Monday, January 08, 2007

An open letter to Mac Daniel

Dear Mac

Your column of January 7, 2007 concerning the first week under the new smartcard system certainly raised eyebrows at several internet sites in Boston. headlined it as Globe to people with CharlieCard complaints: You're just stupid and went further saying CharlieCard == disaster. Tales of woe are all over the Boston boards and I had my own story of a CharlieCard dying yet T officials say it was the first they had heard of it. You told readers about the new Customer Service Center at Downtown Crossing and added "Lines have been long" so something isn't quite right.

Things certainly got better after a few days. The Customer Service Agents at the stations had more experience in dealing with snafus, more riders seem to be using the CharlieCard on buses to get the transfer and overall people are adjusting.

I do have a problem with this line in your column however
We again took the matter to the T, where officials said it was the first they'd heard of it (and they don't tend to lie when we ask).

I honestly think the problem with T officials is not lying but in many cases THEY DON'T KNOW what is going on in the system. I'll give you a small example.

There is probably nobody at the Globe with more institutional knowledge about Boston than Tom Long who recently left the paper after a buyout but still contributes from time to time. He is writing the Starts and Stops in the Northwest editions of the Globe. A few weeks ago a reader wrote in about the Hynes/ICA station and if the name would be changed now that the ICA had moved to the waterfront. Tom got this answer from the T PR department.

No name change for Hynes/ICA the T says
A rider on the MBTA's Green Line, John P. McAuliffe, e-mailed a question about the Institute of Contemporary Art's recent shift across Boston: "So now that the ICA has moved to the waterfront, will they call the Hynes/ICA a different name? This being Boston, I doubt they will, but won't out-of-town tourists be confused as heck about two different ICAs?" McAuliffe is also looking for an update on the rehabilitation of the Green Line's Kenmore Station.As far as his ICA question, it seems out-of-towners are on their own. "The name is remaining the same," said MBTA spokeswoman Lydia Rivera.

Now I am sure Ms. Riveria made a phone call to the proper official and was given that answer but if she left her office at Park Plaza and took the Green Line over to Hynes she would have found out that somebody DID CHANGE THE NAME already. The trains have all been reprogrammed to simply say Hynes Convention Center. Somebody gave that order as nothing happens at the T without somebody giving the OK. The name change is a small thing but it demonstrates the culture at the T that is in effect nobody knows what somebody else is doing.

Mac you are the eyes and ears of every rider on the T. The only way you will get a handle on what is going on with the system day by day is to ride the lines and observe. I am not sure if the T allows employees to talk to the media but if permission is granted then talk to the Customer Service Agents, the drivers and other T employees trying to keep the system running as best they can.

The riders and taxpayers need explanations on how the T could ever allow a vendor to be three years behind delivering subway cars. We need to know why the T keeps entering into contracts with bus companies that vanish after the T has taken delivery on new buses ( that has happened twice now with TMC and NeoplanUSA) We need to know why after 4 years you still can't get the promised next bus alerts on the Silver Line. The list of questions that need answers is almost endless.

The T has come a long way from the dark days of 1980 when the system was shutdown because it was broke. Thankfully accidents on the lines are few and far between and we are seeing upgrades to stations and new equipment promised. The T will never be state of the art and will always be forced to live with the limitations created by tunnels downtown that are 100 years old and buses that still have to navigate New England cowpaths.

Yes we the riders are going through a learning curve with Charlie and so is the T. What we need most is for the largest newspaper in the city to watch this project evolve and help both the riders and T officials at Park Plaza. I honestly believe if they knew what some of the issues were they would do something but they honestly don't know. That has to change and you can be a big part of it.

1 comment:

John said...

Very good post, though I wonder about wheither the Globe is the largest newspaper anymore. Biggest dead tree edition maybe.
The two biggest complaints I have with the Starts & Stops column's are:
1. I stopped sending reports to the paper about safety issues because anything The Globe receives on the subject of public transportation gets pigeonholed and has to wait for the next "Starts.." column to be published. Even items that are not sent to the address end up there.
2. Its all one system, I'm as interested in the transit experiences of the north shore commuters as I am of the shore shore experiences. The regional columns (north, south, west metro) that are printed on Thursday are a mistake. It's a good idea to have different writers covering their community, but print all their columns together. That way we can track the MBTA's performance as a system.