Saturday, January 20, 2007

Think Park St is crowded now?

Think Park Street Station is crowded at rush hour now? Take a look at the sign on the left that indicates how many trolleys used Park St in 1911. This picture was taken one year before the subway opened to Harvard Square. Can you imagine how long it must have taken to ride a streetcar from Park St to Milton or Waverley in those days?

You can look at other old Boston transit photos online from the The Boston Transit Collection at the Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University.

Comprised of approximately 700 glass plate negatives and prints documenting the construction of the city's subway and elevated railway systems between 1895 and the beginning of World War II, the Boston Transit Collection is a component of the Carpenter Center Photograph Collection on deposit at the Fogg Art Museum since 2002.

What's the correct fare? A quiz

And now, a quiz. For each of the following trips, what is the correct total fare? Answer each question twice, using first (a) a CharlieTicket, and then (b) a CharlieCard.

The rules: You are carrying no cash. You have a single CharlieTicket or CharlieCard that has no monthly pass, but that initially has enough stored value to pay for the entire trip (so, no refilling en route). You must make all transfers within two hours of starting the trip. You are travelling alone, and not sharing your ticket or card with any other rider.

I do not have an answer key. For most of these trips, the MBTA's official information is quite unclear on what the correct fare should be. This is an open-book quiz, so feel free to consult any official signs, leaflets, schedules, advertisements, or web pages such as Information on Fares and Passes or the two different official FAQs.

1) Start in Allston Village. Take bus #66 to Harvard Square. Take bus #96 to Davis Square. Take bus #87 to Clarendon Hill.

2) Start in Allston Village. Take bus #66 to Harvard Square. Take the Red Line to Davis Square. Take bus #87 to Clarendon Hill.

3) Start in Harvard Square. Take the Red Line to Davis Square. Take bus #96 to Medford Square. Take bus #134 to Winchester.

4) Start in Winchester. Take bus #134 to Medford Square. Take bus #96 to Davis Square. Take the Red Line to Harvard.

5) Start at Riverside. Take Outer Express bus #500 to Franklin and Federal streets in downtown Boston. Walk to State Street Station. Take Outer Express bus #352 to Burlington.

6) Start at Watertown Square. Take Inner Express bus #504 to Franklin and Federal streets. Walk to State Street station. Take Outer Express bus #352 to Burlington.

7) Start at Watertown Square. Take Inner Express bus #502 to Copley Square. Take the Green Line to Government Center. Take Outer Express bus #352 to Burlington.

7) Start in Burlington. Take Outer Express bus #352 to State Street station. Walk to Franklin and Federal streets. Take Inner Express bus #504 to Watertown.

8) Start in Burlington. Take Outer Express bus #352 to State Street station. Take Orange Line to Back Bay station. Walk 2 blocks to St. James Ave in Copley Square, and take Inner Express bus #502 to Watertown.

9) Start at Franklin and Federal streets. Take Outer Express bus #505 to Waltham Center. Take bus #70A to North Waltham.

10) Start in North Waltham. Take bus #70A to Waltham Center. Take Outer Express Bus #505 to downtown Boston.

11) Start at Andrew. Take Red Line to Downtown Crossing. Walk to Otis and Summer Streets, and take Outer Express bus #505 to Waltham Center. Take bus #70A to North Waltham.

12) Start in North Waltham. Take bus #70A to Waltham Center. Take Outer Express Bus #505 to downtown Boston. Take Red Line to Andrew.

That's enough for now. Next week I may post another quiz which includes legs on the Mattapan replacement service and one or both Silver Lines.

T Tales (January 20th edition)

The mailbag at brings us this story from John

Here's a nice incident for your files. Friday I rode out of Boston on the Red Line with a co-worker. We arrived in Braintree at about 9:30pm. Where were seven passengers in the car, us and 5 high school kids.
Now all the way out of Boston at all the South Boston and Quincy stops all the doors worked fine. However, at Braintree, though other passengers seemed to be able to leave the train from their cars, on our car the doors didn't move. We stood by the doors waiting but long after station platform emptied, we remained locked in.
Finally, I pushed the emergency intercom and alarm button which glowed red and sounded a loud tone. Nothing happened for several minutes until a MBTA employee unlocked the inter-car door at the end of the car.
He stood in the doorway with a angry look and yelled (YELLED!) at us,"WHO PUSHED THE ALARM?!"
Flabbergasted, I yelled back,"We're locked in!!". To this he responded by turning around (without a word) closing the door and locking it. We never saw him again.

A couple of minutes later, by banging on the glass, we caught the attention of a another T employee who was leaving the platform. He immediately entered the train via the engineers compartment and was able to release a outside door. We thanked him and left.

I read that there is a new law that gives jerks (like the first T employee) the power to issue citations, thats a bad idea. He already likes to lockup T passengers at his whim.

John for the Braintree 7.


I had something happen several years ago at Alewife. The doors never opened in our car and we also pressed the intercom. But nobody could hear it as the crew was switching ends and walking on the platform. The bell rang and suddenly we heading back to Davis where we finally got off and we are talking seven passengers involved.

