Unfixable PRoblems

      39 Comments on Unfixable PRoblems
Stranded passengers crowd an LIRR station last week

Stranded passengers crowd an LIRR station last week

At 181 years old and with 350 thousand riders a day, the Long Island Rail Road is the oldest and largest commuter railway in the nation. Its aging infrastructure became apparent once again when service was halted last Wednesday due to what Newsday called the failure of “an ancient electrical cable.” Newsday’s Joye Brown also accused the LIRR of a “poor communications job” for stranding thousands of commuters and failing to inform them of the problem.

No one ever says they love the LIRR and no amount of good PR seems capable of changing our attitude. That’s why the LIRR’s mea culpa after its rush hour service debacle may not move many hearts and minds. “We apologize for the difficulty experienced by our customers as a result of Wednesday’s service disruption,” the LIRR’s statement said. “We regret that because we could not estimate when the signal power problem would be resolved or trains would again be moving, our communication efforts did not live up to either our customers’ expectations or our own standards.” The apology continued, “The LIRR is committed to providing safe, secure and reliable train service to our customers, and we will continue doing everything possible to improve our operation.”

This crisis response strategy begs the question of whether the railroad’s statement is just wasted words. Why does the LIRR’s PR team bother if an apology almost certainly won’t result in a more positive image–and can’t fix its infrastructure problems? After all, positive PR can only work when it follows positive performance.

The fact is the LIRR would lose even more respect and raise more public anger by NOT responding to its latest troubles. Like any utility, service, company or organization, it has an obligation to be as public and transparent as possible when something goes wrong. And while it must keep commuters better informed, given its problems and aging equipment it’ll be an uphill battle for the LIRR to significantly improve its public image through better communication. Realistically, can it ever hope to succeed? Yet, shouldn’t it keep trying? Your thoughts?

39 thoughts on “Unfixable PRoblems

  1. azachar1

    Hi Professor Morosoff,

    I really enjoyed this blog post. I think what you said is very true. Unfortunately the LIRR is in a bind….on the one hand words are nothing without action, yet you are right that a company has an obligation to address the public at the appropriate times. Before coming to Hofstra, I had only been on the LIRR a few times, but now the I am here in Long Island I can definitely see what you mean when you say that they need to work on revamping their trains.

    To answer your questions, I think that LIRR should keep trying. However, I believe that positive PR is only going to have so much power and at some point, the company needs to actually implement the improvements. Since starting the PR graduate courses, I have seen this theme reappear frequently. One great example was in Professor Berman’s course when she discussed how Dunkin’ Donuts decided to rebrand itself. She talked about the importance of not only the PR campaign of “America Runs On Dunkin'” but how the company needed to make their facilities cleaner. That is how Dunkin’ salvaged its reputation. I think the LIRR could learn from this example.

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  2. joebarone28

    Things like this is the reason why I do not like public transportation. When I was little, I had no problem taking the train with my uncle to the Rangers games in the city or Mets games in Queens. But as I have gotten older, I have grown so impatient with delays and cancellations that I would prefer sitting in an hour worth of traffic, in my car, from Brooklyn to those same destinations. At least I have the radio, a phone charger, and feel comfortable in my own clean confines. But in regards to this article, the LIRR made the right move to issue a statement because it was right to clear the air with its passengers.

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  3. Martin Bradshaw

    I agree that not releasing these statements would be a bad idea. If the LIRR weren’t at least publicly apologizing, there would be a great deal more trouble because they would then seem to be ignoring the problem all together. However, these statements serve more as a band aid than a cure. The apologies will prevent people from getting a great deal more upset, but won’t satisfy them completely. If the LIRR went through with some real changes, fixes, and improvements, it would be a much more positive and significant step in the right direction as opposed to just saying “we’re sorry” and leaving it at that. Actions speak louder than words.

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  4. Sam

    I rely on the LIRR all the time to get home and I always run around, stressing myself out just getting to the station before the train arrives. Almost every time the train has been at least five minutes. I rarely get some kind of notice about delays or any apology. So the initial problem doesn’t surprise me at all but the fact that they took the time to apologize does shock me. However I doubt that serious changes in service will be made or if any changes will be made at all.

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  5. Lourdes

    I agree, the LIRR’s apology statement is more of an obligation than real effort towards improving a long saga of prices being raised and customer dissatisfaction. Their image would definitely suffer more if no statement were released. The fact that so many residents and tourists depend on this means of transportation should drive a company to maintain a good image, relationship and most importantly an efficient service. Though many corporations forget these tasks as they tend to care more about the capital they are generating. Is LIRR’s PR and administrators seeing eye-to-eye? Perhaps they should sit down and figure out a new strategy.

