Adding fuel to the fire, Palm Tran’s Planning Dept. doesn’t foresee extending county bus service after 7 p.m. on busy east/west routes for possibly another 10 years.
By K. Chandler
For months, Palm Tran Connection (Palm Beach County’s door-to-door public transportation service for seniors and the disabled) was harangued for its late arrival times, missed pick-ups, and discourteous and often incompetent drivers.
As it turns out, Palm Tran, PBC’s public transportation system (running buses north and south between Jupiter and Boca Raton and east and west from Palm Beach Island to Belle Glade) has perhaps an even more egregious record of “no-shows,” late arrivals/departures, missed bus stops and rude and discourteous drivers. So bad is the system, many riders are convinced that nothing short of a complete top-to-bottom over-haul is going to change the situation.
According to Palm Tran’s Customer Service Report, between Jan. 2, 2013 and Feb. 10, 2014, 4,526 complaints, in-quires and commendations were logged by Palm Tran’s Customer Service Dept. Of those 4,526 entries, the vast majority (85 percent or more) were complaints.
By far, the majority of complaints related to late buses. Complaints leveled pertained to buses that were not merely five-10 minutes late, but more often than not 15-60+ minutes late. And this was not the exception but rather the norm.
Among the more notorious routes:
Some of the more notorious routes known for being consistently late include: the #1 bus running north and south down the Federal Hwy. corridor from the Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens to Camino Real in Boca Raton. Second, perhaps only to the No. 1 bus, is the cross town 43 route going from the WPB Intermodal Transit Center (ITC) to the Mall at Wellington Green, followed by Routes 2 & 3 (Congress Avenue and Military Trail respectively). Many other routes were also routinely late.
Countless complaints told of missed bus and Tri Rail connections; of leaving riders stranded and late for work. In numerous instances, people already in low-income jobs, lost those jobs due to poor bus service.
One man stated in a March 13, 2013 complaint that due to the bus running very late it caused him to be late for work. Consequently, he said he received a written disciplinary notice. Another rider posted via Facebook on April, 15, 2013 that her 4 p.m. Military Trail bus (#3) didn’t arrive until 4:28 p.m. and she is now in jeopardy of losing her job due to late buses. Still another passenger complained of being charged at her child’s daycare due to picking up her child late because of a late Palm Tran bus. Then there was the Jan. 25, 2013 case of one rider who missed her Route 43 West connection when the earlier bus she was on arrived 25 minutes late. The No. 43 bus was the last bus of the day, effectively stranding her with no way to get home.
In what is estimated to be well over 2,500 documented complaints, buses were either “no-shows,” or late, or simply ‘blew past’ riders waiting at bus stops, often for over an hour. When the bus finally arrives it is even more infuriating, many riders contend, to see two-three buses trailing back-to-back, meaning the drivers are so off-schedule that customers all along the route are put out by delays of 45 minutes to over an hour, causing passengers to miss connections and making hem late for work and other appointments.
One incident logged on Jan. 8, 2013 detailed how the bus driver on Route 46 stopped at the bus stop; dropped off passengers from the rear door of the bus and kept going, ignoring the customers waiting to board the bus. In another incident recorded on Jan. 15, 2013, the bus driver on Route 73 blew by a mother and her son headed to the doctor’s office to have the child’s arm placed in a cast.
One driver who often works on Route 43 was the subject of numerous complaints for being habitually late. On June 15, 2013 a rider on Route 43 complained that the bus was always late, and states, the bus driver “brings the bus late,” and the new driver “puts the route back on time.”
Another irate rider complained that the same driver was late almost every day. Similarly, on April 17, 2013 another customer stated that her bus was always late to the ITC causing her to miss her train. She added that this was happening on a consistent basis. The driver listed on the complaint was the very same driver that numerous other complaints were about.
In an unrelated case, when one customer complained to the bus driver of consistently late buses, the driver nonchalantly told her, “You should be used to it by now.”
Still another time, a passenger politely inquired by the 62 bus was so late, being that it is one of the shortest routes in the system. The driver nonchalantly replied, “I’m here now aren’t I?”
What is Palm Tran’s response regarding late buses and buses that fail to show up at all? In the Investigation Box on the Customer Service Report they post the following disclaimer: Due to the increased ridership there are more stops. These circumstances cause the buses to be delayed and many times it is difficult to recover from. Palm Tran apologizes for any inconveniences. This is little consolation for riders who either lost their jobs or are in danger of being fired due to late buses.
Rude and discourteous drivers were the subject of a vast amount of complaints as well.
On July 6, 2013, the driver of the Route 3 bus (Military Trail) was late to the Gardens Mall then took a 20 min. break going into the mall. Upon returning to his bus he closed the doors and didn’t let anyone on the bus. When customers complained and asked “why”; he simply said, “Oh well.” (Complaint was validated by Palm Tran).
In another incident that occurred Jan. 15, 2013, a wheelchair-bound customer was told by the bus driver that there was a stroller onboard and the bus could not accommodate him. Customer claimed the bus was empty. (Video backed up the customer’s complaint).
Another incident reported by a fellow passenger on April 19, 2013, described how a mother was trying to get on the bus with a double stroller. The driver failed to lower the bus ramp. The stroller tipped over with the kids going down face first (the son scraped his face). Then the passenger fell over the stroller. This call was corroborated by other callers who decried the bus driver’s insensitivity toward the mother and her two small children. Other complaints detailed rude drivers who snubbed riders asking questions and who used profanity on occasion.