I suppose we should consider ourselves lucky in Boston that we still have 2 man crews on the Red and Orange Lines to watch out for things on the train but sometimes it doesn't matter. Chicago eliminated conductors on trains about 10 years ago and if you are in the rear cars you really are on your own, but at least in Chicago you can pass from car to car which is something Boston has never allowed. I hope we never have to find out how well these crews are trained for an emergency. The T came under heavy criticism 30 years ago when there was complete mayhem in the tunnel between Park Street and Charles when THREE (yes 3) Red Line trains collided. Because of what happened that day in 1975 the crews were given more training but still one wonders how much.

Sam writes

Hey, Charlie!

Thanks for the blog! I've been riding the T for years and recently started to wonder more about how it operates, the history, etc. Your blog came along at exactly the right time for me!

Thanks for providing such a wealth of information and shedding light on a fairly in-transparent system.

I have not been able to find an "about" section on the blog however and I'm wondering who you are and how you come to be interested in, so knowledgeable about, and seemingly plugged into the T's workings, present and past. Does it somehow overlap with your job?

I'm also wondering if you have had feedback/contact from the MBTA about the blog.

Thanks again,


No Sam I have no connection with the T other than I have been riding it for more years than I want to admit. ( I remember when the Bluebirds on the Cambridge-Dorchester line were new) Over the years as I traveled to other cities and compared transit systems I would often wonder why the T did things the way they do and now the blog is an extension of that. I have been told the T is aware we exist.

One thing that always needs to be remembered when comparing the T to other cities is the age of the system downtown where the core tunnels are now 100 years old. Yes we can marvel at subways in Montreal, Oakland-San Francisco, Washington and Atlanta but they were built in the 60's and 70's and learned from the problems cities like Boston and Philadelphia had. It is better to compare the T to similar systems in Philadelphia and Chicago and Boston overall looks pretty good compared to those 2 cities. Chicago and Philadelphia let their subway stations deteriorate in a fashion that never happened here and only now is Chicago undergoing a major station renovation program. One Loop station in particular stood out as being horrific, the one at Grand and State which is heavily used by passengers going to Navy Pier. It is not uncommon to be waiting for a train with a rat sniffing at your feet. There was a joke in Chicago among passengers when the CTA converted all trains to automated announcements in 2000 and the computer voice ( known as Mr. Happy CTA guy by the locals ) would happily announce "This is Grand" as the train chugged into the dungeon of a station. The CTA this past summer finally changed the announcement to say "This is Grand and State"

The MBTA will never be like BART or the Washington Metro but it can be better.

Friday, January 19, 2007

some local media stories on T this week (Jan 19th)

Track worker wonders why fatal crash happened
Victim asks ‘why?’(Woburn Advocate)

The East Cambridge Planning Team will meet Wednesday, Jan. 24, at 7 p.m. at the East End House to discuss City Councilor Tim Toomey’s council order for a depression in McGrath Highway so pedestrians can safely cross over the new proposed T station. Jones Lang Lasalle along with an MBTA representative will come to discuss the NorthPoint project. Also to be discussed: The “Paint the Park” project for the spring.

The Free Press of BU covers Charlie as students returning were not happy to find out about the new fare system
T riders struggle with new system - News

Brockton Enterprise editorial on fare evasion
T fare evaders must be stopped, but at what cost?

from WCVB
Automated MBTA Fare Boxes Slow To Work In Cold Weather

Attleboro Sun Chronicle gives people a reminder about railroad tracks
It's simple: Stay off the tracks

Globe's Starts and Stops South Shore edition
As lane changes go, T's is sharp

Fitchburg-Leominster hopes for improved commuter rail
Murray on board for commuter rail

Holbrook doesn't want late night trains
Petition seeks to curb late proposed night trains

The T has a new "Ski Train"
Get away without leaving

East Cambridge residents miffed T didn't appear at a public hearing
Neighbors grill enviro firm about dirty soil

The Orange Line has been found (updated 1/19) is reporting that the T's Trip Planner has been fixed.

By adamg on Fri, 01/19/2007 - 12:31pm
The T has fixed that Friday Orange Line trip-planner glitch on, so now, when you tell it you want to get from Oak Square to Forest Hills on a Friday, it sends you on a direct, 33-minute Orange Line ride instead of a hellish two-hour trek involving four bus lines.

Caveat: You have to type "Forest Hills Station" into the planner. If you just stupidly type "Forest Hills," you'll get back a list of lots of Foresty, Hilly possibilities in JP and then, when you select "Forest Hills station," the thing spits back a list of places in Stoneham.

An update on our report last week that the T's trip planner doesn't know the Orange Line exists on Friday. 5 days later it still hasn't been fixed.

Once again I asked it to plan a trip from the Central Sq subway stop in Cambridge to the Green Street Station in Jamaica Plain and once again it routed me by bus. The second choice borders on hysterical.

Itinerary 2 - Approx. 80 mins.

I figured after 2 full work days the problem would be corrected since it was well publicized on many blogs over the weekend. I stand corrected.

original post from Friday evening
got a note in the mailbag from John at concerning the T's new trip planner

Thought you might find this interesting if you haven't observed it
already. The MBTA trip planner is completely incapable of recognizing
the existence of the Orange Line if you plan a trip on Friday. Try
planning a trip from Oak Grove to Forest Hills today (or any future
Friday) and it takes 4 legs and 2 hours or more. I sent them an email
last week, but no response yet.
Thanks for the site,

Well that is weird so I tried it out with a "simple" request. I requested a trip next
Friday the 19th to go from the Central stop on the Red Line to the Green St stop on the Orange.

