Report from the Chair, Jan./Feb. 2022

The Lackawanna Coalition and the N.J. Rail Passengers’ Association have both argued that the proposed “Customer Advocate” position in the NJ Transit reform bill is erroneously and misleadingly named, and our position has itself caused some confusion.

Take a look at the dictionary definition of the word advocate (from dictionary.com)

Advocate, noun:

  • a person who speaks or writes in support or defense of a person, cause, etc. (usually followed by of): an advocate of peace.
  • a person who pleads for or in behalf of another; intercessor.
  • a person who pleads the cause of another in a court of law

The use of the title for an employee of NJ Transit—actually paid by the very agency with which customers have a conflict that requires advocacy—is a problem. We point to Stewart Mader’s work in that position to demonstrate our concern: he was more of a public-relations representative than a riders’ representative. This is not a complaint about Mr. Mader himself, as he did endorse VaxRide and the proposal for vaccination stations, but it is an inherent problem. In addition, after Mr. Mader left, we learned that, to comply with the reform legislation passed in 2019, NJ Transit appended the misleading title of Customer Advocate onto the planned public-relations position for which Mr. Mader was to be hired.

This experience shows why genuine customer advocates must be outside the business or agency to which they represent customers; to be employed by the agency creates an inherent conflict. According to our Chairperson Emeritus David Peter Alan, an intellectual-property lawyer, “As established in trademark law, the standard for public confusion is not whether there is actually measurable confusion in the public, but whether there is the potential for such confusion.” We would like to see the state legislature and NJ Transit prevent such possible confusion by requiring and hiring an ombudsperson or customer experience officer, and leave the advocacy to outsiders.

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