Saturday, March 03, 2007

FYI: blog will next update on Tuesday

Charlie continues his vacation and will be without a computer the next 48 hours or so as I will be on Amtrak's California Zephyr. I have always wanted to see the Rockies by train and I have the time to do so. I am supposed to arrive in Emeryville, CA on Monday evening around 6 PM but I have been told this train has not been on time once in the last year.

Please continue to send your commuter reports to If anything major develops I will try to have someone update the blog. I will have email access on the trip via my cell phone ( I hope )

Have a good weekend.

T Tales: The T's trip planner strikes again

Jared writes us at All he wanted to do was go from Brookline to South Station.
As if you don't already get this enough, you've got a great blog going. I'm originally from the San Francisco Bay Area so witnessing all the ridiculousness that goes on with the MBTA has been pretty eye-opening.

At any rate, I have a story to share. A friend of mine was arriving in Boston at the Greyhound station in Chinatown and I was supposed to go pick her up. No problem, I thought. I punched in my station (Brookline Village) and the address of the bus station (700 Atlantic Ave) and let the trip planner do its thing. Since the trip planner defaults to "Minimize transfers," this is what it gave me:

Itinerary 1 - Approx. 31 mins.

* Take Green- D Line - Government Ctr To Boylston Station
Approx. 1:41 PM Depart from Brookline Village Station - Inbound
Approx. 1:56 PM Arrive at Boylston Station - Inbound
*Walk For 16 Mins. To 700 Atlantic Ave, Boston, Ma

Alright, fair enough. That seems pretty simple. Except I didn't like the "Walk For 16 Mins." thing. That seemed like kind of a drag, especially since I'm not from Boston and have no idea how to get around. So I tried it again, this time selected "Minimize walking," and hit submit. Well, I got some fairly different results the second time.

Itinerary 1 - Approx. 52 mins.

* Take Green- D Line - Government Ctr To Park St Station
Approx. 1:41 PM Depart from Brookline Village Station - Inbound
Approx. 1:57 PM Arrive at Park St Station - Green Line Eastbound
* Take Red Line - Braintree Sta To Jfk/umass Braintree - Outbound
Approx. 2:06 PM Depart from Park St Station - to Ashmont/Braintree
Approx. 2:16 PM Arrive at JFK/UMASS Braintree - Outbound
* Take Red Line - Alewife Sta To South Station
Approx. 2:23 PM Depart from JFK/UMASS Braintree - Inbound
Approx. 2:30 PM Arrive at South Station - Inbound
* Walk For 3 Mins. To 700 Atlantic Ave, Boston, Ma

This struck me as a little bit odd - why would I have to take the Red Line to JFK/UMass only to turn around and get on a train going the other way to get off at South Station? Well, I wasn't familiar with the Red Line; in fact, the only time I've ever taken the Red Line was later that night on my way back home again. At that point, I assumed you couldn't get off going outbound at South Station. So, I went with what I thought would be simpler - taking the Green Line to Boylston and walking. Well, it wasn't.

See, the Trip Planner doesn't give you walking directions unless you select "Print Itinerary," which I didn't know. And guess what? Instead of walking east on Boylston and then Essex, I walked north on Tremont, thinking I was actually walking EAST on Tremont. I got hopelessly lost, and after I finally found Atlantic Avenue (at the corner of Atlantic and Richmond), I managed to lose it again about five minutes later without realizing I'd changed streets.

There's a point to this rambling story, and the point is that the trip planner is total garbage. I'm not mad for the planner telling me to get off at Boylston and walk; that met the parameters I set, and it's my own fault for not walking the right direction to begin with. I'm pissed because, when I tried to make it so that I didn't have to walk, it made me go all the way to JFK/UMass and then get off and back on going the other way. Now that I actually know how the Red Line works (yes, you CAN stop at South Station in both directions), I have to ask: why even bother? If you can't do it right, maybe you shouldn't do it at all. That sentiment seems to be echoed throughout your blog.


PS - I got an itinerary from Park St to South Station on the Red Line. I wonder why it works when you don't change trains?