It sends you by bus

Itinerary 1 - -1376 mins.

How do you lose an entire subway line?

MBTA VICE: Vendetta Gunn Episode One

larrysee sent this video to the mailbag

Chicago Transit Authority fires 5 after derailment

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) on Thursday fires 5 workers after an investigation into a derailment on the systems Blue Line last summer. The Chicago Tribune reports

The Chicago Transit Authority fired five employees, including two managers, on Thursday for neglecting long-standing track defects that caused the derailment of a Blue Line train near downtown last summer, officials said.

The July 11 accident in the subway tunnel west of the Clark/Lake station sparked a smoky fire and sent more than 150 passengers to hospitals. It was one of the most serious CTA derailments in recent years.

A preliminary investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board has determined the rails were wider apart than they should have been, and the poorly aligned track likely caused the derailment of the last car on the eight-car train.

A separate CTA investigation has so far failed to pinpoint responsibility among the individuals who were fired. Officials are unsure how to apportion blame among the two track inspectors, their foreman, the engineer responsible for supervising the foreman and the manager of track maintenance.

CTA President Frank Kruesi fired all of them.

More coverage from

A Chicago riders blog similar to Charlie CTA Tattler comments

Chicago BTW has something I wish the MBTA would consider. The head of the Chicago Transit Authority, Carole Brown writes her own blog and talks to riders about current issues

Report: T must cut costs (Boston Metro)

The city's third newspaper once again has a story not seen in the Herald or Globe. In the Friday Boston Metro has an exclusive report concerning the Commonweath's Transportation Finance Commission report on the MBTA.
A member of the panel spoke exclusively with Metro yesterday about the commission’s findings surrounding the critical financial state of the MBTA.

“The T is not in danger of collapsing, but I think if something major isn’t done over the next several years the T gets deeper and deeper into the hole, in that they’re having to raise fares or they sacrifice maintenance of their present system — which drives down ridership,” said Michael Widmer, a member of the commission and president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. “The danger here is that it becomes a death spiral.”

from Charlie's Mailbag - January 19th

more comments from the mailbag at

Chris writes about the fare vending machines at Mattapan

We have two of them, in a shed. An unheated shed.

When they get cold, they get very stupid and unresponsive.

The T employee who was there a week or so ago, to demonstrate how to
charge up a CharlieCard, told me that the machines at Lechmere
Station were badly affected by the rather mild cold weather at the

As the temperature the last two nights was in the very low two digit
range, I'm wondering how the Mattapan, Lechmere, and other exposed to
the weather/semi-exposed machines fared.

I've noticed that a lot of people here in Mattapan who use the #30
and #31 buses are using the CharlieCard, by about 2 to 1 vs. the
CharlieTicket. With some poor souls still feeding dollar bills and/or
coins into the farebox.

I'm sure part of it is the pass on a card option, however, given the
slowness of the Ticket reader vs. the speed of the Card reader, I
suspect that is a major selling point. You get on the bus so much
quicker with a CharlieCard.

I don't know if it is a problem or not. I am sure part of the reason the Blue Line was selected to get the machines first was to test them in outdoor conditions and to see if there were problems. I know the morning I really had a problem with my card at Harvard the station was very, very cold.

Kevin writes about smaller buses on the 502/504 express

Hey Charlie --

Love your web site. I live in Newton Corner and both my wife and I ride the express buses into Boston every day. She takes the 502 into Copley, and I take the 504. I love having the express bus in Newton Corner, because it's great to leave our car at home, and the presence of the buses was a major factor in our decision to move to Newton Corner.

For the past few weeks, though, I have noticed that the MBTA has stopped running the "accordion-style" buses that bend in the middle. Those buses are obviously far larger than the smaller buses, and the 502/504 routes certainly need the larger buses. Every day for the past two weeks, the bus has been packed to the gills, standing-room only. All of the seats fill up at the first stop - passengers that board after the first stop have to stop, uncomfortably, for the entire 10 minute trek into Boston. With the heat on at full blast, I often emerge from a crowded bus, angry and sweaty. A great way to start the day.

Do you know why the MBTA has stopped running the larger buses on the express routes? I love that now my fares have gone up over 25% (from a $70 combo pass to an $89 inner express pass!), and service has deteriorated to the point where I never get a seat on the bus. It's enough to make me consider driving to work again.


Newton MA
Good question and hopefully somebody will post the answer.

Barry writes from Florida
I'm in Florida for the month, reading about the problems with the T fareboxes, etc. I think you're doing a great job...keep it up.

One think I wrote to the Patriot Ledger about several months ago, but to my knowledge has never been addressed, is the lack of signage...and wrong the Quincy Adams station. If you drive up to the station, there is not one sign saying that the station is Quincy Adams. And there is no signage telling you that you can only enter the garage from Rt. 3! Also...half of the signs at that exit say "T Station Quincy Center" and the other half say "T Station Quincy Adams"! I think the ones that say "Quincy Center" are meant to direct you to the center of Quincy, but since there is also a T station by that name, one would assume that the T station they are directing you to is Quincy Center. Truly amazing.
I just got confused reading that let alone trying to figure it out when driving, I will pass that on to the Massachusetts Highway Department who is in charge of signage.

Keep the comments coming and hopefully we can get some answers.

