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    P.A. aims to make itself more rider-friendly Changes include more attendants and cleaner restrooms

Friday, May 27, 2005 BY RON MARSICO Star-Ledger Staff
NEW YORK -- As part of a $6 million initiative to improve customer service, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is going to clean up the restrooms and offer more help to travelers, including more detailed information about bus delays.

The changes are designed to improve travel for the roughly 650,0000 people who use the agency's three major airports, midtown bus terminal and PATH trains each day.

The first move will include placement of attendants in restrooms throughout the Port Authority Bus Terminal, PATH stations and Terminal B at Newark Liberty International Airport to help keep them sanitary and crime-free.

About 50 new customer service employees, wearing buttons that read "iHelp," will be deployed at Newark Liberty International, John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia airports and the PATH system to augment the contingent of approximately 250 representatives already on the job.

An electronic sign board will be set up with NJ Transit to let bus riders at the Port Authority Bus Terminal know approximately when their buses will arrive if there are delays, while another will be set up at Newark Airport to let shuttle bus riders know arrival times. Both systems will use electronic boards with information relayed by global positioning system tracking equipment.

"Serving our customers is clearly the priority. It's what we're in business for," said Anthony Coscia, the Port Authority chairman, who spearheaded the agency's renewed emphasis on cleanliness, information and courtesy. "The fact that we're spending money on customer service at a time that we're financially constrained shows just how high a priority we put that (goal)."

The plans got thumbs up from some users at the bus depot yesterday afternoon. Barbara Heinert of Weehawken said she was happy to hear restrooms would be cleaner, though she finds them satisfactory already. But she was especially heartened to hear that attendants would be monitoring the facilities. "It would be better because you can feel safe," said Heinert, 26. "Sometimes you don't know what kind of people are in there." Waiting for his bus to take him home to Palisades Park, Jay Chung, a computer programmer, said he was pleased by the plan to keep riders better informed about when delayed buses might arrive. "That would be very nice," said Chung, 31. "If your bus is going to be delayed, you want to know it."

Port Authority officials said yesterday's announcement is an effort to enhance customer service programs already in effect throughout the agency's facilities. The new plans were derived from polling and surveys that determined that customers are primarily seeking more courteous employees, direct personal contacts with agency representatives, clear and easily accessible information and cleaner restrooms and public areas. "The nature of the businesses we're in demand clear communications, ready and accurate information," said Ernesto Butcher, the Port Authority's chief operating officer. "There is never enough of that ... We felt that these spoken preferences of our customers would be a good place to begin to ensure that our operations are as customer-focused as possible."

The agency also plans to add interactive customer information kiosks in airport, bus and PATH facilities to help users gain access to facility maps, store locations, travel details and police contacts.

In other business yesterday, the agency authorized an additional $4.9 million to help preserve, store and inventory artifacts from the World Trade Center following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack. Items including steel beams, the damaged television antenna that stood atop one tower and ruined vehicles are being stored at Hangar 17 at JFK Airport. A total of $10.6 million has now been committed to the preservation efforts.

Ron Marsico covers the Port Authority. He may be reached at rmarsico@starledger.com or (973) 392-7860. © 2005 The Star Ledger

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