Take Red Line - Ashmont Sta To South Station
Approx. 1:45 PM Depart from Park St Station - to Ashmont/Braintree
Approx. 1:49 PM Arrive at South Station - Outbound
Welcome to Boston Jared. I actually will be in the Bay Area as of Monday evening.

The trip planner has way too many quirks about it to be considered reliable.

I just tried it and used the landmarks option and it did have an option for the Greyhound Station but guess what????? Here is what it just spit out

Take Green- D Line - Government Ctr To Boylston Station view route
Approx. 12:21 PM Depart from Brookline Village Station - Inbound Approx. 12:36 PM Arrive at Boylston Station - Inbound
Walk For 15 Mins. To Bus - Greyhound Terminal (boston)

Walk approx. 1 block E on Boylston St.Bear right on Boyleston Sq.Walk a short distance SE on Boyleston Sq.Turn right on Washington St.Walk a short distance S on Washington St.Turn left on Beach St.Walk approx. 3 blocks E on Beach St.

Again this used the default option of "minimize transfers" and "use all services". I pity the poor tourist with bags wandering around Chinatown looking for the bus station.

It really is time to take this planner off-line and go back to the old one until they can work these bugs out. It has been almost THREE months now.

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.

T Tales: Friday woes reported all over the system

We received several reports at that Friday morning didn't go very well for some commuters.

Adam reports of a major snafu at Natick
Several months ago, I wrote in to MBCR customer service expressing my concern for the horrendous track and platform conditions at Natick Station (inbound track 2). I was given some lip service about being aware of these issues but despite the fact that the tracks have not stopped flooding for FOUR months, of course nothing was done about it.

Today, March 2, the steady rain caused high water and the track became impassible. Somehow, no one notified the engineer of train P514 who stopped the train just short of the station, reversed direction, and showed up on the opposite track 60 minutes later (having had to back up all the way to Framingham to switch tracks!).

To make matters worse, none of the passengers waiting at Natick or other inbound stations had any information about the delay, as the SmartTraveler line and LED boards did not report any delays to the line, and the MBTA customer support representative I spoke with told me there were "no problems" on the line.

How can any of this be considered acceptable? All of these delays COULD HAVE BEEN PREVENTED while simple communication, which is frequently promised but NEVER delivered, failed miserably.
Is it any wonder that the Framingham/Worcester line has suffered the largest decline in ridership? This sounds like another classic CSX horror story as they dispatch the commuter rail trains on that line from Albany, NY.

Sue from Newton writes about the D Line Friday morning
It was (as forecast) raining hard and very windy in
Greater Boston, pouring rain onto slush, so I wasn’t
surprised when I came down to the Newton Centre T this
morning to find a crew of T representatives zooming
about. Some of them with road cones. Uh-oh.

According to one rep there were wires down on the
line. They were running trains inbound and shuttle
buses out to Riverside.

The train went inbound OK, except that instead of
switching tracks before the Reservoir platform, for
some reason the train passed the platform; the driver
shut the train down and switched to the other end;
drove the train back to the right past the platform;
changed ends again; and drove out to Government
Center. Weird, inefficient and unexplained, but no
problem for the passengers other than a few minutes’

A friend of mine who also lives on the D / Riverside
line did not have my luck. When he came to the
station the T was not only running shuttle buses both
ways, but making people wait down Langley Road, in the
driving cold rain far from the station and shelter,
for the buses. (Obviously this was a different crew
from the one a couple weeks ago that offered to let
passengers get on the buses to get out of the weather.
What, did they get in trouble for accommodating
passenger comfort? Or did the bus drivers just not
feel like going through the turn-around on Union
Street in front of the station?) There was a long
wait for the buses and also a long wait for a train at
Reservoir, where many, many people were waiting. The
train had to be packed like a sardine can when it
finally arrived.

They never seem to anticipate these problems.

Incidents like this will become especially fun when
they start running the new Breda cars (which seat
about half as many people and have an upper and lower
level connected by steps -- increasing the chances
people can fall) on the Riverside line.
I also heard from John, Kathie and Bill with similar stories.