Win a pair of CharlieCard mittens - and support Rosie's Place

Colleen Meagher, the Subway Knitter, is raffling off a pair of her now-famous CharlieCard mittens, which keep both your hands and your card warm while you pay to ride 'neath the streets of Boston.

To enter the raffle, all you need to do is visit the front page of and make a PayPal donation to Rosie's Place, a shelter for poor and homeless women. The winner gets a pair of new mittens knit personally by Colleen.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A look at the T's ridership numbers

The T is a huge operation and when you look at the ridership numbers you begin to grasp the enormous task it faces each morning getting people in, out and around Boston. The MBTA is the nation’s fifth-largest mass transit system measured in terms of ridership. It serves a daily ridership of 1.2 million passengers and covers a district made up of 175 communities in eastern Massachusetts. The Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization has made available the raw numbers (though some are a few years old) and I will try to present them in a concise way.

The numbers on the left are from 2003 and it shows at a glance that 65% of the ridership of the bus-subway system relies on the 4 major subway lines. Ridership has actually increased from these numbers as was cited by the Globe's Keith O'Brien when he rode the Orange Line for an entire day one year ago to get the pulse of the people who ride the T. The Boston ridership profile is the complete opposite of Chicago where two-thirds of the ridership take buses instead of the L system.

To move this tremendous number of people the T operates 159 bus routes (8,600 bus stops), 3 subway lines, 2 trolley lines that splits into 5 branches), 1 bus rapid transit line (Silver Line), 4 trackless trolley lines, and 11 commuter rail lines. To operate these lines it uses (numbers approximate) 408 subway vehicles, 181 trolleys vehicles, 973 buses, 40 trackless trolleys, 80 commuter rail locomotives, 362 commuter rail coaches, and 421 RIDE (paratransit) vehicles. The T needs to maintain 785 miles of track, 19 miles of tunnel, 275 stations, 560 bridges, 100 elevators and 132 escalators. The T also claims to have 56,213 commuter parking spaces in the system though there are many on the South Shore who would question that number.

So where are all these passengers coming from?

Some of the numbers are surprising to me as for example I was surprised to see that Davis Square (10,891) handles more passengers than Alewife (9,567). I doubt this was anticipated by the Northwest Extension planners back in the 1970's who were forced by political pressure from Somerville to bend the route to include Somerville. The transformation that has occurred in the Davis area since the subway's opening in 1984 is stunning. The former Mayor of Somerville, Eugene Brune recalls that even the Chamber of Commerce didn’t want a subway stop in Davis Square. The planners of the Red Line wanted to build the line into Arlington Center but residents of the town did not want the subway and it finally terminated at Alewife.

How the Red Line Extension was designed and built

The high number of boardings at Forest Hills (12,584) show that the Orange Line should have been extended further south to perhaps Rte 128 Station in Westwood. The opportunity existed 30 years ago when the Southwest Expressway was scrapped after the right of way had been cleared but like Arlington the residents of Hyde Park and West Roxbury wanted no part of subway service fearing it would bring changes to the area so the relocated Orange Line continued to terminate at Forest Hills.

On the Blue Line the high number of boardings at Wonderland (6,071) indicate that the line should be extended to at least Lynn and perhaps Salem as well, but that has been talked about for fifty years since the line was extended to Revere. Maverick is by far the heaviest used station with 10,015 boardings because of the number of bus passengers who transfer there after coming from East Boston and Chelsea.

The Green Line numbers also are a surprise to me. Harvard and Commonwealth on the B Line is the heaviest used stop (the numbers listed are from 1995) outside the subway followed by Coolidge Corner and Brookline Village. As any B Line rider would suspect it is the heaviest used of the trolley lines, followed by D, E and C.
The above link breaks down every bus route in the system and it dramatically shows how dependent Roxbury, Dorchester and Jamaica Plain are with their buses. The #39 Forest Hills-Copley bus is the systems busiest with the #1,#23,#28, and #66 all have over 10,000 passengers a day. Other workhorse routes are the #57 and #111. The T has been working hard to modernize the bus fleet with more on the way. There was the unfortunate misstep of ordering buses from NeoplanUSA and it remains to be seen how much of a problem getting parts for the Neoplans will become as the company closed down while filling a T order. The Neoplan buses include the 60 foot buses used on the Silver Line-Washington Street, the #32 and #39, Silver Line-Waterfront-Airport, trackless trolleys serving Cambridge-Watertown-Belmont and heavy use in the Quincy division.

The breakdown for the Commuter Rail stations
shows some problems on several lines with ridership. The Framingham/Worcester line dropped from 9,990 inbound passengers a day in 2003 to 8,248 a year ago. This is no doubt because of the major delays on that line as the T fights with the CSX Railroad over train slots. Major drops can be seen on the Newburyport/Rockport line and Franklin lines but the network also saw increases on the Lowell and Fitchburg lines. The Providence line is the most heavily traveled and that will only increase with all trains now going to Rhode Island and expansion to the Providence Airport slated to open in 2 years.

So now you at least have a better idea at the challenges the T faces every workday morning to shuttle hundreds of thousands of passengers all over Boston. It is not an easy task and while some commuting days can be a nightmare, the T by and large does a decent job.

Hopefully this forum will help make it better.