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  6. Daphne Kotridis

    The LIRR needs to realize that it can not be sloppy with communication to its customers just because the majority of riders are commuters going in and out of NYC with no better option of transportation. A lackadaisical attitude towards the importance of communicating with customers will eventually result in some kind of decrease in sales, even if it leaves commuters desperate. Perhaps the LIRR should try to model the seriousness of the airline industry in terms of distribution of information to customers in order to maintain satisfaction.

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  7. Cody Dano

    I have to say that I completely agree with your piece. I was one the LIRR that day and they didn’t tell us about the issues in Penn Station until my train was half way there. For a customer who uses the LIRR almost everyday, it can be extremely frustrating when there is such a lack of communications.

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  8. awoolman13

    I completely agree with your assessment on LIRR’s bad PR. Before I had my car on campus, anytime I would go home I would commute to Penn Station through the LIRR to use the Amtrak lines. Every single time I would do so, I would have to plan around the commuter rail’s constant delays and often arrived at Mineloa and/or Hempstead three hours before my Amtrak train would depart. Sometimes, you make so many mistakes that words of apology come across as meaningless and disingenious after their continues to be no change to LIRR’s clearly evident issues.

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  9. Dan Hanson

    As a resident of Long Island and a traveler to NYC for basically my whole life, it isn’t surprising to me that the LIRR is facing more problems these days. Of course, the fact of the matter is that when you operate in one of the busiest locations in the world having to ship commuters from out in Suffolk County, it’s not going to be a cake walk. At the same time, there is no excuse when you had a technical problem due to your technology being deemed as “ancient.” It makes for angry customers, especially if they have to pay $18 round trip (my friend recently had to pay $52 for two round trip peak tickets. FIFTY TWO). If LIRR wants to make for better business, they’re going to have to address their problems in different ways than by just apologizing. Sooner or later, people are going to get a little sick of being stranded on trains.

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  10. premierorion

    I’ve heard horrible stories about LIRR experiences from friends, but I had never experienced one myself, although I’ve only ridden it about 3 times, until Saturday morning when my train was delayed for what seemed to be forever and I couldn’t get home in time for what I had to do. On Wednesday I have a friend that is a commuter and couldnt get home for close to four hours. The LIRR seems to be outrageously overpriced, especially for the service they are giving customers in return. If I can avoid it in the future, I will never ride the LIRR again.

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  11. kgorsky1

    The LIRR has an unfortunate reputation for being both disreputable and inconsistent. Despite the bad PR that the company has received, many people rely on the LIRR for transportation into the city and are forced to continue to use its services. Although I agree that it was a good idea for the company to apologize for their wrongdoings, I don’t believe that this statement will make any difference regarding the public’s views on their company or the number of those riding the trains the next day.

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  12. Hailey Oliveri

    You talk about the PR being unable to change our attitudes about the LIRR and I think that no amount of good PR is going to change the minds of the people who ride this railroad everyday. You’re right in saying positive PR can only work when it follows positive performance. Until the LIRR gets everything together and updates their railroad systems to accommodate the many daily commuters it has, there will be no such thing as positive PR.

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  13. Forrest Gitlin

    I think part of the problem with the LIRR’s image has to do with its busiest station (Penn Station) being a debacle in itself. I’ve had to use the LIRR to commute to work in the city and have had my fair share of unpleasant experiences; what adds to the discomfort is disembarking the train into a crowded and complicated train station with no aesthetic appeal. When complications do occur, which is often, the only available source of information seems to be the single line of booths (with only one or two being occupied on most days) and an announcer who is so hard to understand over the crowd that he or she might as well speak gibberish. Essentially, there is no customer service to go along with the ten or so dollar ticket so many people have just purchased. I have had enough experiences with delayed trains, track changes, and even flooded tracks all accompanied by communication failures to just about give up on the LIRR.

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  14. Bianca

    In any major city, you’d be hard pressed to find anybody with something nice to say about their Mass Transit System. It’s slow, it’s unreliable, there’s delays. Those things should be expected at this point. The LIRR is a complex system of trains that run constantly. Literally, constantly. If your own car had to run constantly, would it be completely free of problems? NO! Of course not! Still, that doesn’t mean that the LIRR has any room for slack. They have a tough job, and that’s to get the masses wherever they have to go (work, dinner, a show) on time. If they want to be good at their hard job, they’re going to have to work a lot harder.

