Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A T worker pleads: Mr Grabauskas, please come to my station

This morning I received the following email at

I replied back to the writer and they agreed to meet me for coffee this afternoon. The writer works for the T as a CSA at Porter and has worked for the system for over 20 years. She was a schoolteacher and decided to change careers because she liked meeting people. She told me it was OK to post the letter and her background because the public needs to know what is going on.
Hi Charlie

I am writing because of your post that things seem to be getting better with the Charlie Cards. I feel compelled to tell you that is not the case.

I am currently stationed at Porter Square as a “T Ambassador”, the T’s Madison Avenue way of describing a customer service representative. After working many years behind bullet proof glass I have come to enjoy interacting with customers and enjoy my job. Our complaint is we are getting virtually no help from T officials’ downtown. They want the public to believe the system is working flawlessly and I must tell you it is not.

Since the weather got colder in the past couple of weeks the machinery has not been working properly. Yesterday morning we must have admitted over 40 people with Monthly passes that the turnstiles refused saying their pass had already been used.
We also have been having problems with gates that deduct fares and then will not open.

The ticket machines have been a nightmare. While they don’t malfunction the way the turnstiles have they are very confusing for customers to purchase tickets. I have a stack of unused railroad tickets that passengers have bought in error. We let the people in after they have bought the wrong ticket but our lives would be so must easier if we could correct errors like this on the spot but the T will not allow that. We also have been seeing many passengers throwing away tickets that still have value on them. Over the weekend I collected about 25 discarded tickets and about half of them still had value remaining from amounts raging from 30 cents to eight dollars.

We try to intercept passengers using machines for the first time and offer them a Charlie Card but when the station is busy that is next to impossible. It is especially chaotic when the railroad arrives upstairs and we can have 300 people entering at once. Many are day trippers to Boston and have no idea how the new system works and wind up making mistakes that we can’t fix. Customers then get angry at us and I can’t really blame them.

Then we have customers that do have a Charlie Card who want to buy either a one week or one day pass and the machines instead of putting the pass on the Charlie Card issues a Charlie Ticket and passengers then say why do I need this dumb card? All I can say to them is that is what the marketing department of the T wanted.

You mentioned that the ticket machines don’t tell passengers how much a ride is and wonder why there are no signs on the machines. Again this was not something that was overlooked by the T but done by design. They do not want people buying single ride tickets and designed it so it appears the cheapest ticket available is $5. I had a suit from downtown upset that we had put up hand written signs informing passengers of the fare amount. They have at least responded to another concern we had and now have stickers on the machine telling customers how to insert a credit card.

What infuriates me and my co-workers is the T’s Sgt. Schultz approach that all is well with the new equipment and for the workers not to speak up about what is going on. We are not allowed to talk to reporters but must refer them to some guy named Joe downtown. When the system was first introduced we had reporters from the Cambridge Chronicle and Somerville Journal asking us questions and we are forbidden to respond if they say they are a reporter.

I have become a coffee buddy with a guy that works for the company that built the machines out in Burlington as he has spent a lot of time at our station. He gripes he is spending too much time going out to Logan to get spare parts from Germany for machines that are only a few months old. He told me that the design choices made in Europe sometimes leaves him scratching his head.

The main reason I wrote this message is the hope that somebody at T headquarters reads it and decides to actually do something. I want nothing more than for Dan Grabauskas to come to our station during rush hour by himself and see first hand the mess this system is. We have called and asked his office for him to come and have been rebuffed. But we shouldn’t be surprised by this as the running joke with T employees is “The people who run the T have never taken it in their lives.”

Thank You for a place I could vent.

A “T” Ambassador
No THANK YOU for sharing.


Lyubov said...

The corruption of this system from above is astounding. Thank you to the ambassador for confirming what we had all strongly suspected for a while.

Ron Newman said...

I can certainly confirm that people are leaving behind tickets with value -- sometimes without using them even once. I now have collected over $43 of discarded tickets in just 10 days.

People do not understand that if a CharlieTicket does not have enough value to let them into the gate, they can use a vending machine to add value to that ticket. It would help if the gates displayed the current value below the "NOT ENOUGH VALUE" message.

If someone buys a $5 ticket and doesn't understand this, she will throw away the ticket after two rides, when it still has $1 on it

Mary H said...

I have gotten the "See Agent" and then "Pass Already Used" message at Davis 3 times in the last week. The agent there told me the same thing that the cold weather iss screwing the machines up.

I will never growl at a service attendant again.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I really like the CharlieCard, but see the design flaws - I went downtown today and tried to buy a day pass. Fortunately I figured out that if I pretended to try to buy a day pass I could get to the screen that told me how much it cost and then cancel out of it (since I decided to just add value to my card because it was more cost effective). The T is doing a great job of pretending the new system is flawless - it had me fooled.

The fact that Mr. Graauskas refuses to go to Porter Station is disgusting. Anybody who is the head of a company or organization should be obligated (contractually or morally) to see and understand what the experience of those "below" him/her during the workday. Is there something that we as a community could do to compel him to help out this Ambassador as well as others? It's not like this is a ridiculous or difficult request.

Ron Newman said...

You cannot yet put a 1-day or 7-day pass on a CharlieCard. If you had continued past that screen, you would have reached another one telling you that your pass will be printed on a separate CharlieTicket.

Charlie said...

I think it is important to point out that Dan Grabauskas inherited this fare collection contract from the Michael Mulhern era as General Manager of the T. It is not unlike Theo Epstein being stuck with Manny Ramirez who was signed by Dan Duquette. Grabauskas may very well know if there are major problems but he has no recourse until the system is fully implemented. Other contracts the T botched like the Breda streetcars and the phantom Seimens Blue Line cars also didn't happen on his watch.

Obviously Scheidt & Bachmann of Germany wants this system to work to near perfection so they can sell their products to other transit systems worldwide. But the question that has to be asked is simply why wasn't this company chosen by other major transit systems in the world? I'm sure they have competed on other contracts that Cubic Transportation was awarded in Washington, Chicago, Atlanta, New York and London. S&B touts contracts they won in Sacramento and Dublin. Why have the largest transit systems in the world rejected S&B and chosen Cubic?
In any event let us hope these glitches can be fixed.

Anonymous said...

It's really standard practice for an organization to work only through spokespeople. Politicians do it ALL THE TIME, so do many, if not all corporations, non profit organizations, and foundations. There's a crafted public message that's to be deliverd so I'm not at all surprised at the things your anonyT ambassador says

Brian said...

We know that the General Manager of the T doesn't ride it to work, he said so himself in the Globe last year

That's the commuter whom the rail system relies on - the one who recognizes its value and embraces it as a part of his or her life. But winning over the car commuter has always been the challenge. Even Grabauskas, the MBTA's general manager who lives in Ipswich, a town served by commuter rail, usually drives to work. "Where I live in town is right off the highway," he says, "and my schedule is erratic enough that it tends not to be convenient for me."

Rail at a Crossroads Globe January 22, 2006