Coordinator in black and yellow uniform with male rider at farebox

It’s a rare thing to love your job. Valley Metro’s new Customer Experience Coordinators buck the trend.

I’ve been shadowing the five “C-E-Cs” for weeks, learning about their backgrounds, their duties, and their chemistry together. Dave, Christel, Dawn, Christina, and Kyle have each expressed repeatedly that they almost can’t believe their job is to be nice to people and help them with their travels. They know they’re the first Customer Experience Coordinator team, and they’re enthusiastically throwing themselves into the experience, eager to blaze a trail and set a great example for others to follow.

Their day begins before dawn at Valley Metro’s Operations Management Center, where the light rail trains go for routine cleaning, maintenance and storage. After a brief meeting to discuss assignments and trade ideas, they pile into a van, drive to a nearby park-and-ride, and cross the street to a light rail station. From there, they part ways for the day, with Christel and Dave heading to the east side of the system in Mesa, Dawn and Christina going to the west side in North Phoenix, and Kyle holding down the fort near the middle of the line at the stops in Tempe near Arizona State University.

Once they get to their zone, they go to work. When they board a train wearing their bright yellow uniform complete with radio equipment, it’s common for passengers to start fishing into their pockets or wallets to present their pass. The Customer Experience Coordinators respond with a smile and say it’s not necessary; they’re not security. They’re just there to make sure everyone’s having a good ride and to provide any assistance that’s needed.

I’ve been riding the light rail for years and I admit I fell into habits that I’m sure many mass transit riders have: throw the headphones on, maybe read a book, don’t talk to anyone, and don’t make eye contact. The first time I met Dave and accompanied him on the job, he remarked, “the thing I try to do is make eye contact. Ask them their name, ask them how their day has been and where they’re going.” Of course, this threw me for a loop; it was the complete opposite of my usual habits. But the thing is, Dave’s approach works. I’ve seen people open up to him, and before you know it, they’re not just talking to him, they’re talking to the stranger across the aisle as well. Miles of their journey go by as they engage in pleasant conversation about their lives, their activities, and their destinations. When they finally step off the train, they have a smile on their face.

Of course, pleasant conversation is only a part of what the Customer Experience Coordinators do. They have phones at the ready to help people with their route. They keep an eye out for problems on the train platforms like trash or malfunctioning ticket machines. They’re quick to hand out information cards about the AlertVM app and explain how it’s a way for passengers to make sure everyone’s following the rules of the Respect the Ride program. They also have a collection of tchotchkes including keychains, mini flashlights, and frisbees to hand out to courteous riders and children.

The impact of the CECs has been immediate. In just a matter of days, some riders have remembered their names from previous encounters and greeted them enthusiastically. Today at the stop at Alma School/Main St in Mesa, a rider approached Christel and Dave and remarked, “hey, it’s the nice guys!”

They are nice guys… and gals. The five Customer Experience Coordinators are dedicated to making sure everyone gets to their destinations in a safe manner. They come to work with a smile on their face and a commitment to making people’s lives better, even if it’s just from 19th Ave/Dunlap to Gilbert Rd/Main St. So if you see someone on the train with a yellow shirt that says “How can I help?”, go ahead and say hi! Feel free to tell them about your trip and any questions you may have. Their job is to help, and they love what they do.

Alex Tsotsos
Rail Operations Communications Specialist
Writer, editor, musician, gamer, and former news professional. Frequently seen at Phoenix Rising events and jogging around Gainey Ranch. May throw things in the presence of typos.