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CTA Surveys Customers…Badly

(Photo: The CTA wants to know what you’re thinking…that is, if you can figure out what they’re asking.)

UPDATE 7/6/09: Welcome to readers today from!

The following is cross-posted on my Huffington Post Chicago byline.

This week, the Chicago Transit Authority is surveying riders on the front page of its website. As you might expect (especially in the still-turbulent wake of Ron Huberman’s exit), the agency is doing a rotten job of it.

Especially for a transit provider with a historically bad relationship with its riders, customer surveys should be brief, friendly, well crafted, and easy to understand. The CTA’s current survey is none of those things.

Instead, it is full of industry jargon (how many of you take “CTA Rail” to work?), double-barreled questions, and closed-minded assumptions about its own ridership. And if you work in a number of fields including communications, the very first question tells you they’re not going to trust your answers–no matter how regular a CTA rider you are.

This unfortunate survey is obviously a rush job. CTA just lost $35 million from its budget by dint of an RTA vote last Thursday and needs to figure out how to prioritize the money that’s left and lobby for aid in the future. You’d think the agency would have been attending to both issues already. The haphazard nature of this survey says otherwise.

Maybe CTA President Richard Rodriguez should spend less time driving to work and more time attending to the system that 1.5 million riders a day depend on to get around Chicago. In the Sun-Times article linked above, he says he does it to spend more time with his kids. Hands up other captive CTA riders reading this who’d like to have the same option? How dare the head of any transit agency drive to work in his own city?

Here’s the comment I submitted to the CTA near the end of the survey, when they finally asked my opinion. Of course, I work in communications, so who knows if they’ll ever get around to reading it.

“I cannot believe how badly written and edited this survey was. It was obviously a rush job, and if it wasn’t, then it’s even more of an embarrassment you took time on it and it still resulted in such a wooden, wordy, badly written document.

You have jargon dropped in all through it. You ask riders to rate ‘Your CTA Rail’? Our CTA Rail what? You mean our local L line? The L line we use most regularly? Do you honestly think your riders use the same jargon your internal planners do?

In the question asking why riders use CTA, you were so closed-minded you didn’t even include the potential answer, ‘Because I prefer to.’ I do. I don’t drive. Don’t know how. Have never paid a gas tax in my life. I am the kind of rider who should be your biggest advocate.

Congratulations on creating a customer-aimed document so badly realized that all I intend to do now is show it to my friends as yet another example of how clueless the CTA is internally. Your lack of commitment to your own agency seriously makes me want to learn how to drive.”

Though I’d probably never follow through on that last part, I meant every (other) word. Rodriguez, if you don’t mind, get out of your car and attend to our transit system, please.

And hire a new survey writer while you’re at it.

Categories: Chicago Transit Authority Huffington Post Chicago Reprints TRANSIT

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

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8 replies

  1. I see that the survey now translates “rail car” to “L” the first time the term is used. Maybe you did make a difference!

  2. Thanks Alissa! Will do.

    All three of the folks above make the point that the CTA is wrong to leave out the opinions of some actual riders in their current online survey.

    And they are wrong. A respondent being a communications professional matters only when you’re worried they’re going to bomb your PRODUCT SURVEY in favor of a product they themselves represent.

    Hello, CTA? This isn’t a product survey, it’s a USER SURVEY, you know that, right? Moreover, you have a virtual monopoly on public transit in Chicago, so any Chicagoan’s opinion counts here. Yo know that too, don’t you? Your marketing team knows that too, doesn’t it?

    Or maybe your marketing team is just driving to work along with CTA President Richard Rodriguez.

  3. Wow. I was originally excited to see that they wanted real people’s opinions, but it really seems like they may be doing it just to appease some cosmic force that says businesses should allow for customer feedback. “We’d like to hear from you, as long as it’s all kudos or not at all insightful or helpful.” Guess I shouldn’t have expected any different, eh? I love reading your posts, Mike. Keep it up!

  4. I had the same experience as @dupreeblue. I answered the first question, and it promptly kicked me out. A lot of people work in advertising and marketing; shutting them out from the survey excludes a large part of your audience for no practical reason.

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