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

The bus fareboxes WERE frozen Wednesday morning (updated)

updated 1:10 AM 1/18/07

Mac Daniel in the Globe gives us more information on the frozen fare boxes
T officials declined to provide a specific number of unresponsive or failed fare boxes among the 780 buses that ran Wednesday morning. They also declined to estimate how much revenue was lost, though they said that the majority of bus riders use prepaid monthly passes and that most fare boxes were working by the height of the morning commute.

"Are we disappointed that we did not collect a fare from everyone this morning? Yes," said MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo.

This morning Colin dropped a note to the mailbag at

love the blog. You’re doing a great job covering tons of different topics.

I ride the 101 bus from Medford to Charlestown everyday. Ever since the new fare boxes have been installed, the boarding time has more than tripled. From a practicality standpoint, this thing makes zero sense. During my afternoon commute, it sometimes takes upwards of 7 minutes to simply get everyone on the bus.

This morning I boarded the bus for my commute. I am one of those commuters who still pays cash for my rides using a dollar bill and a couple quarters. The driver waved me on without paying and told me the fare box was frozen due to the cold weather. It was obvious the whole device was incapacitated and not powered on.

Nice work MBTA! You paid a fortune for fare boxes that not only delay the boarding of buses but also doesn’t work in cold weather.-Colin

Ah yes the fareboxes, we wrote about them last month

Well Colin it turns out this was not an isolated incident this morning. There will be more details coming out tomorrow but this in a nutshell is what happened.

The drivers this morning came in and warmed their buses before leaving the yard which is standard procedure on cold days. The fareboxes themselves have a heater built into them to keep the temperature above 20 degrees BUT the fareboxes do not power up when the bus is started. Drivers were booting up the fareboxes just before they departed and the built in heaters didn't have a chance to kick in and because of this several failed in operation.

Tomorrow (Thursday) when the drivers power up the bus they will also boot up the fareboxes at the same time and this should solve the problem.

My CharlieCard was not having a good morning today either, maybe he doesn't like the cold weather as well and I wasn't the only one having problems this morning at Harvard.

I appraoached the faregate, tapped my card and got the BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ "SEE AGENT" message. This seems to happen to me 30% of the time and I can't be the only one that is having this problem. Usually I just retap the card a couple of seconds later and the screen flashes that I have a monthly pass good until January 31. But today the faregate then flashed another message "PASS ALREADY USED", so I then seek out the CSA (Customer Service Agent)

The CSA looked exhausted ( but was very friendly) and she asked me to wait because another woman was ahead of me. That poor woman had inserted money onto her CharlieCard but the faregate said there was no value on the card. Luckily she had a receipt but all the agent could do was give the woman a refund form and then let her through the gate on her card. I asked her how her morning had been and she just replied "long".

Now she tackles my problem, goes to the FVM (fare vending machine) and sees that I have a monthly pass and $ 1.20 in stored value on the card. We walk back to the faregate and try the card again BUZZ, BUZZ, BUZZ "PASS ALREADY USED". She just sighed and mumbled under her breath and said "I'll let you in". She tapped her card and got the same error message that HER pass was already used as well. Finally she just said wait for the next person to go thru and follow them.

Ok so today there was a glitch and these things happen, but what concerns me is the number of "SEE AGENT" messages I get when I first tap the card. I also have a similar problem on buses where 50% of the time I need to tap the card twice before it is accepted. What I am curious about is what happens if the bus farebox doesn't accept a pass. Is there a way for the driver to read the chip on his display screen to see a pass has been issued?

Please share your CharlieCard experience both bad and good with other readers of the blog.
The more feedback we can generate will only help the rider experience as issues get aired publicly. We got an answer on what happened to Colin this morning.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The CharlieCard mitten arrives just in time

Ron Newman who was last seen going through trash bins at Davis Square looking for CharlieTickets with value on them has come across the must have item for freezing T bus riders.

He posts at about the brand new CharlieCard Mitten designed by the Subway Knitter. who tells all how the idea came to be.

Without further ado, and just in time for today's cold snap, I present to you the Amazing Charlie Card Mittens! Those of you not from Boston might need some background. The T has recently completed an upgrade to its fare-collection system. Gone are the days of T passes and tokens. Starting in 2007 we're using a new system of rechargeable stored-value cards. I guess that it's a lot like the Oyster card on the London Underground. The cards are passed close to a card reader mounted on the front of the turnstiles. For those of you who don't know, you need not press the pass directly to the card reader. It just needs to get close to the reader.

"Ah, ha!" you're thinking. Exactly! Why not store the pass on my right hand, so that when I get to the turnstile I need only to wave my hand in front of the reader (located on the right side of the turnstile) to gain entry? Why not, indeed! So, when I finished knitting the mittens, I measured my Charlie Card (about the same size as a credit card) and knit a pocket for it that's slightly bigger. I knit a flap and attached a cute button. Now you might understand why it was so important for me to keep these mittens from getting lost, and why I knit the string to keep this pair in my coat.

All Hail: Backwards transportation

Damon Griffins a sophomore communications studies major at Northeastern wrote the following for The Northeastern News on Wednesday.

All Hail: Backwards transportation - The Inside:

Welcome back WBZ-TV now bring back Eyewitness News too

Our friends at posted a blog entry from the Herald that the suits over at 1170 Soldiers Field Road want to their TV station to be known again as WBZ-TV.