Zachary reports the trackless trolleys on Mt Auburn St were having a bad day as well
Hiya, Charlie,

This morning at about 9:15, the 71 and 73 buses, which run from Harvard Square to Watertown Square and Waverly Square, respectively, stopped running. At first we all thought it was our own individual bus. Then I noticed another bus about 100 yards ahead, had also stopped. The driver said that they had lost power to the overhead trolley lines. She said there was no word on whether a 'relief' bus would come to pick up stranded passengers, saying, "they wouldn't tell me that, anyway."

I was able to call my boss, who came to pick me up. I was going outbound, which means you pay as you disembark, but either the power to the Charlie boxes was out, or the driver didn't care, because everyone who left did so without paying. As my boss and I drove down Mt. Auburn St, we saw dozens of buses that were simply sitting there with nowhere to go, the passengers either stubbornly remaining on board or running to the nearby Shaw's. This was about 20 minutes after the buses stopped initially.

There never was a travel advisory on the T website. Nothing indicating that any delay had occurred. Of course, things may have got rolling soon afterwards, but those buses may still be out there - I'm trying to figure it out before I sit out in the rain for a bus that won't come! Tried calling the MBTA switchboard, but apparently Friday afternoon is their "heavy call volume" time - is that some sort of joke?

Anyway, another T Tale. Thanks for your great blog!
It does appear that the T doesn't have a fluid system in place to get delay information from the High Street operations center posted onto the web. We have seen the same delays in updating info ( when they even bother ) on the Commuter Rail. The T promises that soon we will have SMS updates and real time tracking of buses on the website. I'm not holding my breath given the failure the T has had on the Silver Line doing so.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Charlie's First 30 Days - official MBTA report

Here is a link to the T's report to the MBTA Board of Directors on how the new Charlie system performed in January.


When this report first came out we discussed it and linked to the news coverage at the time. At first we thought the 86% figure seemed high but there was some confusion in the initial Globe story and later in the day the Metro had a better read on it.

If nothing else the report is making it clear people are using the card ( especially bus riders ) to get the lower fares and transfers.

HERALD:T acts to speed up gripe resolutions

The Herald writes that the T's new Customer Support Center is now open.
The MBTA has opened a new Customer Support Center to handle a two-fold increase in the number of complaints it has received over the past five years.

The new center at 10 Park Plaza in Boston marks the T’s attempt to centralize customer-service staff at headquarters to respond to riders’ issues more quickly.

“It should be incumbent on us to do the legwork, to get the answers to people’s questions, so that they don’t have to hunt around a bureaucracy,” General Manager Daniel Grabauskas said.

GLOBE:With software glitch, it was 'Sorry, Charlie'

The T admits there was a major problem with the faregates at CHARLES-MGH
Hundreds of passengers who passed through the Red Line's Charles/MGH station had their monthly passes rejected over the past two days due to a software glitch at the station's new fare collection gates, T officials said yesterday.

Officials said the problem was fixed before rush hour last night.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Charlie's Mailbag - February 28th new LED signs at Park and another T map option

from the mailbag at

Ben noticed a new addition at Park Street
Not sure if anyone has told about this but this morning when I got
off the D Line at Park St. (heading inbound) I noticed a taped off
portion to the left of the exit. Right above it was what appeared to
be a brand-new electronic signboard that looks like it would support
2 lines of text. Perhaps the T is going to give us signboards for
when the next train will arrive? Now it was near the entrance to the
Red Line stairs so maybe its for that.
I'll try to snap a picture on my way home, assuming I don't get
arrested for it!
We can only hope. The T can not be oblivious to the positive coverage NYC Transit has been getting as they slowly introduce arrival boards in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Riders WANT that information even if Daniel Grabauskas doesn't think we need the info as he told the Globe last May.
As he outlined the new, $35 million system in comments at Back Bay station, the announcements for inbound and outbound trains were coming in loud and clear on the platforms and in the upstairs lobby, giving about 1 minute advance notice on inbound trains and 2 minutes on outbound train.

That should help riders rushing to catch a train from a lobby and passengers who have been waiting for more than several minutes, T officials said.

The system can count down the minutes until a train arrives, but Grabauskas said that isn't necessary.

