tell the agent your issue and actually show boarding passes, etc as necessary by placing them on reader (boarding pass) or showing them what's wrong and/or discuss your issue.
Agent could do things like update/upgrade tickets, taking credit cards if necessary, print tickets at the station, possibly even have you put luggage on a scale and print luggage tags then tell you where to place luggage by where the baggage car would be where an onboard baggage person would load/unload baggage.

Screen, camera, printer, readers would have a door that locks in off-hours. A security camera and alarm button would be monitoring and recording the room. Restroom and building doors would be remotely locked/unlocked at certain hours. Alarm button would cause alarm at local police as well as notify Amtrak security remotely to look at that screen and be able to communicate to person pulling alarm.
 

ehbowen

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First, it's not a bad idea. But I think that the job could be done better (although not necessarily cheaper) by putting a dedicated baggageman back on the trains for luggage at the small station stops, and giving the conductors the tools (most of which they already have, actually) to do the rest.
 

Dakota 400

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First, it's not a bad idea. But I think that the job could be done better (although not necessarily cheaper) by putting a dedicated baggageman back on the trains for luggage at the small station stops, and giving the conductors the tools (most of which they already have, actually) to do the rest.
Not having checked baggage service discourages me from booking Amtrak from my closest Amtrak station: Cincinnati. Senior citizens need assistance with luggage at times!
 

sttom

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It's not a bad idea, but it takes away the "face" Amtrak would have in smaller towns. I used to live in a town of about 300 people and we all knew the Post Master. She was a part of the community and lived in the next town over. Personally I think the stations should all be staffed during normal business hours by someone that lives nearby. That way Amtrak would get some PR and have someone to clean the station instead of contracting out to a once or twice a week cleaner.
 

Anderson

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It's not a bad idea, but it takes away the "face" Amtrak would have in smaller towns. I used to live in a town of about 300 people and we all knew the Post Master. She was a part of the community and lived in the next town over. Personally I think the stations should all be staffed during normal business hours by someone that lives nearby. That way Amtrak would get some PR and have someone to clean the station instead of contracting out to a once or twice a week cleaner.
The question is whether this is, in the end, an alternative to a person "on the ground" at the station or an alternative to having nobody present.

The real problem, as far as I can tell, is that Amtrak can't really do what you just described without paying them "union" wages, and side-stepping the issue to let the locality handle it runs into some issues as well (and Amtrak just isn't interested in doing so).

Another compromise would be, if the facilities permit it, to arrange the leasing of part of a station facility to a business on the condition that they also handle certain functions there (this is sort-of like the "community post office" idea that the USPS was looking at).
 

CAQuail

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Years ago back in the 1990s Amtrak had a plan to implement Video ticket machines on the Pere Marquette route. The system was being developed by a company that made ATMs and would have had a video link to an agent at a manned station. IIRC the system would have also had control over station lights and door locks. It got as far as some work being done to prep at least one of the stations for installation and was listed in the timetable. But for whatever reason it never happened. http://timetables.org/full.php?group=19960414n&item=0024
 

ScouseAndy

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Turning this around instead of having tele sales agents sat in an office. Have a team of station staff who also answer the phone when they have no face to face customers to deal with.
 

lordsigma

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Turning this around instead of having tele sales agents sat in an office. Have a team of station staff who also answer the phone when they have no face to face customers to deal with.
I’ve always thought that would be a good idea. Instead of using an outsourced cell center with foreign non union employees why not use station agents to handle some of the calls? Might have to negotiate that with the union but it would be better than destaffing stations. You’d have to train the station agents on the guest rewards stuff and anything else they aren’t allowed to touch right now but they should do it anyway. I frankly find it really annoying when I go into one of the lounges and the lounge attendant can’t assist me with a reservation if it’s related to points. It seems really dumb to have on site agents having to tell you to call the call center for things.
 

Acela150

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Amtrak doesn’t outsource their calls.
Yes they do..... It's been well documented since the announcement of the closure of the Riverside call center. And it came up during the most recent hearing regarding reauthorization. Even more so by PA Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick who represents the district where the Philly call center is.
 

pennyk

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Yes they do..... It's been well documented since the announcement of the closure of the Riverside call center. And it came up during the most recent hearing regarding reauthorization. Even more so by PA Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick who represents the district where the Philly call center is.
It is my understanding that there is a contracted call center in southwest Florida.
 

SarahZ

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Perhaps I should have been more clear.

Amtrak doesn’t outsource their calls overseas. I was addressing the concern that the calls were handled by “foreigners”.
 

Acela150

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It is my understanding that there is a contracted call center in southwest Florida.
Correct. Which was heavily criticized by the TCU rep at the reauthorization hearing. The TCU rep (the union that represents call center employees) mentioned something about Philly would sometimes close during snow storms and that Amtrak claimed that Riverside would close to winter weather as well which the TCU rep said was non sense cause the Riverside call center is in the middle of warm climate.

(Disclaimer- I can't recall the exact conversation between the TCU Rep and whichever Representative from the house about the Riverside, Philly, and Fla. call centers.)

Perhaps I should have been more clear.

Amtrak doesn’t outsource their calls overseas. I was addressing the concern that the calls were handled by “foreigners”.
Perfectly ok. :)
 

fairviewroad

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Aside from the luggage component, you are basically describing a Quik-Trak machine with an added video interface.
Not sure I really need to see the face of the phone agent I'm speaking to, though. How does that really help things?

