How do they do that? Find the right routes

A call center agent at Metro.

How do they do that? is a series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.

How do Metro’s call center agents find all the right trip planning answers for 8,000 customers per day?

The men and women of Metro’s call center at 323-GOMETRO (323-466-3876) always seem to have the right answers. The weird thing is that they are using the Metro Trip Planner — the same tool that we use — and coming up with much better routes.

Each day, Metro’s 20 to 55 (depending on the time of day) customer information agents answer about 8,000 calls, plus 200 texts from riders seeking assistance with bus and rail trip planning. The most common question, not surprisingly, is how to get from point A to point B. The second most common: When will the next bus arrive … the same information available on Metro’s Nextrip tool.

Questions are answered in English and Spanish but there also are staff members who speak German, French and Tagolin and the call center is currently working to increase the number of languages spoken to help additional customers.

Monday through Friday the call center is open from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The best times to call are generally midday, since peak question periods generally run 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Text message queries are answered between 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.

The call center staff is located at Metro Headquarters in downtown Los Angeles but handles calls from all over the region. Not only do they answer questions about Metro’s 183 bus routes and five rail lines, but call center agents provide route, schedule and fare information for approximately 70 transit agencies in and around Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties. These include the Big Blue Bus, Foothill Transit, Santa Clarita Transit, Orange County Transit, San Bernardino Omnitrans, Riverside Transit Authority and Simi Valley Transit.

And they do all this in less than 2 minutes and 30 seconds — the average length of each phone call.

How do they find great routes we can’t seem to find on our own? The answer is education, plus a handy tool that lets them override the Trip Planner computer’s answer if they want to try something creative or that integrates a particular customer route request.

Agents also undergo an extensive four- to six-week training period, both in class and on the job. And — not a small thing — they are searching and studying the streets and pathways of L.A. County all day, every day, and in the process learning the easiest and best travel routes. The good news for the rest of us is that they are happy to share.

4 replies

  1. Do they post their FAQ’s, or frequently asked questions answered by the agents ? Any helpful tips/shortcuts shared ?

  2. Too bad those of us “common folks” don’t have the option of manipulating the system the way the call operators do. I’ve often found myself having to create a “work around” when I want to build a trip schedule that doesn’t go the way the computer thinks I should go (e.g., I want to go by rail than bus, even if it means multiple trains).

  3. @Bob

    I agree. There needs to be a selectable radio button that provides us with a “prefer trains and BRTs” option on the Metro Trip Planner. It’s a simple 30 min programming feature that would be useful to those who prefer a faster way to get there instead of a surface bus which is prone to surface traffic conditions and traffic lights. Doing stuff online 24/7 is much more faster than calling customer service hotline and wading through the phone menu options. More so if you can’t speak to an agent because it’s after hours.

    Has Metro asked these agents what the most frequently asked questions are? They could use the data from that to figure out a way to efficiently manage and resolve those issues online. Adding a “prefer trains and BRT” option to the Metro Trip Planner is a good start.

  4. wish there’s a screen at every bus stop telling how many more minutes the bus will arrive. i saw one at sherman oaks area. i always have to use a text message to see what time the bus comes. sometimes i don’t get a text back. i do write the bus time in my little piece of paper but when i’m outside i tend to use more text to see what time the bus comes.