The Star Tribune’s story on the decline in Amtrak ridership in Minnesota omitted key factors that are well within Amtrak’s control, including increased prices and reduced services, especially for its sleeping-car segment; reduced capacity on the train in peak periods; Amtrak’s own locomotive failures and assigning too few trains to the route, adding to timekeeping problems; the move to St. Paul’s nicely restored but much harder to use Union Depot from Midway Station, and Amtrak’s failure to advertise or promote the train (“Amtrak sees local drop in riders,” Dec. 28). If Amtrak took the Empire Builder route as seriously as its customers do, the train would flourish. As it is, the Empire Builder is still Amtrak’s strongest-performing single train nationally.

Andrew Selden, Edina

The writer is president of the Minnesota Association of Railroad Passengers.

HEALTH INSURANCE

Hello? Hello? Frustration boils for customers on MNsure line

The new year is nearly here and I’m excited. As of Jan. 1, I will have health insurance again for the first time since moving from California to Minnesota this summer. I love my new state, but my experience applying to MNsure outside of the open-enrollment period has been a study in frustration. I applied, appealed and applied again. To give only one example, I met my broker at a coffee shop to make a joint phone call to MNsure staff. After a half-hour on hold, we reached a staff member who told my broker I had to call them myself. My broker gave me the phone number and went home. I called again, waited on hold, ordered and ate a sandwich, and waited some more. After another half-hour, a curt employee answered, told me I had the wrong office and immediately put me back on hold. After waiting five minutes, I hung up. Ironically, I have received many informational letters this fall from Covered California, the state’s health care network. If only that coverage could have been extended to Minnesota. Because four months without coverage when coverage should be available is four months too long.

Dawn Einwalter, Minneapolis

• • •

I am an attorney assisting a young person with MinnesotaCare. The person received a renewal notice, which was filled out and faxed directly to MinnesotaCare from my office. Yesterday, the person received a cancellation notice from MinnesotaCare for failure to return the renewal form. This morning, I have been attempting to call MinnesotaCare for the past hour. Each time I get through, I work through the telephone tree, which is a two-minute, six-step process where I have to listen to a number of recorded messages, enter the ID number and press 1 for English, etc. I have now made that call seven times. Each time, after the full two-minute, six-step process, I receive the following recorded message: “MinnesotaCare is experiencing a higher volume of calls than usual. Please hang up and try your call again later.” Then the system automatically hangs up on me. There is no option to hold or to leave a number for a return call. They simply end the call with no other option than to start all over. As a taxpayer and a former employee of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, I am offended at the complete lack of customer service from MinnesotaCare. This is an inefficient and, frankly, rude, way to deal with customers. We all deserve better.

Dana McKenzie, Eagan

• • •

As a person punctual to a fault, I can never understand why some people are always late (“Callers flood MNsure ahead of deadline,” Dec. 29). Why would anyone want to wait nearly an hour on the phone to get service? Do they expect to get a better price for the government-mandated health insurance product by calling near the deadline? In contrast, discretionary consumer product online purchasing sites bend over backward to allow a pleasant shopping experience, or they lose the business.

I work at a hardware store, and it is amazing that nearly everyone waits until the day it snows or gets icy to buy a shovel, ice melt, grit, sand or chopper. What happened to “be prepared”? This is Minnesota! Of course, oftentimes services are poorly managed, providing inadequate services from too few employees. One example is the service center where we renew our driver’s licenses. Years ago I observed half of the employees leaving for their lunch hour just as customer lines were backing up trying to get services during their lunch hours. Some services require long waits such as the prioritization system of hospital emergency rooms.

I have found the novel “callback” systems to be most helpful in efficiently handling phone requests; those should be universally implemented. A combination of customer forethought and competent management would go far in solving most service delays.

Michael Tillemans, Minneapolis

 

ISLAMOPHOBIA

Why should ‘straight talk’ be all Muslim, all the time?

To the commentary writer asking if he was crazy for wanting some straight talk about Islam and Minnesota, I would say no, not crazy, but certainly misguided (“Can we hear some straight talk for a change?” Dec. 28). It is not clear what specific measures would constitute straight talk, but it seems pretty clear that the innocent-until-proven-guilty principle would not apply to Muslims. Perhaps the writer is simply funneling his inner Trump: The solution to keeping America safe is to build walls and make sure all Muslims are on the outside.

No one should dispute the obligation of law enforcement authorities to focus on the Twin Cities’ Somali community, given that several Somali-Americans left the country to become terrorists. But what is especially troubling about the desire for straight talk is a disinterest in straight talk about non-Muslim acts of violence and terrorism in and outside of Minnesota such as anti-abortion activist bombings and shootings, mass shootings, and homegrown anti-government terrorists. Rather, straight talk about violence and terrorism seems to be limited to all Muslims, all the time. Can straight talk about internment camps be far behind?

Michael Harwell, Forest Lake

• • •

I would encourage the writer to come and get to know some of the people about whom he writes.

The church I have served for almost 20 years is in Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. I was proud to speak at the gathering mentioned. The Minneapolis mosque he refers to, Dar Al-Hijrah, used the lower level of our building for a year and a half while repairing its building after a devastating fire. For several years, we have worked together with Augsburg College and have hosted many interfaith gatherings in our building and in theirs. We have come to know and respect each other deeply and are committed to working together to build relationships between faiths and people.

What the writer would learn after listening to members of the community is that they are as sad and distressed about their young people as we all are. But the issues are far more complicated than meets the eye or makes the news. He would also learn that they are grateful for their warm welcome to Minnesota and that they have worked hard to succeed, often made more difficult by persistent racism and Islamophobia.

The Rev. Jane Buckley-Farlee, Minneapolis

The writer is pastor at Trinity Lutheran Congregation.

 

MINNEAPOLIS PARKS

Paper still glorifies illegal activity

Once again the Star Tribune has glorified illegal activity at Minnehaha Park on a front page (“A different kind of military engagement,” Minnesota section, Dec. 29). Less than a year ago, the same mistake was made at the same location (“Where bicycles meet icicles,” Page One, Jan. 14). It is illegal to go behind Minnehaha Falls and for good reasons. The erosion around the falls is awful and getting worse, and the more that people climb the falls, the worse it is going to get. The falls were preserved as parkland for everyone to enjoy, not for people to ruin 100 years later. And they are being ruined, as can be seen with the graffiti painted behind the couple in the photograph.People need to stop climbing over the fences into areas where they are not supposed to go. What does not help is the Star Tribune posting a picture of this illegal activity and glorifying it every 11 months.

Andrew Theisen, Minneapolis