The transit agency said Thursday it has hired Synovate, a Falls Church company to secretly assess the customer service it is providing on its buses and trains starting in February. It will be paid $252,000 in the first year, with options for two more years.
Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said the agency knows it has some "really, really great" employees but the system also has some rough spots. It wants customer service to be consistent -- and good.
"This is as much about getting insight from what we do well as much as it's about improving where we're not," he said. "We want everyone to provide service on the level of the best among us."
The transit agency hears a lot from riders, who lodge some 40,000 complaints each year and have sustained several blogs and Twitter feeds with their concerns. But the agency gets spotty information that way, so a mystery shopper program would help, Chairwoman Cathy Hudgins said. "It's truly a more objective measurement."
Metro dropped a similar program in 2009 because of tight budget constraints. The agency paid $195,000 to Maryland firm Widener-Burrows & Associates for the first year of a five-year $916,000 contract.
Then it relied on members of City Year, a youth service program, who wrote up to 100 reports each week about their experiences on Metro in exchange for transit passes funded by the District.
The new program will be more systematic, Metro officials said. The company must assess at least 310 bus stops and 100 rail station platforms each quarter to make sure maps are intact and stations are kept clean. Undercover disabled riders will make sure that elevators are working and that bus operators strap down wheelchairs, among other things.
The company will produce quarterly reports. But if the mystery shoppers catch Metro employees misbehaving, the agency will find out immediately and workers could face disciplinary action, Stessel said.