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  15. Jillian Zagorski

    There is no better description of the LIRR than “a poor communications job.” No matter if it’s a last minute track change, a delay, better yet an early departure unbeknownst to the commuter- there seems to always be something. We have all of these great Apps that let us know the status of our train so that WE are on time, but we all know it takes two to tango. The LIRR runs in one of the most populated places in the world, many who depend on the train system for travel to their occupation, their life. That’s a lot of people they need to please! In any business, the most important thing to do is make sure that the customer is ALWAYS happy- or at least try to keep them happy. An apology may be ok for the occasional city goers who go in to take a dance class or two (me) but for the gentleman next to me who was just written up by his boss last week for being late, an apology isn’t going to keep him from being fired! The railroad’s apology statement IS wasted words! Exactly right! Should they not apologize? No, they should always apologize, but they should also be promising improvement- and keeping that promise! Can it ever hope to improve? Absolutely. Can it ever hope to succeed? We should hope so! And should it keep trying? Well, it doesn’t have a choice. Jobs can be created. More inspections need to take place- daily. If repairs are needed- they need to be made fast. Announcements need to be made directly following any decision making. With that said- stick to the schedule! In New York we are always up and moving. People have tight schedules and should be accommodated properly. Especially for what we are paying these days! Absurd!

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  16. Erin Schmitt

    Over the course of the past four summers during which I’ve relied on the LIRR to get to work every day, I’ve definitely tallied a fair share of frustrating commuting stories. It is very disheartening to be stranded either on a train platform or in a train car with little knowledge about what is causing delays, all while the information provided about when the train will arrive or start moving again is generic and not always accurate. These troubles seem all too common. It’s extremely worrying for a company if the first thing that comes to mind for a large majority of consumers is unreliable service. If this is the case, the company needs to look deep within to the root of the problem. I would have to agree with the article and many other commenters in that the LIRR needs to strategically focus on how they can improve the current equipment and technology being used and make changes accordingly to help the service run most efficiently. I agree that the communications put out there should be transparent. I think issuing apologetic statements shows a step in the right direction, but the LIRR needs to follow suit with actions in order to be trusted. I am, however, grateful to have this method of public transportation as I’ve grown up on Long Island. In this way, having a system that connects all of Long Island to NYC should be revered by New Yorkers, but instead recurrent problems make it sometimes hard to do so.

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  17. Victoria Ciavarella

    Being a daily commuter for the past two summers on the LIRR to the city I can safely say that many of my train rides have been unpleasant. With major delays, non-working trains, overcrowded trains, un-air-conditioned carts and malfunctions, people are always complaining. Their communication has been lacking and promises to do better are failing resulting in many commuters having no sympathy for the MTA. It is respectful to apologize because they can’t really lose anything from that but I feel that commuters would be happier if they were refunded when something goes wrong since tickets are not cheap these days. If you go on twitter and read tweets from someone tweeting about the LIRR most of them are negative or complaints. I agree that there will continue to be an uphill battle for them unless something is changed.

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  18. hallieabish

    The LIRR appears to be a convenient way to travel to/from Long Island to Penn Station. However, reality doesn’t always match our expectations. The LIRR has had many issues over the past few months. As with any public company and/or figure, their PR team turns to apologies as a form of damage control. Although this doesn’t fix the situation I think that it is something the people expect. If an apology statement was not released in this case, I believe it would weaken peoples’ trust in the LIRR. Although some may not admit it, I think makes them feel better about the situation knowing that the company is recognizing its costumers wants and needs.

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  19. Emily Green

    We all know the LIRR is unreliable and typically a headache to deal with. This is my fourth year living in Long Island and as much as I love going into the city, I hate having to ride the LIRR. Wednesday’s debacle came as no surprise and the apology caused too many eye rolls. The LIRR needs to make improvements where they say are going to and they need to live up to their apology or else their reputation is going to continue to crumble. Riding the train is a huge part of thousands’ of peoples’ days and it is important for the LIRR to live up to its expectations.

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  20. Lindsey Noto

    The LIRR has a monopoly on transportation to and from New York City from Long Island. This is probably why little has been done in years to modernize and update the equipment. Delays and breakdowns are the norm. Their apology was necessary, but if changes are not made, it will just be considered wasted words. PR can do little in this situation to rectify public opinion, without the concrete promise of change and improvement.

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  21. Jordan

    I feel that the LIRR as well as other mass forms of transit are never seen as enjoyable. The stigma that comes along with most mass transit is the journey to and from work. Especially at peak times where something always seems to go wrong delaying riders arrivals and departures can never be positive. Although I feel the LIRR does not do a good job communicating good PR to their riders, I also agree with the fact that the problem lies deeper. In order to stop delays and technical problems with trains they must start with the equipment they are working with. One machine can not work well if the other isn’t oiled correctly. The LIRR’s PR team can only communicate better information if they have sufficient equipment standing behind them.

