Thursday, January 18, 2007

The bus fareboxes WERE frozen Wednesday morning (updated)

updated 1:10 AM 1/18/07

Mac Daniel in the Globe gives us more information on the frozen fare boxes
T officials declined to provide a specific number of unresponsive or failed fare boxes among the 780 buses that ran Wednesday morning. They also declined to estimate how much revenue was lost, though they said that the majority of bus riders use prepaid monthly passes and that most fare boxes were working by the height of the morning commute.

"Are we disappointed that we did not collect a fare from everyone this morning? Yes," said MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo.

This morning Colin dropped a note to the mailbag at

love the blog. You’re doing a great job covering tons of different topics.

I ride the 101 bus from Medford to Charlestown everyday. Ever since the new fare boxes have been installed, the boarding time has more than tripled. From a practicality standpoint, this thing makes zero sense. During my afternoon commute, it sometimes takes upwards of 7 minutes to simply get everyone on the bus.

This morning I boarded the bus for my commute. I am one of those commuters who still pays cash for my rides using a dollar bill and a couple quarters. The driver waved me on without paying and told me the fare box was frozen due to the cold weather. It was obvious the whole device was incapacitated and not powered on.

Nice work MBTA! You paid a fortune for fare boxes that not only delay the boarding of buses but also doesn’t work in cold weather.-Colin

Ah yes the fareboxes, we wrote about them last month

Well Colin it turns out this was not an isolated incident this morning. There will be more details coming out tomorrow but this in a nutshell is what happened.

The drivers this morning came in and warmed their buses before leaving the yard which is standard procedure on cold days. The fareboxes themselves have a heater built into them to keep the temperature above 20 degrees BUT the fareboxes do not power up when the bus is started. Drivers were booting up the fareboxes just before they departed and the built in heaters didn't have a chance to kick in and because of this several failed in operation.

Tomorrow (Thursday) when the drivers power up the bus they will also boot up the fareboxes at the same time and this should solve the problem.

My CharlieCard was not having a good morning today either, maybe he doesn't like the cold weather as well and I wasn't the only one having problems this morning at Harvard.

I appraoached the faregate, tapped my card and got the BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ "SEE AGENT" message. This seems to happen to me 30% of the time and I can't be the only one that is having this problem. Usually I just retap the card a couple of seconds later and the screen flashes that I have a monthly pass good until January 31. But today the faregate then flashed another message "PASS ALREADY USED", so I then seek out the CSA (Customer Service Agent)

The CSA looked exhausted ( but was very friendly) and she asked me to wait because another woman was ahead of me. That poor woman had inserted money onto her CharlieCard but the faregate said there was no value on the card. Luckily she had a receipt but all the agent could do was give the woman a refund form and then let her through the gate on her card. I asked her how her morning had been and she just replied "long".

Now she tackles my problem, goes to the FVM (fare vending machine) and sees that I have a monthly pass and $ 1.20 in stored value on the card. We walk back to the faregate and try the card again BUZZ, BUZZ, BUZZ "PASS ALREADY USED". She just sighed and mumbled under her breath and said "I'll let you in". She tapped her card and got the same error message that HER pass was already used as well. Finally she just said wait for the next person to go thru and follow them.

Ok so today there was a glitch and these things happen, but what concerns me is the number of "SEE AGENT" messages I get when I first tap the card. I also have a similar problem on buses where 50% of the time I need to tap the card twice before it is accepted. What I am curious about is what happens if the bus farebox doesn't accept a pass. Is there a way for the driver to read the chip on his display screen to see a pass has been issued?

Please share your CharlieCard experience both bad and good with other readers of the blog.
The more feedback we can generate will only help the rider experience as issues get aired publicly. We got an answer on what happened to Colin this morning.


Mika said...


I also get the see agent message periodically for no apparent reason, and
it resolves itself with a second tap. Also get similar error with the
FVM's periodically and it resolves with a second tap.

In Washington DC with their SmarTrip card rarely if ever do I get a
message like this.

