Nassau County Comptoller Howard Weitzman visited the Port Washington railroad station last week to solicit input from commuters about station maintenance and other issues. He and his staff and volunteers handed out surveys to early morning LIRR riders. The survey presented questions about the cleanliness of the bathrooms, station house, and platform, as well as the condition of the vending machines and the adequacy of parking. It also invited general comments about the train station. The comptroller is visiting two stations a week, for a total of 16.
The commuters' reaction to Weitzman's visit appeared to be very positive - almost all took a survey and many interrupted their dash for the train to stop and shake hands; some offered comments. Many of the constituents seemed astonished that a politician was actually coming out to greet them in the early morning when it was nowhere near election time. Weitzman said, "When I was greeting people at the station during the election season, I promised them that when I was elected I would be back. A lot of people are very surprised." He added that people have been very responsive, many taking the time to make extensive and thoughtful comments on the returned questionnaires. "People have been very open," he said; "they are really telling us what they think."
The major reason for the survey is that the Comptroller's Office has oversight responsibility for a $25 million contract between Nassau County and the MTA for station maintenance. They have taken the opportunity to elicit general comments about Nassau County government and the county's financial health. Weitzman said that respondents have offered a number of concrete suggestions about what the county can do to save money. He said that most constituents have been understanding about the county's financial crisis: "People understand that it took a long time to get this way, and it will take a long time to correct it."
According to Weitzman's office, the survey response rate so far has been far better than anticipated. Several hundred (the majority) have come in on-line. Others are coming in by mail and by fax. The Comptroller is responding to every survey received that provides a name and mailing address. The complete results will be available in the fall, but overall it appears that the biggest issue is cleanliness of the stations. This is especially true on the South Shore, where the elevated platforms are subject to pigeon droppings. In Port Washington, as in many other stations, the biggest complaint is about insufficient parking. Weitzman said that, on the whole, riders have expressed appreciation for the LIRR's basic service. "It gets them to work and back every day," he said. A commuter echoed this feeling; saying, "The reality is that driving is a nightmare, and I live a quarter mile away, so parking is not an issue for me." Another said, "the reliable LIRR service has added to the value of my house." Of course, not everyone agrees. "This train is late every day," shouted one angry commuter as he dashed for the door. Weitzman commented that, "somewhat surprisingly," so far they are not getting a lot of complaints about cell phones.
Weitzman clearly loves his relatively new job and approaches it with great energy and drive. "It's a real challenge," he said, "every day there's a new surprise." Tops on his agenda for the immediate future is a complete reform of the contracting process, including new rules regarding bidding on personal service contracts, speeding up payments to contractors, monitoring contract renewals more closely, and encouraging a larger number of vendors to submit bids. He wants to create a more level playing field, pointing out that this will save the county money.
The Port News is reprinting a copy of the survey in this issue for those who may not have received one. You can mail it back to Harold S. Weitzman, Nassau County Comptroller, 240 Old Country Road, Mineola, NY 11501, or respond on-line at www.co.nassau.ny.us/Comptroller and click on the link to the LIRR Commuters' Survey. Responses received by the end of August will be included in the analysis.
Please complete this survey form.
Yes or No answers
Are you a daily commuter on the LIRR?
Which LIRR station do you generally use?
Which train do you generally use in the morning?
Which train do you generally use in the evening?
Respond to the following statements using this scale: 1= Strongly Agree; 2=Agree; 3=Not Sure; 4= Disagree; 5=Strongly Disagree.
1. The bathrooms are functioning at all times.
2. The bathrooms are clean and free of odors.
3. The station house is clean and free from odors.
4. The platform is free of garbage and debris.
5. The surface of the platform is clean.
6. The benches are clean.
7. The ticket vending machines work.
8. Seating on the trains is adequate.
9. Parking at/near the station is adequate.
10. Underpasses (where applicable) are clean.
11. The station's overall maintenance is up to your standards.
Please make any additional comments you would like to make regarding your train station.
What steps do you think should be taken to restore the County to financial health?
Is there anything you believe your County government should be doing and isn't? If so, what?