Interborough Solicits Complaints--Interborough Publicity (1917-1918)

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Electric Railway Journal · Vol. 59, No. 14 · April 7, 1917 · pp. 638-640.

Interborough Solicits Complaints. The Recent Campaign Brought Out More Than Seven Thousand Letters, Mostly Appreciative of the Company's Efforts — Each Was Answered Individually — Typical Suggestions and Replies Are Published.


Whatever else has been said, no one has ever questioned the fact that the managers of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company, which operates the New York subway and elevated, were doing their job and doing it marvelously well.

President Shonts, Vice-President Hedley and those around them are running what some have called the "eighth wonder of the world." Certainly it is the wonder of the world as a city transportation machine. There has been nothing like it in history.

But that company has made up its mind not only to do its job but to get the co-operation of the public, to make the public know the company's problems and work with the company in solving them.

Late in January, therefore, the company posted on the windows of every car in the subway and on the elevated placards entitled, "We Ask Your Help." It was a frank appeal for public assistance, the beginning of a definite campaign to enlist the good-will of the people of New York on behalf of the Interborough company.

During the last two or three years the Interborough has had to face traffic conditions, on both the subway and elevated, unparalleled, perhaps, on any other railroad in the world. The original subway lines, approximately 96 miles in length, had been built by the city to care for a daily capacity of approximately 400,000 passengers. Yet within five years these lines were carrying 1,000,000 each day. Frequently during the past year the 1,500,000 mark has been touched.

To relieve this congestion as well as to extend the rapid-transit system to all parts of the city New York is now building nearly 300 miles of additional underground routes. Until these are ready for operation, however, existing lines must continue to carry their present burden. Here was a situation which was difficult for the company as well as the public. It was important that the public should understand the nature of the problems which had to be solved.

In the subway and elevated car cards, the Interborough frankly stated the facts. The company declared that it was running "every rush-hour train the tracks would hold"; that congestion was "bound to be abnormal until new subway lines were opened," and it asked the public for helpful suggestions to meet the situation.

How The Request Was Received. The public's response exceeded all expectations, both in the number of replies and in the generally appreciative attitude toward the company's efforts. More than 7000 letters were received by President Shonts in February and March, and they are still coming in. In addition, scores of people called in person at the Interborough offices with suggestions. Others were invited to call and explain more fully ideas outlined in letters.

Every section of New York's varied social and business life was represented among President Shonts' correspondents. Lawyers, architects, merchants, civil, electrical and mining engineers, policemen, former Interborough employees, railroad men, stenographers, clerks, telephone operators, advertising men — all outlined various ways for dealing with congestion, or made suggestions for improving many minor points of service as they related to the particular line or station they used most frequently.

One business man wrote no less than thirty letters with suggestions to President Shonts, Business organizations and the New York Chamber of Commerce also accepted the invitation and made studies of the subway's operation.

How The Suggestions Were Answered. The frankness of the company in thus dealing with the public — the only permanent foundation for public good-will — was further emphasized in the answers made by President Shonts to every suggestion received. Each letter of the entire 7000 received personal attention in the president's office. Not a single form letter was used, but every question was answered fully. To suggestions that on their face were impracticable reasons were given why they could not be adopted. Here was a real campaign of education. President Shonts determined to avail himself of this opportunity to make the people understand the problems he and his associates were trying so hard to solve.

Suggestions that seemed practicable were referred to a special committee from the operating department. On this committee President Shonts placed men who were experts in transportation problems, men who had studied the subway lines of London and Paris, who represented the best railroad brains in America, and who had spent years in making New York's subway one of the safest and most efficient railroads in the world.

This committee is still at work on the suggestions received. Often it has been necessary to make extended studies of proposed changes. Traffic counts have frequently been made to determine whether existing service did not need revision in order to serve the greatest number. The principle on which the company's service is founded is the greatest good for the greatest number.

Many of these traffic counts are still going on, and if results justify the proposed changes, their adoption will be announced later. Likewise, the reasons why they are not adopted, should that be the case, will be made public.

Outstanding Factors in the Campaign. In these letters from the public several factors stand out as suggestive to every public service corporation. All of them are convincing proof of the soundness of the proposition that the public, when it is fully informed as to the facts, can be trusted to judge fairly.

The Interborough, by the broadness of its invitation for suggestions or criticism, opened wide the door for the public to air its grievances. The opportunity was given to every disgruntled person, to every knocker, to "take it out" on the company. Yet few took advantage of it.

The predominant tone of all the letters was fairness. Nine out of every ten who wrote to President Shonts were earnest and sincere in their desire to help the company in its efforts to render service that, first of all, was absolutely safe, then comfortable and efficient. The amount of study and concentration displayed by the public on the subway and elevated problems was extraordinary. Frequently maps and diagrams with complicated solutions were handed in.