I wonder what the reasons are why the T did not adopt the same technology
used in DC.

Overall I think DC's FVMs just work better/smoother, etc. You can add a
ticket to a SmarTrip card in DC as well.

Does any other city use the technology we have?

I have had good luck and overall am pleased with Charlie, I think it is an
improvement, but I wonder why the DC system just seems to work more

Great job with the blog as well!

Anonymous said...

Bus drivers who know what they're doing can bring up your card's history. But asking them to do this could result in an argument, which is unfair to passengers since it's the T's faulty equipment that causes mis-reads to begin with. And the driver has to know how to bring up that screen.

(Did you see someone's report that a bus driver insisted that a CharlieCard with a pass on it was supposed to say "Link" on the back?)

In Holland, the entire country uses the same transit fare medium. So why can't Boston use the same actual *system* as New York or Washington?

Charlie D. said...

Have you tried getting a new CharlieCard? Perhaps some of them have defects. Mine has worked perfectly every time.

Fenway said...

Charlie D. said...
Have you tried getting a new CharlieCard? Perhaps some of them have defects. Mine has worked perfectly every time.

I am already working on card #2

This morning my 4 day old CharlieCard died.

auronrenouille said...

Hey Charlie,

LA uses the same vending machines that we use, and they are praising them left and right. They don't have turnstiles on the subway through (entirely PoP on both the subway and the light rail lines, and done entirely differently than our haphazard PoP system on the green line). No problems in use, rarely reports about errors in buying tickets or passes at the machines, it's a system that everyone likes. They're in the process of implementing a faster way for people to use single fares on the subway and light rail (giving people their version of a "charlie card" which you can tap on a post about 8 inches by 8 inches, maybe 3 feet high; it automatically throws a ticket/receipt at you.

Because they don't fare barriers on the rail systems, they still issue paper passes. The machines are largely used right now as fare vending machines, but the test of the new validators (much simpler than the validators on the green line) has also been widely praised.

I'm unable to explain why it works so well for LA and so poorly here, except to say that Boston probably asked for additional programming that rendered it buggy.

Fenway said...

auronrenouille said...
Hey Charlie,

LA uses the same vending machines that we use, and they are praising them left and right

Not exactly

LA uses machines built by Cubic Transportation Systems of San Diego that has also installed the systems in New york, Chicago, Washington, Atlanta and London.

LA County on Brink of Universal Fare System as
MTA Board Awards $84 Million Contract to Manufacturer

We have talked about Cubic in the past
Why the T decided on Scheidt & Bachman instead of Cubic is known only at the top levels of 10 Park Plaza. While Boston would have been a large contract for them it probably would not have been as challenging for them as their contracts in New York, Chicago, and London to name 3.

Aaron said...

Well, at least that explains why LA's system works and Boston's doesn't ;p. Thanks for the extra information, I appreciate it.

Colleen said...

I notice the same thing at Harvard, too, but this doesn't happen to me at Forest Hills (famous last words). I wonder if various stations have buggy readers.

Adam said...

What I don't understand is that if someone has a pass and the system doesn't let you in, just slip in behind someone else! If anyone tries to stop you, just tell them that you have a pass and the system is malfunctioning. What is the worst they going to do? Verify that you have an actual pass? My time is more important than waiting for humans to assist an "automated" system!

Fenway said...

I was on a Green Line train around 9 PM this evening and while the farebox could read CharlieTickets and take cash, the yellow light was on the reader and people were just waved thru.

Anonymous said...

The same thing happens to me at Harvard also. I go into Boston a few times a week, and 90% of the time have to do a second or third tap after seeing the "see agent" message. But at North Station, there's no problem with the first try.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick comment on your comment re: the increased boarding times-couldn't agree more! This is further compounded, on the few times this month I've dared attempt the D line, by drivers who either don't open the back doors (& the CSAs can't understand why I won't spend the time getting my Linxs card {or whatever THAT'S called now} 'validated for easier boarding') or who do & then have all those who need to 'come up front to pay their fares' swimming upstream thru the packed cars. What a mess!