Thursday, January 25, 2007

Charlie's Mailbag - T Tales (January 25, 2007)

From the mailbag at charlieonthembta@gmail we have a couple of "T Tales" to share.

I just want to let readers know that some mailbag entries concerning CharlieCards have been posted in Charlie comment thread. No email gets ignored here.

Lets see what is on the minds of commuters:

Ben writes
Hi, I've been enjoying your blog. Here's my Charlie Card story...

I usually do a quick T commute from Kendall to Central then walk the
rest of the way home. One day last week I had to go into Boston to
meet some friends. Out of habit went to the wrong side of Kendall, and
after I went through the gate said 'oops' and crossed Main Street to
the inbound side of the station. I tried the gate, but my monthly pass
is now denied, with a little note saying I have to wait 20 minutes. I
asked the attendant, and she "NO YOU CAN'T GO THROUGH TWICE, BUY A
TICKET!!" Totally unprovoked she was yelling at me. I pointed out this
was a valid monthly pass I'd paid a lot of money for and she closed
the window on me.

I am just outraged to be treated so poorly. It's not just the rude
personnel, it's the idea that I can't use my monthly pass for 20
minutes after using the first time ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STATION. I
can't be the first person this has happened to. It seems the T just
assumes a I am trying to rip them off.

I understand the reason for the time limit to prevent a passholder from letting several people using the pass at the same time. Still in a case like Kendall where outbound and inbound have separate access areas they should just program the readers to reject cards used on that side of the platform. There are only a handful of stations in the system where this is an issue (for example Kendall, Central, Copley, Boylston)and it is easy for a commuter to enter the wrong side by mistake. This is something the T can and should fix easily.

Ariel's problem was more of a head scratcher
(This happened on January 22)

At 5:30, I left work. I had rehearsal in Porter Square at 7:30 and had an hour and a half to kill. so I arranged to meet my friend Al at Spike's in Davis between 6:15 and 6:30.

I get to South Station in plenty of time, but when I try to boop/ding my pass to let me through, the machine makes this loud noise and denies me by saying "not enough stored value." That's funny, I think to myself, because LinkPass, which I have, doesn't have stored value. It just lets you through if you're in the right month.

So I try every single turnstile, and none will let me through. I go to the purchasing machines and tap my card to see what the machine thinks I have on my card. Bing! You have a monthly LinkPass for January. So, hoping that the purchasing somehow reset the card since it knows I have a monthly LinkPass, I try again to get through with no luck at any turnstile. So I go and put $10 on my CharlieCard, because I have to ride from South Station to Davis, from Davis to Porter, from Porter to home, and then home to work tomorrow before I can go deal with this.

I add the money and it works. I am let through and now I have $8.30 left. Now I spot an MBTA employee, who was nowhere to be found before. I go up to him and tell him that I purchased a LinkPass for January, which worked perfectly up until today, but now registers as "not enough stored value" to pass through, even though the purchasing machine knows and recognizes that I have a LinkPass. I told him I bought $10 worth to get me through the next couple days in case I couldn't fix it, but could he please try to see if he could reset it somehow and have my LinkPass re-recognized.

He dings/boops my card to the machine to investigate and enters his MBTA employee super secret machine access code. "You have $8.30 on this card. You're fine!" at which point I had to tell him again that I just bought that $10, and had to use $1.70 to get in the turnstile to talk to him, and that that is not the problem. The problem is that the turnstile machine doesn't recognize my LinkPass and I don't want to pay $35 more dollars just to be able to go to work for the rest of January, which I already paid $59 for.

He checks the card again and he's like, "You have a LinkPass on here. You're fine!" Then I was like, I know I have a LinkPass. I have the receipt for it. The problem is the turnstile doesn't recognize my LinkPass and won't let me through. "But you came through. You're fine!" Then I had to re-explain why I put the $10 on there in the first place.

He screws around with the machine a bit more and announces he can't help me. He takes me to his supervisor, who is huddled over a desk in the tinted-window booth in the subway part of South Station. I give my card and my receipt for the LinkPass to him and I explain again to the supervisor what happened. He repeats the story, and seems to understand. Then he says, "where's your card? Let's check it." And I pointed to his hand, which was holding my card and receipt, and said "you're holding it." The guy is like, "oh look at that! I am!" and starts to fiddle with the purchasing machine. Meanwhile the first employee is trying to talk to me about Powerball.

The manager stops fiddling turns to me and goes, "You have $8.30 left on this card. It should work fine." I had to go through the whole thing again about how I have a LinkPass "oh yeah! Look at that! The computer says you do have a LinkPass!" and how it magically stopped working when I tried to enter today.

10 minutes later, the manager is like, "I can't help you, you have to go to the sales center at Downtown Crossing tomorrow." By now it's 6:20, and I had told Al I would be in Davis between 6:15 and 6:30. So I rush to the train, and the driver proceeds to drive approximately as slow as possible between every redline station. I arrive at Davis at 6:40, find Al has left because he thinks I stood him up (I didn't have his number somehow). So I order and eat fast, email Al from my smartphone to apologize and run back to the train at Davis in time to make it Porter by 7:15, so my bandmate could pick me up and drive me to the hinterlands of North Cambridge for rehearsal.

