East Lansing to join list of unstaffed Amtrak stations in Mi

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East Lansing to join list of unstaffed Amtrak stations in Mi

Unread postby NS3322 » Thu Sep 06, 2018 2:40 pm

How do you all feel about this?
Why are Battle Creek and Detroit retaining agents?

Trains Magazine wrote:LANSING, Mich. — East Lansing, Michigan’s fourth-busiest Amtrak station, will soon join the list of Amtrak ticket offices in the state to close.

The stations in Niles, Jackson and Flint, Mich., became unstaffed earlier this year by attrition (the lone ticket agent at each station retired and was not replaced). In all cases, the Michigan Department of Transportation, which pays for all three Amtrak routes operating in the state, has hired caretakers to open and close the recently de-staffed stations at train times.

“There are plans for full-time caretakers at East Lansing,” MDOT Communications Manager Michael Frezell tells Trains News Wire. “Currently, there is a caretaker only on Tuesday and Wednesday. We are working with the Capital Area Transportation Authority and Amtrak on this.”

Amtrak has eliminated agents at a number of locations nationwide this year, but decisions on staffing in Michigan are made jointly by Amtrak and MDOT. Amtrak justified other ticket office closures by claiming it is uneconomical to staff stations that see an average of fewer than 40 passenger boardings per day, particularly in light of a shift to online ticket purchases. An Amtrak source now reports that a minimum threshold of 40,000 boardings per fiscal year may be in use.

According to Amtrak’s figures, over 68,000 passengers boarded trains at East Lansing in fiscal 2017, almost 10,000 more than the number that boarded at Detroit, which is retaining its staffed ticket office (along with Dearborn, Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo, which all saw higher patronage than East Lansing in 2017). The other Michigan stations that remain staffed are Battle Creek and Port Huron, which each handled fewer passengers in 2017 than East Lansing.

Employing caretakers “allows the stations to be open to the public when the trains arrive and depart, which is a benefit to the customers,” Frezell says. “With a vast majority of tickets being purchased online, having tickets purchased at the station has significantly reduced over the past year.”

“Amtrak customer experience and the financial performance of the network is always under review,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. “If and when ticket windows are closed, ticketed customers are advised and notices are posted on Amtrak.com. There is no such notice posted for [East Lansing.]” Magliari would not comment on whether Amtrak uses a specific threshold of patronage when deciding whether to retain ticket agents at a given station.

Last edited by NS3322 on Fri Sep 07, 2018 8:39 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: East Lansing to join list of unstaffed Amtrak stations i

Unread postby Steve B » Thu Sep 06, 2018 7:47 pm

Port Huron was actually de-staffed in summer 2016. I'm glad the article brought this topic to people's attention. It misses a chance to address the giant gulf between MDOT's and Amtrak's statements. Frezell says plans are in the works for caretakers, while Amtrak's Magliari won't even admit that the station is closing. Does Magliari plan to deny and obfuscate until the day of the agent's final shift, hoping people will be too dumb to notice what's going on?
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Re: East Lansing to join list of unstaffed Amtrak stations i

Unread postby NYCMan » Thu Sep 06, 2018 7:57 pm

Face it, is there a single Amtrak station in Michigan that needs to be staffed? Since reservations are required, all can be handled online, or via automated ticket machine kiosks at the stations. Any "face to face" ticket sales can be handle by the on-board conductor.