Why CBS executives ever made the change in the first place makes you wonder if they used to work at the T. WBZ is the most famous call sign in New England and one would think that they would want to cross promote the television station with WBZ Radio1030 which practically everyone has a preset button for because of news/weather and traffic updates. But someone, probably in New York decided that the station must be known as CBS4. CBS did this with the majority of stations they owned ( with major exceptions in Pittsburgh-KDKA and Minneapolis-WCCO )but they figured if we can trash the WCBS-TV name in New York, we can do the same in Boston.

For many of us who grew up in Boston WBZ-TV was family. It was Boston's first television station when it began programming on June 9, 1948. Many of us have fond childhood memories of Big Brother Bob Emery and Boomtown with Rex Trailer (who is still going strong).The station was best known for local news. We welcomed Victor Best, Arch McDonald, Jim Jensen, Tom Ellis, Tony Pepper, Jack Chase, Don Kent, Liz Walker, Bob Lobel, Bruce Schwoegler, Jack Williams into our homes. People came to trust Eyewitness News whenever a major story broke. It was never a major storm unless Shelby Scott was outside being blown away in it. The station however fell on hard times in 1995 when it switched network affiliations from NBC to CBS a changed forced by WBZ's owner Westinghouse buying CBS Television. The station even deleted its history page from their website because it was so tied in with NBC. Channel 7 which had never been a major force in the TV news area suddenly overtook Channel 4 in ratings and competed neck and neck with Channel 5. The station also suffered when Liz Walker retired to become a minister and they tried a number of new faces with no success. While the station is still ranked third in news ratings behind Channels 5 and 7 things have improved since Jack Williams was returned to the anchor job he never should have lost to begin with.I hope with the station bringing back the call letters WBZ-TV they would also consider bringing back the Eyewitness News slogan the station used for nearly 30 years.
Some of you may remember these musical themes that WBZ-TV used over the years
WBZ-TV History (3:04)

WBZ-TV Sports History

So as you can see WBZ-TV has had a glorious history as a local station and we are pleased that CBS has seen the errors of their ways.

State budget officials against taking on T debt

Christina Wallace of The Metro writes Wednesday morning: "The chairs of the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees yesterday came out against a proposed bill that would shift $2.9 billion of MBTA debt to the state."
“I don’t see in terms of what we heard today how we can assume this additional liability on our budget when we are already anticipating a billion dollar deficit,” said House Ways and Means Chairman Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, after the hearing. “Maybe in robust fiscal times we’d take a look but I don’t think right now it’s something we could entertain.”

Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, said she also opposed the legislation.

This is in response to a bill filed last week which we reported on.

The Metro was the only Boston paper that mentioned this on Wednesday.

The Globe did print a quote concerning the T at the House and Senate Ways and Means Committee joint meeting yesterday.

David Tuerck, executive director of the Beacon Hill Institute, said the state can balance the budget by making reasonable spending choices.
He urged lawmakers to cut waste from "patronage-laden" agencies such as the MBTA and the Turnpike Authority before looking for new revenue. Practices such as paying Turnpike Authority toll collectors $60,000 a year "sour taxpayers on the need for additional revenues," he said.

I suppose that would include offering customer service operators a starting salary of $46K a year.

Mac Daniel in the Globe reports the T may place more signs at commuter rail stations to warn passengers of the danger of crossing tracks on high-speed rail line. One of the first things I was taught as a child was "Stop, Look and Listen" concerning train tracks but some people are oblivious to the warnings. The Acela literally appears out of nowhere at stations like Sharon and Mansfield. The warning buzzer sounds with a voice alert but you can look down the tracks and see nothing, but people forget the train is approaching at speeds close to a 140 MPH.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

there was a time you could get there from here

Have you ever asked yourself why can't I get a bus to someplace in the Boston area? Chances are at one time you could but local bus service in the suburbs has deteriorated or vanished completely since the T took control of things over 40 years ago.

Changes to Transit Service in the MBTA District 1964-Present (PDF) by Jonathan Belcher details everything that has happened with transit in the Boston area since the MBTA took control and historical data from before. Any question you may have about Boston transit routes can be found in its 317 pages and is updated as of the end of 2006. It is important to note that is was not the MBTA that abolished 24 hour service on the system, that had been done in 1960 by the MTA. Until then you could go to Haymarket Station and catch buses all night to all sections of the city and as far away as Arlington and Belmont. The MTA was scrapped for money in those days and the owners of Boston's taxi companies had great influence. New England Telephone alone used to send hundreds of operators and other employees home by cab each night and many other companies did so as well. Not having all night public transportation made it impossible for the companies to abandon the practice and the cab companies made huge profits. Today, because of the current contract with the T's drivers union it would nearly impossible to run all night service at a manageable cost as the ill fated Night Owl experiment that ended in 2005 proved. Drivers were paid double time for trips starting after 2 AM which meant it was costing the T $7.53 on average to transport a Night Owl customer, compared with only $1.37 for a daytime bus rider. Late night service will not happen unless the wording in the contract with the drivers is changed. We can only hope.

