Monday, February 05, 2007

Charlie's Mailbag - Feb 5th Somerville bus woes, Charlie issues

from the mailbag at

Rob in Somerville writes about what should be an easy bus trip

Dear Charlie,

I thought you might be interested in my rant about the unbelievable poor quality of weekend bus service, which many shoppers and workers attempt to rely upon.

It was Saturday night, and I was having a hard time mashing potatoes with a meat tenderizer. So I decided to go to the shiny Kmart in Assembly Square and get a real masher.

Now, I work from home and choose not to to own a car. That shouldn't be a problem, because the MBTA's No. 90 bus literally runs door to door, from my home to the shops at Assembly Square. The beleaguered agency's $466,000 new website announce that on this Saturday evening, the 90 bus would pick me up outside my home at about 7:35pm and then retrieve me from Kmart at about 9:05.

Nope. Even though the 90 runs across Somerville (the most densely populated city in New England, with almost 80,000 residents on four square miles), to the Sullivan Square transit hub, to the shops at Assembly Square, to the Wellington transit hub, it only runs once an hour on Saturdays. It doesn't run at all on Sunday. And even when it's supposed to run, it doesn't run. So whether you're one of the hundreds who work in the big boxes or a normal person who works on weekdays and shops on weekends, you can't get there from here. Sorry, buy a car.

When I saw the schedule last night, I thought I was experiencing a rare case of luck. I went outside at 7:30. The bus came by, at 7:43, going the wrong direction. I waited another twelve minutes for the bus to go to Davis Square, turn around, and come back. It was about 20 minutes late, but I could live with that. Sure, it was 30 degrees out, but like a first-class citizen of America, I was basking in the glow from a Dunkin Donuts and reading American Psycho.

can read the rest at Rob's blog
Rob I couldn't agree more. Nights and weekends bus service is just too spotty in many areas

Gabe has another CharlieCard issue
Hey, I'm Gabe, I live in Lexington, and I use the T pretty regularly. I don't know if other people have been having this problem with Charliecards, but here's the story.

I was in Andrew station on Saturday, going home after volunteering at the red cross food pantry on mass ave., i tapped my charliecard, but instead of opening up, the faregate honked loudly and flashed a SEE AGENT message at me. Assuming that, as in past experience, that simply meant "sorry, you didn't tap right" i simply tapped again and went through. however, looking at the screen on the gate, i realized that it had already charged the card the first time. now thanks to the genius' at the T, i need to somehow make it all the way to downtown crossing to get my 1.70 back. that sort of transaction ought to be able to be handled by any CSA and any fare vending machine in the system. grrr....

Again I couldn't agree more. The CSA's should be able to fix minor problems on the spot without sending people downtown.

Linda wonders if the T is starting a Fast Lane type of boarding
Here's something new to me. I'm a daily Commuter Rail rider with a monthly
pass on CharlieTicket, and don't ride the subway that often.

Entering the Redline at Porter Square this morning the gate slot wouldn't
accept my CharlieTicket. Then i noticed (this is pre-coffee, of course)
that several of the gates read "SmartCard Only." So now they're apparently
restricting some of the gates to "fast lane"? Sounds like a good idea
except--sour grapes--we commuter railers don't have that option (yet?).

Is this the beginning of "fast lane" CharlieCard-Only fare gates, or just
an anomaly?

Linda of Lynn
I haven't heard that they are officially doing this but it is something done in other cities ( example Chicago ) But Porter wouldn't be the station I would pick for the roll out if they are. As you mentioned the Commuter Rail folks still have CharlieTickets and the biggest crunch time at Porter happens when the inbound Commuter Rail stops there. Taking out gates for CharlieTickets is not going to help with the crunch.

I have heard from a conductor on the Commuter Rail that it maybe a another few months before CharlieCards roll out on the rail service as the T needs to find away to keep the hand held validators the conductors use from running out of battery power. As anyone with a laptop knows, outlets on the Commuter Rail are few and far between. I have heard that the validators on the Green Line need to be recharged after about 3 hours.


Gary McGath said...

The problem with the "Smart Cards Only" gates is that the screen which notifies you of the fact is positioned toward the back of the gate, so you can't see it till you're at the head of the line. They simply waste the time of commuter rail passengers and others who don't use Charlie Cards.

Brian said...

The "Smart Cards Only" notice seems to come up due to system failure rather than a effort to disable the device. As gary correctly notes, it would do nothing to make entering the station easier because you can't see the notice until your standing at the fare gate. Those screens may work for displaying information about the current transaction, but they are completely useless for advance warning.

I'd also ask why they opted for "Smart Cards Only"? The error message showed up long before the Charlie Cards were introduced, but now that they have been, the branding is very consistant. They are Charlie Cards, not Smart Cards. You can figure it out quickly enough, but maybe not if you're a tourist. Bottom line, you should have to figure out what a machine means. It should be clear and obvious.

Anne said...

I've run into this "smart card" only lane at the Boylston T stop. I thought it odd, as there are only 2 regular gates, and 1 handicapped gate there. It's also confusing wording -- it should say "Charlie Card only" -- but I'd rather it wasn't there at all. I'm an inner express pass holder who occasionally rides the green line. And I get stopped by this gate each time I try to enter.

Anonymous said...

The LEDs on the front of the turnstiles can show a green arrow, or a red Do Not Enter symbol (if the turnstile is totally broken). Maybe they could reprogram them to also show a No Smart Cards symbol, so experienced passengers could figure out the problem before they get to the gate.

Melissa said...

I've come across gates at Porter that will only take Charlie Tickets (I can't recall what the T-speak was for this--something like "magnetic stripe cards only"). Since both ticket and card take the same amount of time to use, any "Fast Lane" seems ridiculous to me.

Anonymous said...

Green Line handhelds are Sony UX280 UMPCs. 3 hours is about right for their battery capacity.

oddjob60 said...

I'm new to commuter rail, but have been hearing about the switch to CharlieCard for passes and figured they would have to outfit every conductor with some kind of reader. Seems to me this will make a lot more work for them; today, a conductor can move pretty quickly from seat to seat, looking to check passes. Once the system changes, he/she will have to stop, take the card from each passenger (potential eww factor) and scan it before she/he punches the little tracking stub that goes on the seat. Is this really better? Will the T really do something will all this new data about who is going where and when?

D in JP said...

North Station (Orange Line / Green Line) has a "CharlieCard Only" turnstile.

It's the one with the bright yellow sticker that says, "Insert ticket here!"

That's so... MBTA!

Tom said...

I ran into the "Charlie Card only" problem today at North Station. At least half of the gates were set that way. Since I have a Commuter Rail pass, and there isn't any option for Charlie Cards for Commuter Rail riders, I have no choice. Having half of the gates unavailable for Commuter Rail pass users in a Commuter Rail station is absolutely ridiculous!

I think we Commuter Rail pass-holders should chant "Don't Block Commuters" while we're waiting to use the few gates available, looking at the many empty gates that have been bureaucratically blocked from our use.

Spread it around to other Commuter Rail pass-holders. "Don't Block Commuters!"

Anonymous said...

Tom, the gates aren't bureacratically blocked when they don't take magstripe tickets. They're malfunctioning.