As is, on its Michigan trains, Amtrak loses enough money on each passenger. Eliminating the "pork" of station agents would help, in a small way, toward reducing those losses.
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Re: East Lansing to join list of unstaffed Amtrak stations i

Unread postby hoborich » Thu Sep 06, 2018 9:30 pm

I believe it's a state of Michigan problem. They are doing the same thing with many of the State Parks. Many State Parks have no one to register campers anymore. Instead, you are directed to use a Yellow phone on the outside wall of the entry shack, which connects you to some operator in a call center somewhere. Same for the boat ramps. They got most people to buy the annual pass on their vehicle registrations and license tabs, and a conservation officer occasionally drives through the parking lot checking license tabs for people who didn't pay. And they have the Host campers to keep an eye on things. Maybe they can have Host Travelers man the Amtrak stations. :roll:
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Re: East Lansing to join list of unstaffed Amtrak stations i

Unread postby MiddleMI » Thu Sep 06, 2018 9:32 pm

This can't be a surprise; the ticket office is already not even opened on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and the only opened a few hours in the morning and a few hours at night on the other days. Wasn't there always a question over who'd fund to pay for the employee, long-term? MDOT's statement is weird. What is a "caretaker?" Is it just for them to seem like they'll be doing more, while this new caretaker won't really be of much help to people looking to buy tickets? So is the caretaker there on the days Amtrak doesn't staff the station?

In either case, this doesn't seem like a big substantial change to how things already function at the station.
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Re: East Lansing to join list of unstaffed Amtrak stations i

Unread postby ~Z~ » Thu Sep 06, 2018 9:59 pm

There's a caretaker who helps open and close the Amtrak depot in Grand Rapids each night, and I'm quite sure it's an unpaid volunteer job. Caretaker is a member on this board even...feel free to chime in if you're out there Al.
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Re: East Lansing to join list of unstaffed Amtrak stations i

Unread postby Steve B » Thu Sep 06, 2018 11:08 pm

At least some of the time, there is a (CATA?) person who sits at the E Lansing Amtrak window on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I haven't observed what he or she does there. There is no reason for them to be back there, as they aren't Amtrak employees and aren't able to operate the computer.

There sometimes is just one conductor working, and he or she won't have time to be writing tickets. Amtrak agents are able to research complex multi-destination fare situations and explain them far better than fumbling around on the website will. I've heard of at least one tour operator who won't bother with it anymore once the agent is pulled. The agent is also able to explain much better than a caretaker regarding train delays.

Amtrak went to a split shift in East Lansing a year ago for the agent (7 AM-10 AM and 8 PM-11 PM) and those are inconvenient times for many users. It's far too reminiscent of various moves in the '60s by railroads that seemed designed to deliberately discourage business.

No, caretakers in Michigan aren't volunteers. To the best of my knowledge, they're all (very modestly) paid and always have been.

When I was a caretaker in 2004-2005 we were told to unlock and lock up, but not to attempt to assist with boarding/deboarding or answer most questions about Amtrak services and policies, since we weren't sufficiently informed or trained for those duties.

Nowadays it sounds like a free for all with little direction from Amtrak, with at least one station's caretakers (provided by a staffing agency) answering the phone, helping with boarding/deboarding (a serious liability issue), and giving people the impression that they're regular Amtrak employees, regardless of what (mis) information they give. Getting cleaning and bathroom supplies supplied to caretakers has been known to be a real pain sometimes (although CATA provides the janitor in E Lansing) and Amtrak has also been known to be late in getting them paid.
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Re: East Lansing to join list of unstaffed Amtrak stations i

Unread postby jrgerber » Sun Sep 09, 2018 11:05 am

Amtrak will eventually cut itself out of business. I question whether most adults and college students can even read a train schedule accurately and whether they will get help from calling Amtrak customer service. We were lucky to have railfan friendly station agents at East Lansing during the years, the new station is a vast improvement over the old but the new one will probably never be as loved as the old crackerbox one. Just another one of the changes the whole area over the years has changed dramatically as well as the train count once CP left 10 years ago. I wish Ian the current station agent the best of luck in the future. What few East Lansing railfans left will be hit with customer questions like when does the train to Toledo arrive.
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Re: East Lansing to join list of unstaffed Amtrak stations i

Unread postby Tom Train » Sun Sep 09, 2018 9:38 pm

Michigan caretakers are paid.They bid on it thru MDOT, I presume. For several years I filled in for the caretaker in GRR, part-time,mostly nights and weekends.I always assisting passengers and helping train crews,by manning doors and helping with luggage.
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Re: East Lansing to join list of unstaffed Amtrak stations i

Unread postby Saturnalia » Sun Sep 09, 2018 9:51 pm

Tom Train wrote:Michigan caretakers are paid.They bid on it thru MDOT, I presume. For several years I filled in for the caretaker in GRR, part-time,mostly nights and weekends.I always assisting passengers and helping train crews,by manning doors and helping with luggage.