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  22. Abby Drapeau

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say anything nice about the LIRR, however, I agree that it would have definitely been worse had they not issued an apology. That being said, I think during a time of crisis, open communication is the best approach, which is where the LIRR could have taken advantage of through social media or announcements, yet failed to.

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  23. jennsmulo

    As someone who was stuck on the train last Wednesday, a simple apology means nothing. I, along with many others, was stuck on the train for over an hour and a half and was exceptionally late to the first day at a new internship. Their PR department, undoubtably, works exceptionally hard, but their words will mean nothing until the rest of the LIRR fixes the constant mechanical issues. While it’s understandable that short delays are inevitable, long painful delays like what occurred on Wednesday should be so much less frequent and should be communicated to the passengers before they even step on board the train.

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  24. Emily DiLaura

    In all honesty, I think you said it best. The LIRR would be in more trouble if they said nothing, so in reality it’s a double edged sword where no matter what they’d get hurt. The greatest thing the LIRR could do is work with the area to find a way to gain grants or a larger budget to actually improve the system so that the technology used is not referred to as “ancient.” The LIRR clearly needs more funding and I think they should be open and transparent about that, explaining that more funding means a more functional railroad where more customers are happy. You can only complain so much about the train if you aren’t going to work to improve it, and I think the riders need to learn that as well.
    The LIRR can continue to apologize, but if funding is being used to improve it, what good is it doing to apologize and complain? After all, none of us like the technical difficulties!

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  25. Rachel Tyler

    As commuters, passengers on the LIRR expect the service to be quick and reliable. There have been many times where my train has been delayed by a couple of minutes up to an hour or so and there was no form of communication between the passengers and the LIRR team. Commuters like to keep on schedule. If a delay were to occur a simple way to avoid angry passengers is to inform them of the delay and why it has occurred. This may not please all passengers but it recognizes the fact that the LIRR is sorry for the delay and they realize the passengers time is important.

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  26. Katherine Hammer

    The LIRR causes headaches for everyone who is traveling into the city for any reason, especially because no one knows when some service failure will happen. I remember multiple times I was waiting for over an hour for the train to move due to maintenance troubles. Although the LIRR stated a public apology about the Wednesday maintenance issue and spoke of providing better service, they have to follow through with it and show the public that they will make changes. If they don’t, they will continue to be poorly viewed and have a lot more angry customers.

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  27. Victoria Reid

    Being from Houston,Tx, I think I have a natural aversion to public transportation as Houston is known for being a city that pretty much requires a car, especially since there is no real form of mass transit. By now I have taken several trips on the LIRR to and from Manhattan and I can honestly say that I’ve only had a hand full of bad experiences, but all of those experiences were extremely frustrating. My cousin grew up in Queens and then lived in Garden City for almost 10 years before leaving New York completely, simply because she couldn’t deal with the commute (but really the delays) any longer. As someone who, at the moment, only takes the LIRR for weekend trips to the city, the delays haven’t caused me any serious issues. But for the thousands of people who rely on this transportation as the only way to work, the LIRR standards need to be improved.

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  28. Cass Lang

    The LIRR definitely needs to make some changes. In the way it handles the media, in managing its system and its ridiculous pricing. Unfortunately, these seemingly necessary changes will probably never occur. LI commuters will continue to utilize the LIRR in spite of the head aches and the company’s negative image because it is one of the only means of public transportation from the island into the city.

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  29. Marc Roessle

    Over the last couple of weeks, the LIRR has been having so many problems with its system. If I were a paying LIRR customer, I would not be happy with the way that the company has handled the maintenance of their trains. Talking about the subject of PR, the last 2 weeks have not been good for the LIRR. Anytime that the LIRR is mentioned in the news, it is always something negative. If the LIRR manages their system better, they won’t have this negative publicity

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  30. Bryn P

    Being from right outside of Washington DC, I’m no stranger to problems with public transportation. However after a metro car, which is DC’s version of the LIRR and the subway, filled with smoke they apologized and told their customers they’ll strive to be better. No matter how horrible or infamous a company’s public image is, they should always try to strive to be better for their customers and tell the public just that. It might not make anything come into fruition but it is better to try and apologize, than do nothing and quit on making their image any better because they don’t think its possible.