One complaint detailed how a female rider who thought she was late, asked the Route 62 driver why he was leaving late to start his route. The driver protested that he wasn’t late, but snidely told the woman to feel free to call if she felt like it. To which the woman replied, “I will.” Later on, she said she realized she had been wrong about the time and that the driver really wasn’t late. When she got ready to exit the bus, she attempted to apologize to the driver for wrongfully accusing him of being late. Instead of accepting her apology, he yelled loud enough for everyone to hear: “Get off my bus!”
One particular Palm Tran bus driver drew the ire of a number of complainants. According to a Jan. 7, 2013 incident report, a Route 46 West bus trailed a car into the Macy’s parking lot at the Wellington Green Mall after the vehicle’s driver made the bus driver slam on his brakes. A verbal confrontation ensued, including the alleged use of profanity by the bus driver. The passenger making the complaint said she felt very unsafe due to the driver’s aggressive behavior. (A follow-up investigation validated the complaint). Note: Palm Tran authorities urge riders who feel a bus driver is driving in an unsafe or erratic manner to call 911. This same driver came to the attention of Palm Tran authorities on July 3, 2013 after a rider alleged he was “racist” because he will not allow him on the bus. (Complaint closed on July 25, 2013 with the citation: Operator Notification).
Other problematic areas of concern regarding Palm Tran include:
· No apparent consistency with regards to investigating complaints. Scores of complaints appear to never have been investigated at all, while countless others were written-off as “Unable to verify. No Video Available/No Audio Available;”
· No holiday service on Christmas, New Year’s Day, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day or Labor Day.
· Multiple complaints of drivers, many of whom were already late, stopping off at McDonalds, Subway.
Dunkin Donuts, and Chick-Fil-A, etc., causing passengers to be even later than necessary;
· Incidences involving alleged driver rudeness have a high ratio of case closures categorized as “Unable to
Verify. No Video Available; No Audio Available.”
· Bus drivers are in dire need of customer service training. There is a growing public perception that Palm
Tran bus operators are deliberately dissuaded from being courteous or extending to riders, and instead are instructed to take a tough, unapologetic stance to suppress passengers’ objections/complaints and maintain absolute control. Even Palm Tran’s background recordings that precede reaching a live customer service representative emphasize the rules & responsibilities of passengers with no reciprocal accountability on the part of the drivers or administration;
· Drivers often fail to leave the WPB Intermodal Station, the Mall at Wellington Green, Camino Real and the Gardens Mall on schedule, backing up every bus stop on the route;
· Buses only run east and westbound throughout Palm Beach County until approximately 7 p.m. making it all but impossible for many job holders to work until closing time, and for many would-be employees to get retail jobs that require them to work evening hours.
When asked about this, Palm Tran’s Planning Dept. spokesperson Jeannie Taylor, said it was in their 10-year plan to extend service in the evening. Currently, it is listed as an unfunded need with no budget to accommodate this need. [It might be noted that during the week, Miami-Dade County’s buses run until 11-12 a.m. in the morning with a “late bus” scheduled at 2 a.m. Holidays adhere to a Sunday schedule with buses running to approximately 10:30 p.m. Broward County buses run 365 days of the year, including holidays which also adhere to the Sunday schedule ending around 10:30 p.m. Weekdays, Broward County buses stop running anywhere from 9 p.m. to midnight. By contrast, the majority of Palm Beach County buses stop running east and west at approximately 7 p.m. on weekdays and even earlier on weekends. Only three buses: the #1, 2, & 3 run until approximately 10 p.m. with all three winding up in Boca Raton, one of the most wealthiest sections of the county.
· Buses often infested with roaches;
· Some bus stops are a quarter of a mile apart;
· Domestics and healthcare workers riding Palm Tran buses from the mainland to Palm Beach Island are only able to reach their destinations between the hours of 6:35 a.m. and 8:35 a.m. After that bus service is suspended for 6 hours until around 2:45 p.m. with buses only running from Palm Beach Island back to the mainland until 5:15 p.m. According to Taylor, the Town of Palm Beach “didn’t want buses there all day long and made us remove them.”
Comparing Palm Tran to other transit authorities around the country
As a means of comparison, it might be noted that the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority in Cincinnati handles approximately 17 million riders per year; 1.5 million per month.
According to Sallie Hilvers, spokesperson for the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, they average 100 complaints per month. They also have an 85-86 percent accurate, on-time rate, notwithstanding construction projects, traffic tie-ups and occasional police activity. Also, if buses are not at the appointed bus stop within 5 min. of that scheduled stop, the bus is considered late. Holiday service is included, adhering to a Sunday schedule.
Similarly, the Indianapolis Public Transportation Corporation commonly referred to as IndyGo had an annual ridership in 2013 of 10,254,281. Complaints totaled 4,612 with an average on-time performance of 76 percent.
Another city weighing in was Buffalo, NY. According to Bryan Luellen, Director of Marketing & Customer Information for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFPA), Buffalo’s bus system has 26.4 million riders per year. Complaints totaled 830 in 2013 or 60 per month. Their on-time performance was 84.5 percent. Adhering to a 26-hour clock, daily service starts between 5-6 a.m. and runs until approximately 2 .am. Holiday service is on a Sunday schedule.
By contrast, Palm Beach County’s Palm Tran handled 12,018,198 riders over the course of the year (Oct-Sept), or roughly 1,001,500 customers per month on its buses. Complaints, by and large, total around 350 per month, far more than other similar cities, aside from Indianapolis, which also has an early stoppage schedule at night. Palm Tran grants drivers a 7 min. window to arrive on time. However, many buses are routinely 15 min. late and often arrive much later than that, if they even show at all.