Next time you’re waiting in the cold for a late bus, think of Jeremy Cooperstock.
The McGill engineering professor has managed to get the Société de transport de Montréal to reimburse him for several taxi fares after the 24 bus was late.
Tardy buses and buses that just don’t show up are a constant source of frustration for commuters. Most just grumble or switch to driving. Few go as far as Cooperstock.
In one case, he took his beef to small claims court. The STM buckled before a judge got involved, paying Cooperstock $28 for his taxi fares, plus $100 in court and registered-mail costs. (The STM rejected his demand for $15 in “compensation for stress” caused by one late bus plus another $90 as “token punitive damages.”) A few months later, Cooperstock submitted a $12 taxi receipt; the STM quickly cut him a cheque.
So, total in reimbursed taxi fares: $40.
Not much, considering the hours he spends hounding the STM by mail, email and telephone about spotty bus service, especially on the four-kilometre stretch of Sherbrooke St. between his home and office.
But Cooperstock said it’s not about money. “I’m doing this to make a point of principle rather than profit from the inconvenience.” He’s fighting for improved punctuality (or at least more realistic schedules) and a faster, more responsive complaint system (it can take weeks to get a response, Cooperstock said).
Though the 24 bus is scheduled to run as frequently as every six minutes during rush hour, Cooperstock said he’s often left standing in cold winter weather for long periods with his 3-year-old son. He ends up late for work; his child ends up shivering.
“I’m reasonable – I don’t expect the STM to stick to its schedule to the minute. I understand: If a bus is supposed to come by every 10 minutes, I’ll allow a 15-minute window from the time I arrive at the bus stop.” But if he waits 15 minutes and there’s no bus in sight, “this is not reasonable,” he said. Often, no bus arrives over a period when two are scheduled.
“They don’t respect the terms of the posted schedule.” As a paying customer (Cooperstock buys a monthly pass), he said he deserves compensation and reimbursement for his taxi fares.
Cooperstock is accumulating evidence for his next complaint. He has a $12 taxi receipt from last fall and plans to demand another $12 for the inconvenience of waiting for two 24 buses that didn’t show up one day last week.
“If enough people stood up and demanded compensation and didn’t take poor customer service as a given, companies would be a little more responsible,” Cooperstock said.
Spokesperson Marianne Rouette said she does not know how often taxi fares are reimbursed.
But she said posted bus schedules are meant only to give riders an “indication” of when the bus will show up. Traffic, construction, accidents, weather and snow-clearing can cause delays, she said. STM buses travelled 76 million kilometres in 2008.
Rouette said the complaint system (call 514-786-4636 or visit stm.info) works well. Complaints are investigated promptly and action is taken if necessary; the source of the complaint is contacted and given an update, she said.
Transit agencies are working to improve punctuality.
Since mid-2008, all 235 buses in Laval have small screens constantly telling Société de transport de Laval drivers how close they are to the timetable. The driver can adjust his speed accordingly. If one bus is far behind schedule, a dispatcher can send out another bus.
The STL keeps statistics on every driver. Those often behind schedule are not punished, but prizes go to those with the best records.
It’s possible to do all this because every Laval bus is equipped with GPS technology. Yesterday, the STL launched a new service that uses the same equipment to send real-time info about late buses to customers via Internet-enabled cellphones and screens at 80 bus stops; next month, it will add a cellphone text-message alert system.
Last year, 90 per cent of Laval buses were within five minutes of being on time; in Montreal, 82.7 per cent were within four minutes of being on time in 2008, the last year for which statistics are available.
Laval even has a “quality guarantee.” If a local bus is more than five minutes late “under normal operating conditions,” users can request one free bus ticket.
In Montreal, the STM, which has 1,600 buses and a territory bigger and more prone to traffic delays than Laval’s, has no such guarantee.
But it has set aside $200 million for a GPS system similar to Laval’s; it won’t be in place across the network before 2013, the STM says.
“It’ll be marvellous when we can provide real-time info because customers will know exactly when the bus will arrive,” Rouette said. “If it’s winter and the bus is going to be five minutes late, you can show up a little later.”
That won’t help Cooperstock. He doesn’t have a cellphone.