Friday, March 02, 2007

Charlie's Mailbag - March 2nd - fare vending machine snafu

From the mailbag at

all Shelby wanted to do was buy a monthly pass

You would think that by now that the MBTA would realize they are going to have increased use of their kiosks on the 1st of each month as users purchase monthly passes. Why then does it seem that the kiosks will never link to the credit card or debit card system on the first morning of each month. Shouldn't the MBTA increase their bandwidth to the system at this time each month? I spent 20 minutes in line yesterday only to go through the system,wait for it to authorize my account, for it to say it couldn't connect. So I asked the guard what I should do and his only response to me and everyone around me was to use cash.

Like most people I don't carry wads of cash around with me anymore. So I put 2 dollars in, enough to get me to work and left very frustrated. Many people didn't have any cash on them at all and it took the guard 5-10 minutes before he realized he would have to start letting people through. If he knew all this was going on, why didn't he make anannouncement to the crowd that the credit/debit card system was down?This would have helped alleviate the confusion and frustration.To add to my frustration I checked my bank balance today and sure enough I was charged $59 for a T-Link pass which I do not have on my Charlie Card. I then had to spend 30 minutes on the phone with my bank to get the charges reversed. I encourage anyone who experience the same issue I did yesterday to check their bank balance just in case. I wish I could bill my lost time to the MBTA.


Shelby you are not alone with this problem as I have heard from three other commuters who were charged for a pass that wasn't issued either.

This logjam at the machines "should" improve when the T finally allows people to update their card on the T's website but given what has happened the past 2 months with the new website you have to wonder if it will be able to handle the traffic. I am looking forward to just having the T automatically charge my bankcard every month but last I heard that is "sometime in the spring"

David ponders one of the T's great mysteries
The sight of three number 1 buses traveling together down Mass Ave in Cambridge (or on virtually any other bus line for that matter) has become such a common sight that many people might just dismiss it and not ask, how can three buses possibly be backed up together? Rumor has it that, surprise, it is not just mere coincidence but, rather, the result of bus drivers who park their buses together to have a coffee break! What with camera phones and all, have you seen any pictures offered by riders of these bus driver tea parties?
I have always thought they have a card game going.

The worst route for this might well be the #66. Since they added buses at rush hour in late December I have regularly seen 3 and sometimes FOUR buses bunched together. One thing I noticed in Chicago is the CTA does have inspectors standing along the route and will hold a bus to prevent bunching. The T said they WERE going to do this starting with the December 30th schedule change but I have yet to see an inspector on the #66.


Anonymous said...

One workaround is to remember to buy monthly passes *before* the first of the month, when there's no/much less line at the machines. It's really quite easy to do. No, the MBTA system shouldn't screw up like this, but if it does, it's easy enough to work around it.

- geoff

Anonymous said...

I really have to question the wisdom of using any credit card to purchase a pass through the fare machines or web site. Come on, people, this is the MBTA were talking about. The same MBTA that can't seem to keep their website working whenever a few thousand people want to use it. The same MBTA that regularly found employees who stole tokens?

Why would anyone trust the T to safeguard their credit card info? How long before we here that the T's server or website is hacked and the info is stolen? Why would anyone want to give the T the opportunity to lose their credit card info?

Ron Newman said...

Some of us have pre-tax flexible benefit accounts or other such arrangements where it is necessary, or at least easiest, to buy a pass with a credit or debit card.

Also, the Zone 8 pass costs $250 a month. Do you really want to feed that much cash into a vending machine? Even $59 is a lot.

Epsilon said...

I've seen buses get held at Quincy Center busway to prevent bunching... and I've heard over the radio that my bus (at the time it was the very end of the 222 outbound) would go out of service and express back to Quincy Center to provide more needed outbound service. I'm not sure if they're doing this anywhere else, though.

Melissa said...

Funny the 66 was mentioned. While waiting for a 66 a few mornings ago, I got to watch a pack of 4 57's drive on by.

Anonymous said...

Plenty of ticket machines have real trouble reading credit cards.

And for some reason, after telling you to re-swipe a few times, the message when it finally gives up is "Bank card type not valid for MBTA purchase. Please use a valid card." This message is just plain *wrong* -- it implies that the T doesn't accept certain types of credit cards, or cards from certain banks, when the real problem is that the machine couldn't read the magstripe.

John Mc said...

I saw the same bus problem the one time I took the 39 in from JP. Waiting 20 minutes for a bus that should run every 7-10. Saw three busses in a row go outbound. 12 minutes later all three were going back inbound at the same time. What's worse, we got on and said in a lighthearted way 'was anything wrong - we've been waiting for a half an hour'. The bus driver responded by saying "no you haven't" I politely told her otherwise. sigh.

Bill said...

You don't have to wait until the first of the month to buy a monthly pass, so don't do it.

People have a choice between doing it in advance, or waiting until the last minute. Those that choose to wait until the last minute do not need any further accommodation from the MBTA.

It's just like when people moan about the long lines in stores on Christmas Eve. If you wait that long, you can deal with the consequences of your decision.

Anonymous said...

How is having a vending machine that actually works, and doesn't charge your credit card while not giving you a pass, a "further accommodation from the MBTA"? The original post wasn't a complaint about long lines during busy times.

Anonymous said...

Bunching basically happens because buses are late. The first bus leaves and slowly picks up the billion people waiting to get on. The second one leaves say 20 or so minutes later but there's hardly anyone to pick up. Pretty soon the second one meets up with the first one. The next bus leaves and still doesn't pick up many people and so it catches up with the other two. After that there is like 30 or so minutes when no buses come because the other ones skipped ahead on the route. Large crowds start to appear at each stop and the pattern starts all over again. This has been going on for years, like at least a decade. It's too bad no one at the T cares or notices this.

Lou said...

The 39 often has someone standing at the Brigham Circle stop with a clipboard (in front of the 711) during morning rush to hold up buses when theyre bunched together, but I have seen more bunching occur during non-peak hours than during peak.

Agreed, the 66 definitely has this problem a bit more (i get to see it pass by my window/stop when waiting for the E or 39) and as aggravating as it is to have the bus youre on held up when youre in a hurry, it would be nice on the 66 which sometimes offers infrequent service and cant even manage to be on time at 11pm when they run every 25 minutes or so.

Anonymous said...

I don't really like the idea of holding buses mid-route. If they're bunched, it's usually due to a delay, and having a bus sit around can't help get more buses to where people are waiting sooner.

I'd prefer it if they could somehow get passengers off the emptier bus onto the full one, and turn the empty bus back halfway, to fill the slot where a bus is missing.

For example, the #1 bus runs at 16-minute headways during the day on Sundays. It can take over 20 minutes for a bus to get from Central to Harvard and back to Central, not including the driver's break. If they could turn a late outbound bus at Central to head back inbound, the gap would be fixed.