I'll agree that it would be most effective for most stations to get by with a caretaker who is paid and gets a basic level of training by Amtrak. This would help solve some of the liability issues. It would be very easy and cheap to setup some basic online courses for caretakers to take periodically and while on-boarding, teaching them the basics of both operations and safety.

The best caretakers are those who posses the basic knowledge and abilities to be helpful. I've always found the GRR station caretakers to be great at helping people out with information and luggage assistance when needed. Plenty of times I've seen them help folks fresh off #370 figure out exactly where they're going and how to get there, if they're new to the area.

As for ticket sales, you can either get them online or at the kiosks. I know there are some dinosaurs out there (you know who you are) still, but they're really, really easy to use these days. If you're going to be booking something really complex, you're going to do it online yourself and/or call customer service anyways. Nobody is going to try booking those at stations anymore. Lord knows there aren't sleeping cars available close-in to departure anyways!
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Re: East Lansing to join list of unstaffed Amtrak stations i

Unread postby MiddleMI » Sun Sep 09, 2018 11:41 pm

Saturnalia wrote:
Tom Train wrote:Michigan caretakers are paid.They bid on it thru MDOT, I presume. For several years I filled in for the caretaker in GRR, part-time,mostly nights and weekends.I always assisting passengers and helping train crews,by manning doors and helping with luggage.

I'll agree that it would be most effective for most stations to get by with a caretaker who is paid and gets a basic level of training by Amtrak. This would help solve some of the liability issues. It would be very easy and cheap to setup some basic online courses for caretakers to take periodically and while on-boarding, teaching them the basics of both operations and safety.

The best caretakers are those who posses the basic knowledge and abilities to be helpful. I've always found the GRR station caretakers to be great at helping people out with information and luggage assistance when needed. Plenty of times I've seen them help folks fresh off #370 figure out exactly where they're going and how to get there, if they're new to the area.

As for ticket sales, you can either get them online or at the kiosks. I know there are some dinosaurs out there (you know who you are) still, but they're really, really easy to use these days. If you're going to be booking something really complex, you're going to do it online yourself and/or call customer service anyways. Nobody is going to try booking those at stations anymore. Lord knows there aren't sleeping cars available close-in to departure anyways!


All of this. At the end of the day, this is really not that big of a deal, though of course you'd rather have the amenity of someone working their full time just for the prestige and convenince of it. In any case, after a few rocky years from 2012 to 2015, ridership is the highest it's been in 20 years at the station, and will only increase as East Lansing continues to grow the area along Trowbridge and Harrison. This is all to say that this is hardly a crisis, even if you're disappointing in some of the decisions made for the new station.
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Re: East Lansing to join list of unstaffed Amtrak stations i

Unread postby Saturnalia » Sun Sep 09, 2018 11:48 pm

MiddleMI wrote:All of this. At the end of the day, this is really not that big of a deal, though of course you'd rather have the amenity of someone working their full time just for the prestige and convenince of it. In any case, after a few rocky years from 2012 to 2015, ridership is the highest it's been in 20 years at the station, and will only increase as East Lansing continues to grow the area along Trowbridge and Harrison. This is all to say that this is hardly a crisis, even if you're disappointing in some of the decisions made for the new station.

When 99% of passenger activity occurs within about a 45-minute timespan each day, it's stupid to pay somebody to be there all day.

At least the Wolverine stations see 6 trains a day...
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Re: East Lansing to join list of unstaffed Amtrak stations i

Unread postby 12Bridge » Mon Sep 10, 2018 12:19 am

Amtrak MI service is glorified commuter service.