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  31. Allie Giordano

    Being from Long Island and frequently taking the LIRR to and from NYC I understand the frustrations of this form of public transportation. However with something as big as the LIRR it should be understood that there will sometimes be complications such as delays and other service issues. With that being said, when there are issues I think the LIRR can definitely work on the way they communicate with both their frequent riders and those who ride occasionally. With technology and social media today, keeping these riders informed and updated about the railroad can be simple.

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  32. Rebecca Haines

    Although I have never had a bad experience on the LIRR, I have been hearing a lot of negative comments about it lately. Luckily, each time I’ve taken the LIRR it has been on time and nothing ever went wrong during my train ride. I do understand where people are coming from when they talk so negatively about it because it is very inconvenient when there are service interruptions and customers are not being notified about anything. People can get very upset and impatient when they have somewhere to be and the train is late or is being interrupted and they are not being told anything. I think the LIRR should try to better their ways of communication with its customers because of the thousands of riders it has each day.

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  33. Alexis Carfagno

    The LIRR is infamous for the stress that it causes many of its commuters – from delays, technical difficulties and even the situation presented in this blog regarding the lack of communication the LIRR had with its commuters. Despite all of this, I still believe that LIRR could eventually try to succeed and work towards a better public image. After reading the first two chapters in “The Practice of Public Relations”, I was informed about the Johnson & Johnson case and how Johnson & Johnson successfully managed to regain trust from their customers even during their time of tragedy during the Tylenol murders. If Johnson & Johnson was able to regain confidence for their company even despite their time of turmoil, then eventually, the LIRR could do the same. The LIRR needs to prove to its customers through actions and not just their apology statement. As stated in the blog, “Positive PR comes from positive performance” and the LIRR needs to perform positively in order to gain a better public image from its commuters.

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  34. Jeff Lansky

    I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio where we do not have a mass public transportation system. We have a small train system that runs from downtown to the suburbs, but not many people use it. This is one of the things that I love about my city is that if I want to go somewhere I can just get in my car and go, but unfortunately I can’t do that while I’m in New York. The wait time for the trains usually isn’t too bad but my problems have occurred while I was on the train. There have been several instances where I have gone into Brooklyn for concerts or Nets games and have experienced delays because of signal trouble. My worst experience was the first time I ever took the LIRR from the city back to Mineola. I was mistakenly told by one conductor to transfer to a train and when I got on that train a conductor screamed at me for being on the wrong train. I think that the LIRR needs to do a better job of improving their customer service.

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  35. ChloeLauraDale

    I have a love/hate relationship with the LIRR. I can’t say I always have a positive experience when using the train on Long Island, but without a car, I rely on the train service to get from place to place. There have been occasions where I have had to change my route last minute due to track work and I have had my fair share of delays. However, with NYC only a short train ride away from Hofstra, I have many happy memories commuting from Mineola to Penn Station. I feel ungrateful speaking too harshly about the LIRR because anything that connects me to the greatest city in the world is not something I should complain about.

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  36. Chelsey Fuller

    It’s funny because as I was sitting in Jamaica for 30 minutes waiting for some “technical” problem to be fixed, I couldn’t help but let a comment slip that the LIRR is one of the worst companies to generate positive consumer reviews. I was going into the city to have a romantic dinner on a yacht that I had bought for my boyfriend’s birthday and I knew they were sticklers for timeliness. So fearful that I was going to miss boarding because my train was running much later than expected (we were supposed to get in at 5:30 and got there are 6:15) I tried to stop someone to get an answer. All that was told to me was, I should have planned to get in earlier if I was so worried about time. I was shocked that an employee responded that way. I hate that I have to rely on the LIRR but how else will I get into the city? I just wish they cared a lot more. Not just on their social media and communication strategy, but on customer service as well.

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  37. Kylie T.

    I’ve taken the LIRR several times; half of which were unpleasant experiences. A majority of instances involved the train being late – delaying me from reaching another means of transportation I would have to take after the LIRR.

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  38. emilyrwalsh

    The LIRR is well known for having bad service for commuters and the incident on Wednesday definitely put everyone over the edge. While I understand the situation was due to a problem that was unforeseen, the LIRR should always offer quick, safe and reliable service to all. In this case, communication should have been key but it wasn’t. I’m happy the LIRR released a statement that seemed to promise better service, but PR is all about showing positive change instead of just saying it.

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  39. jheiden1

    It’s been a long time since I’ve heard any positive comments regarding the LIRR system. With prices constantly rising and service constantly declining, I see every reason for people to be angry. I’d be lying if I said the LIRR wasn’t a huge stress knot in my daily life. Still, I think it is important for the LIRR to continue working towards improvement. Commuters depend on these railways to get to work safely and efficiently. Standards and expectations should be higher.

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