''You don't need 15 minutes lead time for a rapid transit train," he said. ''If you know you have enough time to get down the stairs, that may be all the information our customers need.
But then in October of 2006 Grabauskas said the following during a chat on
Daniel_Grabauskas: Similar to the activity in subway to update the sound system and add sign boards we are working to make the commuter rail sign boards give better information. The new system which we are working on will make next train announcements and count down for the next train as well as delay information. I share your frustration that the old system gives very limited information and sometimes not accurate. This project to upgrade is out for public bid right now and should be constructed within the next two years.
So maybe he has changed his mind and does plan to offer this info in the subway. In that chat he offered an email address for riders to write into him.
please contact me directly at
Perhaps if enough of us write into him asking about real time announcements in the subway will will get an answer.

Lou passes on another map option for T riders and it is pretty good.
I saw the mention of Google beginning to include T stations on their maps on your blog and figured I would pass this along.

Sometime my freshman year of school at Northeastern, I went searching for a map of the T system that was laid out on an actual street map, because while I was getting accustomed to Boston itself, I found the T’s maps to be of very little use. Also, I am a bit of a map enthusiast in general. I found one especially good candidate for use and it proved to be very helpful in my exploration of the city:

This is laid out on a google maps image anyway and retains the total functionality, as well as listing station info when you click on a stop:

I don’t know if you knew about that map or even if you have posted about it previously, but I take every chance I get to let those who know surprisingly little about the T in relation to Boston street layout know about this.

Thanks for the tip and if we haven't mentioned this link before we are happy to do so now.

Mayor wants Copley Station renamed to Copley-BPL - T may not be happy about it

Jake wrote the mailbag at concerning a turf battle between Mayor Menino and the T
Big fan of your blog.

Anyways, I'm an Emerson student and was looking for
help writing a paper on the current BPL/Copley naming
debate in the Mayor's 2007 agenda. Are there reasons
why the MBTA has put up such resistance to such an
idea? Is there an economic impact to such a
renaming...that type of stuff.
I have to admit this is the first I had heard of this so I did a little searching. The Mayor has indeed filed a bill with the legislature to rename Copley to Copley/BPL ( Boston Public Library )

Mayor Menino’s Legislative Initiatives
for the 2007-2008 Legislative Session

An Act Relative to the MBTA’s Copley Station – This legislation would change the name of Copley MBTA Station to “Copley/BPL Station” to reflect the influence and
contributions of the Boston Public Library in the Back Bay area.

The only reason the T might be against this is the cost of reprinting maps and putting up new signs in the station, but since the station is currently being remodeled the signs shouldn't be an issue. Renaming stations has been done in the past at Kendall, Charles and Hynes ( and much earlier when Mechanics was renamed Prudential, Massachusetts was renamed Auditorium and then Hynes and Atlantic being renamed Aquarium )

If anyone has a little more background on this we would love to hear from you and help out Jake. Adding BPL (Boston Public Library) to the Copley name shouldn't be an issue.

Charlie on the CTA (Chicago) - UPDATED 2/28

As I have noted earlier I have been visiting Chicago the past few days ( I used to live here as well ) and have been using the Chicago Transit Authority to get around. The system to be kind is a mess.

Wednesday Update:

Wednesday morning I had a dreadful commute into the Loop as a trip that should have taken close to 30 minutes wound up being over an hour. I waited at the Granville Station for nearly 20 minutes and then a Purple Line train stopped to pick up passengers which is unusual as the Purple Line is supposed to run express from Howard Street to Belmont Avenue. The Purple Line train ran local along the Red Line until Belmont where passengers were then told to wait for a Red Line train headed south on the other track. It was another 20 minutes before a train appeared and it was packed.

Just in the past few days the local media has had numerous stories about transit problems in the area. A sample

Audit: Overhaul the RTA

Oversight of mass transit in the Chicago region is deeply flawed, hobbled by weak leadership, competition instead of cooperation between the transit agencies, wasteful duplication of services and skewed priorities, according to a state audit report.