A summary of the public's suggestions appears in the issue for April 6 of Rapid Transit, the company's bulletin, together with reprints of many of the letters. These will cover the main suggestions made by the public. Following each one President Shonts' reply is printed setting forth the reasons why the company operates as its does.

Some of the Suggestions Reproduced. Some of the suggestions reprinted in this bulletin are the following:

1. "The use of end doors on subway cars for exit, with entrance through the center doors, or vice versa, with exit at the center doors and entrance at the ends.

2. "To use both express tracks during the rush hours in the same direction. In other words, to run trains downtown in the morning over three tracks, with uptown service only over the one local track. In the evening this arrangement would be reversed.

3. "To operate both express and local trains, eliminating or 'skipping' certain stations. Thus it was proposed to operate certain rush-hour trains in the morning past Ninety-sixth Street without stopping or past Brooklyn Bridge at night."

Other leading suggestions were: To start fresh trains from Fourteenth Street or Forty-second Street in the evening without operating them over the entire line, thus affording additional facilities for these congested points. To reserve the last two or three cars on a train for women, etc.

From among the large number of letters sent by President Shonts to those who responded to the company's request for help, these quotations are suggestive:

"We are doing everything in our power to instill in the minds of trainmen and platform guards in the subway the necessity of doing everything within reason to reduce the length of station stops."

"We are endeavoring to insure prompt closing of the car doors on crowded platforms by having extra men at leading congestion points."

"Our trainmen are thoroughly instructed in the importance of announcing the names of stations clearly and audibly. Instructions provide that on approaching a station they shall announce clearly and distinctly not only the name of that station, but also the name of the next stop. Then when the train leaves a station they are to again announce the name of the next station. Instructions in proper enunciation is given in the company's school car."

"There is no other feature of the duty of the platform man and guard on which more emphasis is placed than courtesy toward the public. Inspectors constantly ride over the lines checking up behavior. Letters of complaint bring prompt discipline and letters of praise are placed to the credit of the employee's record."

"Often passengers can make it much easier for the guards to be courteous by being themselves more considerate."

The care with which all suggestions were answered by President Shonts will be indicated by his response to a proposition to use subway end doors for entrance and side doors for exit. On that point, Mr. Shonts said:

"First. Each car has three openings. During the rush-hour period, northbound for instance, all stations south of Brooklyn Bridge are 100 per cent loading stations, while Brooklyn Bridge and Fourteenth Street are upwards of 90 per cent loading and less than 10 per cent unloading stations.

"To adopt your scheme, therefore, would be equivalent to reducing the loading capacity of the cars at these stations by 33 1/3 per cent, thus increasing the station stop accordingly."

"At stations north of Grand Central Station the situation is reversed, those stations being essentially unloading stations during the evening rush hours.

"At these points, therefore, the operation of your plan would have a tendency of reducing the unloading capacity of cars by 66-2/3 per cent, with a corresponding increased length of station stop."

"Second. Owing to the congestion at present prevailing during the rush hours, it would be a physical impossibility for short-haul riders, for instance, passengers embarking at Brooklyn Bridge or Fourteenth Street, destined to Grand Central Station, to work their way through the cars by the time the train had reached their destination, thus adding greatly to the general confusion and to the length of the station stop incident thereto."

"You will, of course, appreciate that the principle holds good whether the end doors be used for exit and the middle doors for embarking purposes, or vice versa."

With reference to its policy of courtesy, Mr. Shonts said to one of his correspondents:

"Upon entering the service of this company all applicants must pass a thorough examination on all matters pertaining to train operation before they are assigned to regular positions, and, subsequently, must report back to the school car for re-examination and general review work."

"In this course of instruction there is no one feature upon which so much emphasis is laid in the education of the employees as the value and necessity for courtesy in their dealings with the public, under any and all circumstances."

"We also have quite an elaborate system for checking up the conduct of train employees, and every case of discourtesy thus revealed is made the subject of immediate investigation and discipline."

"Repeatedly we have invited the public to co-operate with us by reporting to us all cases of discourtesy on the part of our employees, and these cases are also made the subject of immediate investigation and discipline."

The Spirit Underlying the Company's Attitude. The general spirit underlying the Interborough attitude toward the public was set forth by Mr. Shonts in the concluding passage of the published bulletin, as follows:

"We are not satisfied. We are trying every day to improve our methods, and we want the people of New York to realize deep down in their hearts that that is the spirit in which we are operating these lines."--Theodore P. Shonts.

Electric Railway Journal · Vol. 51, No. 5 · February 2, 1918 · pp. 217-220.

