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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Train Riders Bemoan End of the Line for Ticket Agents

By James Lomuscio

Elinor Greenblatt was upset Monday morning when she heard that the ticket booth at Westport’s Metro-North station would shut down permanently on July 7.  From then on, all tickets would have to be purchased online beforehand or at the vending machines on the platform.WestportNow.com Image
Debbie Kerkes answers questions Monday at the Westport Metro-North station. After July 7, the Westport ticket window will close. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Lynn U. Miller for WestportNow.com

“I’ve lived in this town for 45 years, and it’s very, very sad that the ticket window at the Westport station is closing,” said Greenblatt as she waited for 10:31 a.m. to New York.

“And that the person who answers all these questions is no longer going to be there. It’s unthinkable that she is going to be replaced by a machine.”

The woman Greenblatt described was the one behind the bars and the glass partition, Debbie Kerkes. Monday morning she was busy answering myriad questions to those who stepped up the window. 

She explained to an Asian woman who spoke little English that the 10-ride, off-peak-hour tickets she bought would be less expensive by $6 than a weekly peak time package. 

Kerkes told a man the best way to get to Yankee Stadium: change at Stamford for the Yankee Clipper shuttle that would take him within walking distance of the ballpark.

Another customer wanted to return an unused ticket for a refund. Kerkes handed the woman a form to fill out, explained it and before long, handed her a refund.

“She’d have to mail it in to New York and wait,” Kerkes said, describing the procedure once the curtain comes down for the last time on the ticket window.WestportNow.com Image
Customers line up Monday at Westport’s Metro-North station. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Lynn U. Miller for WestportNow.com

The agents at station houses in Westport, Fairfield and New Canaan, workers whose time-honored presence evokes a sense of Americana captured by Norman Rockwell, are being replaced by technology as the Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT) looks to save money.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced the decision in February as part of her 2010-2011 budget aimed at cost savings. Metro-North, owned by New York’s MTA, operates under contract with DOT.

“It’s regrettable, but it’s something that was weighed considerably,” said Judd Everhart, DOT spokesman.

He noted that while there will be savings, “It’s not a great deal,” as the ticket agents will be transferred to other stations.

Kerkes, who has worked for Metro-North for 25 years, will work in Stamford and New Rochelle, N.Y., she said.

“They operate as a convenience, and they aren’t open 24 hours a day,” said Everhart, noting that the typical hours are from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“It’s always difficult to close a window because there is something valuable about the personal touch,” he said.WestportNow.com Image
These ticket machines will replace the agents at the Westport station. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Lynn U. Miller for WestportNow.com

Dan Brucker, a spokesman for Metro-North said that the changeover seemed to make economic sense since “overwhelmingly customers buy their tickets by machine or online.”

“We have found that customers, no matter how friendly, how nice the ticket agent is, find it more convenient to get it from the machine,” said Brucker.

Charles Hellman, who purchased his ticket at the platform vending machine, seemed to have mixed feelings.

“It’s always nicer to go to a station with a ticket agent,” he said. “And, it’s a security issue.’

Gene Kopfmann of Wilton, whom Kerkes had just given directions to Yankee Stadium, seemed saddened but resigned to the change.

“It’s a shame, but I guess you have to do what you have to do,” he said. “It’s like everything else today, like calling on the phone, and you have to wait 15 minutes for a live person.”

Sherrie Simerman, however, was less accepting.

“It’s terrible,” she said. “How could they do this? I come in from Litchfield County to use this station, and one of the reasons is because of the personal service.”

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Posted 06/29/10 at 06:00 AM  Permalink



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