When the MBTA was created in 1964 it merged the operations of several transit companies and railroads into one authority that was designed to move people in and out of Boston. It's creation was spawned by the fear that the railroads of the time, the Boston & Maine, New York Central and the New Haven would abolish all commuter rail service in and out of Boston. There was good reason to worry as the New Haven had shut down the Old Colony Lines in 1959 the day after the Southeast Expressway opened and the Boston & Albany division of the New York Central had closed the Highland Branch to Newton in 1958. The MBTA's predecessor the Metropolitan Transit Authority acted quickly and converted the Highland Branch into a streetcar line (D-Riverside) and reopened it one year later. The MTA itself had been formed in 1947 to take over the assets and debts of the Boston Elevated Railway which had been a public-private operation since 1917 when the Massachusetts Legislature passed the "Public Control Act" which guaranteed public transportation to the citizens of Boston. The MTA was limited to serving the citizens fo the original 14 cities and towns in Metropolitan Boston: Arlington, Belmont, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Malden, Medford, Milton, Newton, Revere, Somerville, and Watertown. Under this system the commuter rail could not be saved unless the authority was expanded to include more cities and towns. The legislature went to work to solve the problem....

It was decided that the Greater Boston urban core mass transportation system be greatly expanded to reach out and to intergrate its mass transit services with those existing throughout the Greater Boston Massachusetts metropolitan area. The new MBTA or "T" would now serve 78 cities and towns in Eastern Massachusetts. The T would quickly enter into compacts with the railroads that would subsidize commuter rail operations and also absorbed 2 major surburban bus companies, the Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway and the Middlesex and Boston Street Railway. The MBTA did not aquire the Boston & Worcester Street Railway which was taken over by a Boston sightseeing company Gray Line and today there is limited bus service along Route 9 because of this.

It didn't take long for the T to start slashing bus routes it took over and Mr. Belcher looks at this in great detail. Some cities (Lowell, Lawrence and Brockton) rebelled at the fees demanded to supply service and simply told the T they could do better themselves. One town Maynard demanded to be removed from the MBTA territory and was allowed to do so and the town has had virtually no public transportation since. Maynard had lost its direct bus service to Harvard Square in 1970 when the Town of Lincoln no longer wanted service by bus being content with commuter rail.
The T was able to abolish many bus lines it had taken over claiming low ridership but they had made the schedules on these lines so unreasonable that people stopped using them. One prime example had been the Commonwealth Avenue bus in Newton that connected Norumbega Park in Auburndale with the B Line at Boston College which the T took over in 1972 and abolished 4 years later. The T doomed the line by refusing to extend it to Riverside Station thus not providing an easy connection for Newton riders. There are many other examples of this slash and burn approach the T took 30 years ago towards buses as it strived to keep commuter rail afloat.

The T continues to look at bus service today as a necessary evil and does little to try and improve routing that could enhance service. A prime example of the T's attitude towards bus service can be found in the Town of Woburn. In 2001 the T opened the Anderson Regional Transportation Center just off Interstate-93 as an intermodal bus and commuter rail transfer station. Anderson provides rail service to Boston, Lowell and to New Hampshire and Maine on Amtrak's Downeaster service. From Anderson you can board buses that will take you to both Logan and the Manchester-Boston airports. In fact the Manchester Airport shuttle is FREE for ticketed passengers and also runs to the Sullivan T station in Charlestown and runs 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. (novel concept). So how do I get to Anderson by T bus?

You can't.

A quick glance at the T system map shows 3 routes that could have been extended to Anderson, the 134,136 and 137. It also may have been possible to adjust the 350 route from Alewife to connect with LRTA at Anderson instead of the Burlington/Billerica line. By routing buses to terminate at Anderson it would allow riders from Woburn, Reading, Stoneham, Winchester and other towns easy access to other transportation services. But no that makes too much sense. If you live in Woburn where the station is the only way you can get there is by cab or walk.

The problem is the T simply isn't flexible when it comes to adjusting bus routes some of which haven't changed from the streetcar lines they were 100 years ago. A prime example of this is the 99 route which runs from Wellington Station to the Boston Regional Medical Center in Stoneham. The hospital closed in 1999 yet the T continues to run buses 7 days a week to the front door where the line ends. While there are plans to develop the property it has been tied up for years but meanwhile the shuttered building gets bus service 7 days a week from 6AM to Midnight. Has it ever dawned on the T to perhaps terminate the line elsewhere in Stoneham or Melrose?

One more example on how the T just won't change to reflect changing patterns in commuter movement.15 years ago the Cambrigeside Galleria opened and ridership to Lechmere increased dramaticly but the T only routed one Green Line route to Lechmere, terminating another at North Station and 2 at Government Center. In 1997 the North Station turnaround was closed because of construction of the new Green Line station underground and the T then routed 2 lines to Lechmere. However when the new underground station opened the T went back to the way things were before the mall opened after riders were used to more frequent service. I suspect the reason they did so was to justify the expensive underground turnaround that they built under Causeway Street which was designed before the mall opened. Trains running to Lechmere now are usually overcrowded nights and especially weekends when the Science Museum gets heavy traffic. Routing 2 lines there is a no brainer but the T does as it pleases.

People change, the city changes but the T just doesn't adapt. We will never see bus service like it was in 1964 but we certainly can improve on what is offered now. The bus should come to the people, not the other way around. The taxpayers of Massachusetts have paid a huge price in restoring Commuter Rail to the South Shore (Greenbush alone is close to $500 million) for a service the T estimates will have 4200 passengers per weekday in 2010. I fully agree that Commuter Rail is needed but we need to see more funding for the unsexy bus too. The T has never understood that to take the train you have to get to the station. Parking lots fill up quickly and that forces many commuters to drive instead defeating the entire purpose. We need more feeder bus routes to the rail stations something that is done well by New Jersey Transit and Connecticut Transit.

