Thursday, January 18, 2007

from Charlie's mailbag - Jan 18th

Some commuter feedback this morning in the mailbag at

Kevin writes

I am writing in about the Charlie card/ticket system, and the lack of information posted about fares.

I had a Charlie ticket, which did not have enough money to enter the subway. I wanted to add enough money to ride the subway, but not have any left over. This is because I wanted to switch over to the new Charlie card.

I went to the machine, and put my ticket in, and added value to the card. I couldn't remember how much the fare was. I knew it had just been increased on Jan 1, but not how much. So I added some value. Tried my ticket, and got an error message. I then went to add more money to the card, this time I asked someone else using the machine-they said try $1.70. So I increased the ticket to $1.70. I tried again. Again it did not work. I went back and asked someone else. They thought it was $1.90. So I added 20 cents.

I tried again…still no luck. I then saw a call box, and pushed the button for information, but no one answered. I asked someone else using the fare machine, they said it was $2.00.

I added my change, and finally the gate worked.

Unfortunately I missed two trains during this period. It would have been nice if they just posted the fares somewhere easy to see, or if they added the info to their user interface. The user interface on the ticket machines is just about as poor as you can get. The other sad fact is that there were no employees around to answer my questions, and the only people I could ask were others using the machines.

Do you know if they plan on updating the user interface on these machines. It is clunky, and very slow.
I certainly hope they are working to redo the user interface that was introduced on December 15th. As it stands now these machines are not user friendly which is detailed in this entry. The best comment about the machines came from a visitor from Chicago which I will quote from again in the hope that somebody at the T reads it.

as just in Boston, where I am originally from, and my first experience with the Charlie Card was not pretty. I felt like I was from a foreign country trying to figure out what I was supposed to do when I got to the machine.

The Budapest system was easier to figure out, and I don't even speak Hungarian.

We actually had a helpful CSA (it was the Wonderland stop in Revere) who patiently walked us and three Japanese visitors through the whole thing. We missed two trains in the process, but there is no instruction on the machine or in the station (that we saw) that tells you to go and get a Charlie Card from a CSA before you start, so we kept trying to buy a card at the machine itself. I felt like a maroon. The only good thing about it is that it takes credit cards.

The solution is simple, design the first screen with buttons that say BUS, SUBWAY, COMMUTER RAIL, FERRY. Then at the next screen have a button that asks how many rides you want. The way it is now a rider has to guess how much his ride will cost as the machines do not tell you that. What is even more puzzling is the lack of signage near the machines telling passengers what the cost of a ride is. At Harvard Station a Customer Service Agent took it upon herself to print up the information on her home computer and taped them to the machines because she was being asked the same questions over and over. The picture on the left was taken this morning 18 days after the new fare schedule was introduced. My gut tells me the person that designed the interface has never ridden a subway in their life.

Fred asks about the Monthy Passes

don't know if this has been asked/answered before... but back before the days of this wonderful Charlie Card... I used to be able to log online and order passes for the next month, often for three members of my household. Are there any plans to be able to log on and add value using your serial # on the card somehow to add to the passes?
Old way: 3 people use their current pass, enjoy the delightful service of the MBTA, each month new passes are ordered and delivered by mail with no lapse in service.
New Charlie Way: Somehow manage to round up passes from other two people in house on a day they won't be using them, go to South Station where I never used to have to go, load passes on all three cards and bring back hoping no one needed to use a pass for the day.

It's just more inconvenience with this new system every day... at least the tap and go has sped up bus loading.

Faithful rider of the dreaded 7 Bus

Fred, I do know that you have 2 options to purchase a monthly pass without going downtown. You can either Buy Online from or call (877) 927-7277 before January 22nd and they will mail you the cards at no charge. The T has said they will have a program later in 2007 where you can register your CharlieCard and then reload it online or by phone. Chicago, Washington and London are 3 places where you can now do this. I don't know if they still mailing passes as CharlieTickets until the new system is running, best to call the T at the number above.

and finally Jill comments on bus drivers

I just came across your blog for the first time today, so I don't know how much you have discussed this in the past, but a lot of the bus drivers drive in a really dangerous manner. I can't count the times I have nearly been hit in my car or on foot by a bus.

And then, just last week, my sister's car was struck by an MBTA bus. The busdriver, while taking a turn, entered my sisters lane and seriously damaged her car.

All things considered, my sister was pretty polite and calm about the whole thing. She was shocked and upset, but she didn't yell or try to berate the driver. The driver, on the other hand, was incredibly rude to my sister, even though the driver had obviously caused the accident. They had to wait for the driver's supervisor to arrive, who was also rude to my sister and tried to imply that it was her fault. And neither the driver nor the supervisor ever asked if my sister was hurt.

I am sick of the MBTA seizing right of way by force. I know they are on a schedule and people are angry when they are late, but the drivers ought to remember that a bus can do serious or lethal damage to any car and every pedestrian on those streets. The dangers posed by MBTA buses cutting corners (literally and figuratively) while driver is huge and very real.