And you can already talk to an Amtrak call center using your phone. And since a great many folks already carry around telephones, adding that component to a Quik-Trak machine only helps a small number of people.

As far as the luggage piece, that's not a bad idea. Perhaps the innovation here would be to add a luggage-tag printer to a Quik-Trak machine. It doesn't really help the folks who need luggage assistance, though.
 

cirdan

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It's not a bad idea, but it takes away the "face" Amtrak would have in smaller towns. I used to live in a town of about 300 people and we all knew the Post Master. She was a part of the community and lived in the next town over. Personally I think the stations should all be staffed during normal business hours by someone that lives nearby. That way Amtrak would get some PR and have someone to clean the station instead of contracting out to a once or twice a week cleaner.
This.

But maybe Amtrak should look into other ways of generating revenue or combining with other (non Amtrak) functions so as to reduce costs.

So maybe Amtrak stations could be combined with post offices or such so that you're not paying staff to twiddle their thumbs all day on what is a three trains a week route.
 

lordsigma

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The Florida call center from my understanding is run by an Indian outsourcing firm and is staffed by Indian citizens here on work visas hence why I said foreigners. I don’t have absolute confirmation on this, as I heard it through rumors. I will say however I have had a few calls to Amtrak in recent months answered by agents with a heavy Indian accent and the questions asked by the agent on the call were way different from past calls (for example one did not ask me the usual authentication questions for my AGR account) so I assumed these were from the Florida call center. It is a common practice these days in both the call center and IT fields that takes advantage of the low wages in India without actually sending the calls to a call center located in India. While none of this is meant to be disrespectful to the Indian workers, they are just looking to make a living, but the practice is a dirty trick by American companies to avoid paying American employees a decent wage as well as union busting. They can pay these employees minimum wage and house them in dormitory living and they can send their money back to their families in India (as minimum wage here is still better than what they’d make at home.)
 
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sttom

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This.

But maybe Amtrak should look into other ways of generating revenue or combining with other (non Amtrak) functions so as to reduce costs.

So maybe Amtrak stations could be combined with post offices or such so that you're not paying staff to twiddle their thumbs all day on what is a three trains a week route.
It would make sense to combine the two. The Post Office for the most part rents most of it's locations. At least in rural areas, combining the two would save costs. The issue would come down to pay. How do you pay someone who is a Postal employee who is selling Amtrak tickets or how do you pay an Amtrak employee who performs Postal functions? That would be the question, which could be a hard one to answer.
 

me_little_me

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It would make sense to combine the two. The Post Office for the most part rents most of it's locations. At least in rural areas, combining the two would save costs. The issue would come down to pay. How do you pay someone who is a Postal employee who is selling Amtrak tickets or how do you pay an Amtrak employee who performs Postal functions? That would be the question, which could be a hard one to answer.
A couple of ways:
1)Both Amtrak and the USPS (or whatever operation Amtrak partners with) would contract with each other such that the employee would list which hours were worked for whom and the companies would pay the employee as a part-timer except that the employee would have proportional benefits paid by each party.
2) The employee would work for a third party with defined benefits comparable to what each party gives their employees and each party pays into the fund to pay the employee.

It doesn't have to be the USPS. There are multiple local/city/federal government organizations that might want to job share. However, part-time FBI agent/Amtrak agent probably wouldn't work. :)
 

jebr

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It could even be as simple as some sort of cost-sharing. For the most part, in small communities the post office functions would be much more frequent than Amtrak functions. If specific hours are needed for Amtrak functions, then those hours could be "billed" to Amtrak, otherwise it probably makes more sense to have the time billed to the post office, using post office hours, and then any tickets sold have a portion apportioned to the post office that sold the ticket.
 

fairviewroad

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The post office/Amtrak mash-up is appealing but is a non-starter for several reasons. First, the number of post offices tops 31,000 according to the USPS website. The number of Amtrak train stations is, what, 500 or so? Why would the post office go through all the hassle to link up with Amtrak for such a tiny portion of its retail locations?

Not to mention that fact that Amtrak obviously can't move its train stations to some random location away from the tracks, so it would fall to the USPS to...what...renovate the train station? Why in the world would they do that? I mean, there might be a few quirky cases where this could work, but it's definitely not a model.

There could be other government agencies that are less site-dependant for which this could work. For instance, a lot of cities have a "payments" desk where people come to pay water bills, etc. This person could easily be based at the train station. But that would require quite a lot of outside-the-box cooperation to make it work.
 

MikefromCrete

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Yeah, having the post office move into the Amtrak station might work in some town that doesn't need a lot of space for mail sorting and storage, but post offices, at least my area, are only open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. Not very convenient if a train arrives at 6 a.m. or 9 p.m., or any time on Sunday and holidays.

Some coordination with local government might work in some areas, perhaps small town police stations would be best, since they would be open at all hours (or unless it's a very small town) and would obviously be very secure.
The best solution might be some kind of part-time contract employee who would be present at train time, offer checked baggage service, and be informed of rail operations and maybe clean up the place.
 

Abe26

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Another compromise would be, if the facilities permit it, to arrange the leasing of part of a station facility to a business on the condition that they also handle certain functions there (this is sort-of like the "community post office" idea that the USPS was looking at).
This sounds like a great idea, Amtrak can even generate income by renting out the spaces
 

PVD

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What percentage of the smaller stations actually belong to Amtrak? Very often, they are a tenant, and any ability to share space, sub lease space, or engage in additional business lines are likely subject to landlord negotiations...
 
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