Would love your comments on this.

smartcard glitch in Bay Area

San Francisco-Oakland is slowly converting most area transit companies to a CharlieCard type smartcard system and some minor snags have popped up on buses in Oakland


AC Transit has a technical problem with its TransLink equipment that has forced the agency to put the ''smart card'' test program on hold, an official with the Metropolian Transportation Commission said Tuesday.

AC Transit was one of two Bay Area public transit agencies tapped to test the high-tech system that one day will allow transit riders to use one high-tech fare card on the region's buses, ferries and trains.

The other agency participating in the test phase is Golden Gate bus and ferry system, which has not experienced any major difficulties.

It is now a crime to not pay your T fare (update 1/16/07)

The Quincy Patriot Ledger carried this front page story on Tuesday (1/16) detailing the T's plans to make sure you pay your fare.

T officials target scofflaws - Inspectors, officers to ticket, fine fare evaders up to $250

The law enabling T inspectors to ticket turnstile-jumpers was signed by Gov. Mitt Romney just before he left office two weeks ago. The T is still working out its program to train inspectors and is designing the tickets. The agency expects to be ready to begin cracking down on would-be free-riders late this month or early February.

Under the new law, riders can be ticketed $15 for their first offense , $100 for a second offense and $250 for a third.

If they don’t pay up, the MBTA can file with the Registry of Motor Vehicles to suspend riders’ drivers’ licenses, if they have them.

Riders also can be arrested for failing to produce identification when questioned by an inspector or officer, whether or not they are believed to have paid their fare.

‘‘We strongly believe the legislation will assist in curbing fare evasion,’’ MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in an e-mail.

The T estimated losing between $4 million and $9 million because of fare evaders in fiscal 2006, according to a published report.

In one of his final acts Governor Mitt Romney signed this bill into law on Wednesday January 3, 2007. The bill changes wording in the original bill that will now allow fare inspectors to write tickets similar to meter maids.

What it means is that if a T police officer or T fare inspector cites you for fare evasion you will receive a non-criminal citation. If you do not produce a valid ID, you can be arrested. If you then do not pay the non-criminal fine the Commonwealth can then do things to you like refuse to issue or renew your drivers license and other fun stuff. If you live out of state you are not off the hook as Massachusetts has the power to freeze your license in another state.

More on this later
The revision signed by Governor Romney
SECTION 1. Section 101 of chapter 159 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2004 Official Edition, is hereby amended by striking out, in line 3, the words “or by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority”.

SECTION 2. Said Section 101 of chapter 159 of the Massachusetts General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby further amended by striking out , in line 17, the word “police” and inserting in place thereof the following words: “employees within the instructor, chief inspector or inspector classifications”.

SECTION 3. The second paragraph said section 101 of said chapter 159, as so appearing, is hereby further amended by adding, the following two sentences: “Upon request by a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority police officers, a passenger shall provide personal identification for the purpose of issuing a non-criminal citation. Whoever fails or refuses to provide personal identification upon demand by a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority police officers for purposes of issuing a non-criminal citation shall be subject to arrest for fare evasion pursuant to section 93 of this chapter.”

The original law
Chapter 159: Section 101. Evasion of payment of toll or fare
Section 101. Whoever fraudulently evades or attempts to evade the payment of a toll or fare lawfully established by a railroad corporation or railway company or by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, either by giving a false answer to the collector of the toll or fare, or by traveling beyond the point to which he has paid the same, or by leaving the train, car, motor bus or trackless trolley vehicle without having paid the toll or fare established for the distance traveled, or otherwise, shall forfeit not less than fifty nor more than five hundred dollars. Whoever does not upon demand first pay such toll or fare shall not be entitled to be transported for any distance, and may be ejected from a railway car, motor bus or trackless trolley vehicle; but no person shall be removed from a car of a railroad corporation except as provided in section ninety-three, nor from a train except at a regular passenger station.
Passengers who fail to pay or prepay the required fare in violation of this section shall be subject to a noncriminal citation, and may be requested to provide identification to Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority police for the purpose of issuing a noncriminal citation.
A person who is issued a noncriminal citation shall be assessed a fine as follows: $15 for a first offense; $100 for a second offense; or $250 for a third or subsequent offense. If the person fails to pay the fine within 1 year of the date of the issuance of a noncriminal citation under this section, the authority shall provide notice of nonpayment of a fine indicating that the person’s license or right to operate a motor vehicle will be suspended until the fine is paid and informing the person of an opportunity for a hearing by the authority. The authority shall provide reasonable opportunity for a hearing and may waive or reduce a fine imposed under this section within its discretion.

At least 90 days following notice to a violator of nonpayment of a fine under this section, if the violator has not requested a hearing, the authority shall report the person to the registrar of motor vehicles. Upon the report of the authority of nonpayment of a fine under this section, the registrar shall not renew that person’s license or right to operate a motor vehicle under chapter 90 until the registrar receives a report from the authority indicating that the fine has been satisfied. Fines imposed under this section shall be paid to the general fund of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.