Here's the kicker. The card somehow reset the LinkPass itself. I entered Davis and it gave me the "good until 1/31/07" reading that you get with a pass. So at Porter I checked the machine, and lo and behold it still had $8.30 on it, meaning it didn't deduct cash when I entered at Davis – meaning it recognized my pass! When I enter Porter after rehearsal, it has the same result. Now I'm really mad. I wasted $10, missed dinner with a friend and subsequently looked like a complete jerk, rushed around and scarfed my dinner down and generally was crazy for no good reason. The pass works fine today (two days later) too.

I still have no idea whether it was my card's fault, or the fault of every single turnstile at South Station, or just an MBTA poltergeist that decided to ruin my day
You are not the first person to write that their LinkPass "vanished" only to reappear. The cards are designed to have three "wallets" embedded on the chip. One is for "stored value", the other 2 are designed for passes so the card can have February's pass already on it even though the January pass is still valid. There is also a part of the chip that stores transfers.

The T never had the chance to fully beta test the pass part of the CharlieCard when they made the Senior/Disabled passes into smartcards 18 months ago because all the stations had not been converted. Hopefully this bugs are minor and will work themselves out in the next month or two. But it would probably be a good idea to get a receipt when you buy a pass and keep it with you.

R from Somerville sees strange behavior in a bus driver
Most of the T bus drivers I've seen in Somerville are okay folks. In
the past few years I've had some interesting conversations with a few
of the local drivers on the 90 and 88. This morning, though, I watched
a real winner on the 94 forcing the car ahead of it to break the law.

It happened on College Ave, heading in towards Davis. The traffic was
stopped at the red light and backed up all the way to the library.
There was a compact car in the left lane at the corner of College Ave
and Winter Street (the one-way that goes between the Store 18 and the
block with the realty agency and Deli-icious.) The car was stopped at
the legal stop line well ahead of the vehicle in front of it, keeping
the intersection free for anybody who needed to turn onto Winter
Street. Only problem was, the 94 bus was behind this car and was
growing impatient in the face of the red light.

It began to honk at the car. First briefly, then consistently. It
wanted the car to move ahead and block the intersection, even though
there's a sign right there on the corner that says DO NOT BLOCK
INTERSECTION. Cars travelling north on College Ave who want to make a
left onto Winter will often find jackasses blocking the intersection,
and they hold up traffic behind them while the southbound traffic
clears enough for them to make the turn. The compact car was obeying
the law and following the rules and keeping that intersection clear,
but this wasn't good enough for the 94 bus. It leaned on its horn as
it loomed behind the tiny car. The compact driver finally relented and
pulled ahead into the forbidden spot. This pleased the 94 bus, for it
quickly swung out into the right-hand lane and sped over to the Store
18 stop.

I realize there's commuters on that bus waiting to get to the bus
stop. But the bus has to obey all traffic laws to get to that stop --
and it certainly can't force other vehicles to break the traffic laws.
And honestly, if it knew it would have to get to that bus stop, it
should've been in the damn right hand lane to begin with.

I feel bad for the driver of the compact car, who was unnecessarily
hassled and forced to do something they didn't want to do. In the
grand scheme of things this isn't such a bad infraction, but it's bad
driving habits to begin with and shouldn't be encouraged. I don't know
if I'd have felt annoyed this way towards the honking vehicle if it
had been like a regular pick-up truck or something, but it did rub me
the wrong way this morning.
What can I say? There are good drivers and bad ones. I have had one driver tell me that he feels a little pressure because of the GPS tracking system on the bus that displays how early or late he is at all times and then issues a report at the end of the shift on how the driver performed with the schedule. Still I think any of of who drive know that Boston is the perfect example of the "butterfly effect" where a fender bender in Quincy can cause a backup in Medford. It is easy to schedule trains and trolleys but a bus is not master of its domain. So what I am saying is the driver should chill out and the T should not put undo pressure on drivers to maintain a schedule in traffic conditions they don't control.

keep the feedback coming, this is your forum. I'm just the bus driver.


Dani B. said...

I have one possible reason for Ariel's problem with her link pass at south station. Perhaps for some reason or another the date in the system at south station was off. It would recognize the pass but not allow it entry because its date doesn't match up with the wrong date that the gate thinks it is. That would explain why the FVMs show the pass and why it worked at other stations. Still a problem that the T needs to investigate but perhaps this is the cause.

Anonymous said...

I'm quite thankful that I have an express pass which has clearly printed on it the type of pass and the month it's valid for. I see these also get rejected randomly by people boarding buses. It's a small number but it happens. I'll be quite honest, when they force me to use their RFID card and I get blocked, I'm just going to jump the gate or pry it open. I think if more riders raged against the T they would be forced to clean up their pathetic act.