Interborough Publicity Sets Public to Thinking. Result of Year's Work with Car Cards and Bulletins on the Rapid Transit and Surface Railway Lines Is Encouraging -- Interest of Public Has Been Aroused.

It was just a year ago that the Interborough Rapid Transit Company, operating the subway and elevated lines in New York City, started its publicity campaign. In January the company placarded its cars with a poster asking the public for criticism. The company made a frank appeal for public assistance the beginning of a definite campaign to "secure an understanding of its problems by the public." The first few posters and the results of the complaint campaign were described in the issue of the ELECTRIC RAILWAY JOURNAL for April 7, 1917.

During the year twenty-six cards have been used. They have inspired thousands of letters to the management of the company, making it possible to develop a mailing list of people who are interested in local transportation. The cards used are reproduced in part with this article. Extensive as the campaign has been, it is really just starting.

It takes time to attract the public's interest. That the Interborough is making progress, its management is certain. These facts, in its opinion, so testify. In one musical comedy in New York the Interborough's cards are made the subject of a topical song. Every few days newspaper cartoonists work the cards into their drawings. Newspapers make the cards the subject of editorial comment that has proved exceptionally helpful. Moreover, "letters to the editor" by the dozens have resulted. These agencies always treat of things about which the people are thinking.

People differ as to the way to approach the New York public, and the Interborough's riders are giving their views to T. P. Shonts. One critic says that the cards would be more effective if they were more forceful. Others say that Mr. Shonts should inject a little more "please" into them. Some people want to know why the colored band is used on the cards. Some suggest that the cards be used to encourage knitting for the soldiers and sailors. Others say that they do not like the cards at all.

The main thing about all this is that the people are thinking about what Mr. Shonts is telling them. No man could do a thing in a way to please all of New York. If he can get the city to think about his company's problems, he will have accomplished much. That's what Mr. Shonts is trying to do.

The problems of the Interborough, the management feels, are quite different from those of most companies. The Interborough carries a traffic that taxes its facilities to capacity. Its cars are crowded, and no more trains can be operated on the present system, as the lines are completely saturated now.

The management wants its patrons to know that it is literally sitting up nights trying to think of ways to relieve the congestion on its lines with a view to making people more comfortable. In other words, the company's problem is to show the public that it is operated by men whose first thoughts in giving service is consideration of the passengers. To do this, it is believed that the human touch must never be absent.

PUBLICITY USED FOR THE SURFACE LINES. Some of the cards used during the year in the surface cars of the New York Railways, of which Mr. Shonts is also president, were the same as those displayed in the subway and elevated cars. Others, however, dealt with problems peculiar to the surface lines.

As a Christmas greeting to the children of New York, Mr. Shonts issued an illustrated booklet of safety rhymes. This was published by the New York Railways and distributed to children throughout the city. The main characteristic of the book is the action portrayed in the illustrations. Another feature is a note addressed to the children and signed by Mr. Shonts. It is printed on the inside of the cover of the booklet.

Series of bulletins are being issued by the companies from time to time. Their effectiveness lies both in their typographical appearance and in the presentation of the material in a "different" way. Not long ago the Interborough published a bulletin on some traffic facts that were developed in a few hours spent with the trainmaster of the subway early one morning. There was nothing new about the material, but nearly every newspaper in New York published leading news articles based on the pamphlet. Copies of this were sent to 25,000 people in New York, a selected list.

An important step in the Interborough's publicity work during the year was the publication of a pamphlet on the completion of the third-tracking of the elevated railroad.

Another bulletin told of the patriotic work of the Interborough and its men. The company's and its employees' Liberty Bond subscriptions, the number of men in the military and naval service, the help given to the Red Cross all were shown. The story was told mostly with illustrations. Just the bare facts were given in words. This, however, is typical of all the publicity work the Interborough is doing. It does not characterize its own actions. It states the facts and lets the public draw its own conclusions.


TYPICAL CAR POSTERS, INTERBOROUGH RAPID TRANSIT COMPANY. [Top] Don't Block a Closing Door. More than 2,800 persons were injured last year trying to squeeze through closing doors. Why take the risk to save a few minutes? [Middle] We Ask Your Help. Until new subway lines are opened rush-hour congestion is bound to be abnormal. The Interborough Rapid Transit Company is trying hard to meet the emergency. We are running every rush-hour train the tracks will hold. We ask helpful suggestions or criticism. Write us at 165 Broadway. All letters will receive careful consideration. [Bottom] Danger Warnings. Every day our guards warn you more than 150,000 times to "watch your step." They speak for your safety. Won't you listen?













Electric Railway Journal, McGraw Hill Company, Digitized by Microsoft, Americana Collection, archive.org.

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