Slow zones lead to Blue Line blues

Nearly 2 miles of slow zones have been eliminated on the CTA Blue Line in the last six months, yet riders complain their travel times are growing longer.

That's because track conditions on the O'Hare and Dearborn Street subway sections of the Blue Line are deteriorating faster than the Chicago Transit Authority can fix them, officials say.

The reason? There's no money.

On the northside of the city there is major track work being done that is causing long delays on the Red, Brown and Purple lines. Riders are of course upset and you can sense the frustration of the blog which was the inspiration of our Charlie blog. I had a nice meeting with Kevin O'Neil who is the author of the CTA Tattler on Saturday as we solved the transit problems in both cities.

Chicago has major infrastructure problems that Boston doesn't have yet but it is something to keep an eye on. Boston at least never allowed the subway system to deteriorate the way it has in Chicago. The subway stations on the Blue Line which opened in 1951 look like they haven't been cleaned in 30 years. The subway stations on the Red Line which opened 10 years earlier are now being rehabbed and the completed stations look good. However the Red Line 'L on the northside is crumbling and needs to be addressed ASAP before a disaster happens. The northside elevated does not run over streets but as a separate concrete viaduct and it is obvious that much repair work needs to be done.

Chicago went to "automatic fare collection" about 10 years ago and has also in the past few years started a "smartcard" system similar to CharlieCard called Chicago Card. It does offer discounted fares like Charlie ($1.75 for rail instead of $2) and it costs $5 to purchase ( similar to Washington ) and offers a reloading bonus similar to New York where if you put $20 on the card you get credit for $22 in fares. However my biggest gripe with the Chicago FVM's is they do not accept credit or debit cards for payment as is done in Boston, New York, Washington and other major cities. Chicago installed their equipment from Cubic at the same time New York was upgrading their system for MetroCard so it appears the CTA didn't want to pay the fees associated with bank cards. The faregates themselves are the same as those used in New York City.

The Chicago "rail cars" are the same size (about 48 feet long) as those you will find on the Blue Line in Boston or PATH between New Jersey and Manhattan. An eight car train in Chicago is equal to a six car train on the Red or Orange Lines where cars are about 20 feet longer. The cars are much older than Boston but new vehicles have been ordered and they will feature "New York" style bench seating ( which we have on our subway lines ) which has some riders in Chicago upset. Overall I have found the service to be "ok" with the exception of Saturday night after waiting 40 minutes for a train at the Morse station I went looking for a cab. Chicago was having a minor snow-ice storm at the time and it was causing problems on the Red Line. The CTA kept announcing delays for "defective equipment and weather problems" but never said when a train might arrive. I have also experienced slow moving trains but this is a problem the CTA admits will continue into 2009 as major track work must be done.

Concerning the buses in Chicago the CTA needs new buses fast. They haven't upgraded the fleet in quite a few years and many routes still have the workhorse RTS buses now being retired in Boston. However I have found the bus service more than adequate and it generally runs on schedule. The CTA does have inspectors stationed along major routes to make changes as needed.

I also have found the drivers to be MUCH FRIENDLIER overall from Boston. Check out this clip I made Sunday on the #36 Broadway bus. Notice how the driver says "Good Evening" to everyone that boards.

One thing Chicago is light years ahead of Boston are with the computer announcements on buses and trains. The CTA decided to use an actor known for "voice over work" instead of a computer voice the T currently uses on buses and the Green Line. In Chicago he is known as "Happy CTA Guy" and he gave an interview to the Chicago Tribune a few years back.

"Belmont is next! Standing passengers -- please do not lean against the doors!"

It just sounds so much better than the T's computer voice that on some trains and buses still can not pronounce Lechmere correctly. The CTA has also started real time bus tracking on select routes which is something the T has failed miserably on.

Chicago is a world class city that needs a world class public transportation system. Hopefully they can solve their problems. Sadly they have a mayor who is more interested in the 2016 Olympics than people getting to and from work.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Charlie's Mailbag - February 27th

checking the mailbag at

Kelly gets another "free ride" on the Framingham-Worcester line

Greetings Charlie,

This morning was the second time this week (and it’s only Tuesday!) that my ticket was not checked and fares were not collected on the 707AM train out of Worcester bound for South Station. Now, I am always happy to get a free ride, but isn’t the MBTA in major debt? Doesn’t every $7 fare help? Just food for thought…

I take it you don't have a monthly pass.