NYCTA, LIRR, MN, NJT, PATH, Metra, CTA and every other commuter agency I can think of does just fine without having staffed stations and ticket machines/online aps/ onboard fares.

Hate to see jobs, go, but its 2018. Get over it. Same goes for toll collectors.
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Re: East Lansing to join list of unstaffed Amtrak stations i

Unread postby jrgerber » Mon Sep 10, 2018 5:02 am

While I agree with will trained caretakers as an alternative I do point out 68000 boardings is 28000 more than their self imposed threshhold. Grand Rapids is a poor comparison based on boardings volumes. And yes the Wolverine sees six trains a day but the only staffed ones are Detroit and Battle Creek correct?
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Re: East Lansing to join list of unstaffed Amtrak stations i

Unread postby jrgerber » Mon Sep 10, 2018 5:07 am

And how many Amtrak stations have paid parking like East Lansing? Seems to me some of that revenue could pay for full time staffing. It wasnt that long ago they were exploring to shifts agents.
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Re: East Lansing to join list of unstaffed Amtrak stations i

Unread postby Schteinkuh » Mon Sep 10, 2018 1:12 pm

12Bridge wrote:Amtrak MI service is glorified commuter service.

The recent studies I've read indicated that only a small percentage of MI services passengers were commuters, and my experiences also reflect that.
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Re: East Lansing to join list of unstaffed Amtrak stations i

Unread postby Ypsi » Mon Sep 10, 2018 3:43 pm

Ann Arbor is also staffed, and will likely be the last holdout when it's said and done. Detroit will too I would last because no one would want to sit outside/ without security (iirc there is security) at the Detroit station. None of the wolverine stops have forced paid parking, AA has meters but they have an ok sized long term Parking lot. Ann Arbor and Battle Creek are also now shared grayhound stops which will likely keep them staffed longer.
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Re: East Lansing to join list of unstaffed Amtrak stations i

Unread postby SD80MAC » Mon Sep 10, 2018 4:43 pm

IIRC East Lansing is also a shared stop with Greyhound.
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Re: East Lansing to join list of unstaffed Amtrak stations i

Unread postby NS3322 » Mon Sep 10, 2018 7:40 pm

Ypsi wrote:Detroit will too I would last because no one would want to sit outside/ without security (iirc there is security) at the Detroit station.

I hope you are talking about at night, because that area has improved greatly in the last 5 years.
I think the downside to the Detroit Amtrak station is that it is very small, looks like an old restaurant, and has very little parking.

Perhaps we could go back to this?
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Re: East Lansing to join list of unstaffed Amtrak stations i

Unread postby Ypsi » Tue Sep 11, 2018 1:53 am

NS3322 wrote:
Ypsi wrote:Detroit will too I would last because no one would want to sit outside/ without security (iirc there is security) at the Detroit station.

I hope you are talking about at night, because that area has improved greatly in the last 5 years.
I think the downside to the Detroit Amtrak station is that it is very small, looks like an old restaurant, and has very little parking.

Perhaps we could go back to this?
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I know, I know it's on the wrong side of town and the sheds are gone....



I'm one of the bigger "Detroit is getting better/ is not that bad" people as well (and please let's not make this a thread about that), however I know how people are.. and if that was an unstaffed station where people couldn't get in or assisted I would bet boarding goes down as news of that spread. Not to mention that 4 out of 6 Amtrak's are "early hours"/ at night for half of the year. In the winter 352-355-354 are all darkness and 351 could also be put in that group during the winter. While it is nice to imagine the MC working again, Amtrak has invested too much money going to PNT. Maybe if commuter service goes there and Amtrak adds trips, then we could see a train terminating at a new platform at the MC, however unless that happenes I do not see just Amtrak stopping there. Honestly I prefer the cork town location over the new center, but compared to fort street or brush street they both suck in terms of proximity to downtown.
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