On the platform of Metro’s Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station in Willowbrook walks Jose Orlando, who offers several “good mornings” to passengers waiting for a C Line train.
He also asks them how their day is going, if they need help with any Metro trips and if they have questions about the service. His kindness and smile help him connect with passengers and fulfill his mission: to make travelers feel comfortable and informed.
Orlando is one of over 300 Metro Ambassadors that the agency deployed earlier this year on buses, trains and stations to help improve the rider experience. Metro Ambassadors wear distinctive lime green polo shirts, making it easy for passengers to identify them. The pilot program — which celebrates 100 days in service this week — puts Metro Ambassadors on the A Line, B Line, C Line, D Line, K Line, and E Line in addition to various bus routes. It’s also one of the largest transit ambassador programs of its kind in the country.
“I like to interact with passengers and during that conversation, I tell them about my job,” says Orlando, who is 59 and originally from El Salvador. One of his duties is to help passengers find their way, whether they want to know which side of the platform to wait on or suggest riders call the 323 GO Metro number (323-466-3876) where an agent will assist passengers with fares, routes, schedules and trip planning. Metro Ambassadors also carry maps of the Metro system which they can give to riders.
“We help locals and foreigners… Many of them look for the airport. If we talk about tourists, I have already helped people from Mexico, Canada, India, and even from South Africa,” says Orlando, who sometimes also assists passengers at some stations on the B Line.
In addition, the Metro Ambassadors provide information on where to purchase and reload a TAP card and detail which Metro programs can help them get fare discounts — such as the Low-Income Fare is Easy, or LIFE Program. They are also equipped with cell phones or iPads to contact appropriate staff to report maintenance and cleaning issues — and safety concerns via Metro’s Transit Watch App. “For example, if there is any graffiti, a broken elevator, or a security situation a passenger let us know… After that, a Metro Ambassador goes to check, take pictures and file a report,” says Orlando.
Metro Ambassadors are not security officers and therefore are not intended to replace existing Metro security staff or law enforcement. However, they are available to support riders, connect them with resources and help Metro respond to issues more quickly. “Usually when we explain this to travelers, they are happy that there is an Ambassador available that listens and is there to support them,” he says.
Vanessa Smith, Metro’s Executive Officer of Customer Care and lead of the pilot program, says the Metro Ambassadors also serve as an extra set of eyes and ears in the system. “Passengers are our priority and we want them to feel welcome and comfortable on their journeys,” Smith says.
An important part of the program is that Metro Ambassadors represent the community that Metro serves, so it was key for our contractors to hire staff who in addition to speaking English were fluent in other languages, including Spanish. About half of Metro riders identify as Latino. “It is very important to be able to communicate with our Latino passengers to address their needs,” Smith says.
One of the Spanish-speaking Metro ambassadors is 43-year-old Yesenia Chávez. The resident of Huntington Park provides support on buses in downtown Los Angeles and on the B Line. Yesenia remembers that some time ago she helped a senior woman who was looking for information in Spanish to go to South Gate to visit her son. “One day I saw her again on the C Line and she told me, ‘Mija, thank you very much. My son was surprised to see me arrive. It feels nice to take the time to explain to them and for them to feel that they had that support.”
She says that part of her desire to help riders comes from remembering her parents. “I think about how difficult it would have been for them to get to Los Angeles from Mexico without knowing any English,” Chávez says. “Many people experience the same, and they don’t know where to find information. Helping the Latino community is my way to do something so that others don’t go through the same thing.”
She adds that while greeting and having a good attitude with passengers is part of being an Metro Ambassador, they are habits that everyone should practice more often. “We live in difficult times, especially after COVID, and a smile or a greeting can make a difference in the day of travelers who go to or return from studying or working,” she says. She feels that the Metro Ambassador program is valuable because it adds an extra layer as in-person assistance. A Metro Ambassador is a person who will listen to your concern and look for a way to help.
Metro Ambassadors also have undergone training and are certified by the state of California to administer Naloxone (Narcan), a medication that helps revive people from a drug overdose. Chávez, who is studying to be a nurse, says that this is how she recently managed to save the life of a young woman.
Overall, Metro Ambassadors serve an important role on the Metro system as part of the agency’s multilayered public safety plan. “The help we can provide is very diverse. If you see us, come to us,” Chávez says. “My teammates and I are here to help you.”
Metro Ambassadors are on the system from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends. For more information visit: metro.net/riding/ambassadors/
Categories: Transportation News