And my God, if you hit someone, at least have the decency to make sure they are not injured instead of being rude when you were the cause of the accident. This bus crushed the front of her VW, and I have seen the damage, it is bad enough that an injury was very conceivable.

Jill the sad reality is the T does have drivers that have no business driving a bus. Driving a bus in this city certainly has to be stressful and at time a thankless job but the operators are well compensated for their duties. I want to stress that the vast majority of drivers do a good job under very challenging conditions but Boston seems to have more bad apples than other major cities. In the past year I have spent time in San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia and Seattle and you just don't see the rudeness with drivers in those places as you do here in Boston. Part of the problem stems from the way the T is forced to hire drivers where they must hire from a list generated by a lottery that is held every few years. However it does not explain the lack of training these drivers are given before they hit the streets in revenue service. The amount of training given drivers varies by garage and in mandated in the contract the T has with the Carmen's Union. The union WANTS more training time and it has recently been increased to the following Arborway 8 days Cabot 10 days Bennett Street 7 days – bus/7 days – trackless trolley Charlestown 10 days Quincy 8 days Lynn 10 days Silver Line 1 day.

ONE day for the Silver Line?

The thing I notice the most about bus operators is their lack of customer relations and courtesy towards passengers and for that I blame the T. It really hit home when I visited Seattle a few months ago. Drivers are trained to say "Good Morning, Afternoon or Evening" when you board and to me a visitor were very friendly informing me of the quirks of the King County Metro fare system ( buses are FREE downtown) Drivers with the Chicago Transit Authority also are much friendlier and helpful than Boston. Read this blog entry from Chicago and ask yourself if you have ever seen it happen in Boston.

The T drivers give the impression they don't have to answer to anybody.

Thanks for the feedback and please offer suggestions on how to improve the blog. The mailbag can be reached at


Ron Newman said...

The first correspondent's experience helps to explain why so many CharlieTickets are being left around with small amounts of value still on them.

One thing many car drivers don't realize is that they are supposed to yield to a bus pulling out of a stop. If they don't, and the bus hits them, they can probably be found to be at fault.

Ron Newman said...

Also, regarding buying passes -- you can buy them at any vending machine in any station, any time after the 15th of the preceding month. You no longer need to visit a special pass-sales office such as South Station.

Charlie D. said...

Regarding bus drivers, I recently had an experience with a rather uninterested one. I boarded a 57 bus going towards Watertown, and I noticed the front sign still said Kenmore. So when I boarded, I looked at the driver as I was paying my fare and said politely "Your sign still says Kenmore if you didn't already know...". The entire time, he did not even acknowledge the presence of anyone. As I spoke to him and as all the other passengers boarded he stared straight ahead without saying a word. Gee thanks for the service... I'm sorry you're not having a nice day!

Anonymous said...

MBTA buses need to follow the traffic regs just like everyone else. They are not entitled to any preferred right of way, despite what ron_newman suggests. Too many bus driver make little to no effort to pull over to the curb. Too many feel they are entitled to run red lights. And too many feel that they can change lanes or merge with little consideration for other drivers. That the drivers of these buses feel that they can ignor the traffic rules is a danger to all of us.

Anonymous said...

Ron, please provide a cite for the law that buses pulling out of stops have the right of way. I've never heard of such a law.

(Of course police might treat the situation differently, since cops and bus drivers are on the same team. But that doesn't mean we should spread misinformation about what the law actually says.)

Ron Newman said...

I don't know my way around the traffic law code. The Mass. RMV driver's manual (chapter 4, page 132) says:

Buses and Trolleys
Especially in urban areas, you must take extra care when driving near public transport buses and trolleys. Buses stop frequently. Be courteous and make way for buses signaling to pull away from bus stops. Be cautious of pedestrians who may be entering or exiting such vehicles.

Anonymous said...


I fully agree with the quote from the DMV Drivers' Manual. Thanks for providing it. It is prudent to give a bus, trolley, and the exiting passengers a wide margin for safety.

But the bus drivers still need to obey all the traffic laws just like you and I do. The bus drivers do not enjoy a special privilege that allows them to break these laws.

Anonymous said...

For the pass situation...

I know you can add a pass anywhere now... that's not my point. I forgot to mention all three of us added value in addition to our monthly bus pass, so I can't just order three new cards. We need the added value from the original card plus the monthly pass... that's why it's a pain in the ass.

- Fred

Rob said...

I happen to love how the big new banners at the airport, which explain how to take either the Blue or Silver line, have the wrong fares on them.

Anonymous said...

Rob, how new are the banners? Did they go up after the fare increase?

Anonymous said...

Ron, caution and courtesy are always a good idea. But that doesn't change who has the right of way.

And I'm sure you've seen plenty of discussions in various forums about stuff in the RMV driver's manual that's just plain wrong, especially concerning bicycles.