I only take Commuter Rail occasionally and I know the train leaving Providence at 8:10 PM they NEVER check for tickets which is surprising since the ticket window in Providence is closed for that train. What is odd is that the conductors do sell tickets for passengers getting on in South Attleboro, Attleboro etc (The T has to use the coffee shop there to sell tickets as Amtrak will not sell MBCR tickets.) I am actually surprised a fare vending machine hasn't shown up in Providence yet. I have also asked comductors when they will accept CharlieCards on the train and they shrug.

David is having problems with his LinkPass

I’ve been having problems with my LinkPass since entering at Charles/MGH on Sunday. The customer service person I spoke with this morning told me that the gates at Charles/MGH caused the problem and that for the next two days, I have to have an agent let me through. I’ve been told the problem should be fixed March 1st . I wonder how many people using a corporate purchased LinkPass are having the same problem?
It sounds like the fare gates are rewriting info on the chip. ( I assume you have a CharlieCard? ) I'll see if I can find out anything more.

Bram passes on a link of what Virgin Vacations ranks as the best 11 subway systems in the world.
I'm shocked that Boston didn't make the list :)

We're (meaning Boston) definitely not on this listTop 11 Underground transit systems in the world (as ranked by "Virgin Vacations")

finally Steve writes about "Student Charlie Card" problems
Ever since my father left for another state, I've had to rely on public transportation to get to and from my school. I am a student who uses carpooling to my local commuter rail station, then bus to my school. The afternoons are the reverse, with the exception that I must find a way from the station or nearby restaurant to my house -- another few miles away.

I originally planned for my use of the bus systems with the acquisition of a Student Charlie Card from my school. I thought it would be a great idea, but the confusion it has caused among MBTA workers has made it a nightmare.

I originally tried to put money on my Student CharlieCard on that Monday, having the usual $20 big bills I get for lunch money and transportation for the rest of the week. I found out that you can't add $20 onto a Student CharlieCard at once for some reason, and had to add the value to a CharlieTicket instead. This turned into future problems when I found out my bus operator has to press the "Student" button, and I have to provide identification every time I use the bus.

I've used my ticket for a while now, and its been OK, but I took the opportunity when I was in North Station to add value to my Student CharlieCard. My plaguing question for every MBTA worker has been whether or not the Student CharlieCard requires student ID to be used, and whether the operator needs to press the reduced fare button, or will the card automatically give the reduced fare.

The bus driver for my route that day told me that I need to do identification, even if I use the Student CharlieCard, in order to get the student rate. People on the phone line told conflicting information, and expressed confusion. Workers at North Station also expressed confusion.

I decided to try it myself, and found out that the Student CharlieCard automatically gives the reduced rate at the appropriate times, and does not require a student ID. This led me to another problem with the system.

I now have two cards for the MBTA system, a CharlieTicket, which is hard to use because of bus drivers who don't press the student fare button for you, and a really convenient Student CharlieCard. I want to move my value from the ticket to the card, but I was told on the phone that I need to do this in Downtown Crossing, far out of the way from my neighborhood near Salem and Beverly.

Another related problem is that I cannot find any nearby automated machines to add value to my Student CharlieCard without using the systems on busses. I read an article about some busses who have the white "Add Value" button disabled for interest of smaller wait times. If my bus was disabled, and it was my only way to add value, I would be out of luck.

Overall, I really like the CharlieCard system, but there are certain flaws that could have been taken care of better. There needs to be more convenient ways for people to manage their card values, including merging tickets to the card. It's great how all of these services are available in metro-Boston, but for people stuck in the North Shore and outlying areas, we really have the short end of the stick on this new system. Besides the waiting in the freezing cold for a taxi for 20 minutes because of the poor design of Salem Station, and CharlieCard troubles and mass-confusions, the system is somewhat OK for the average commuter. Besides, what's cooler than waving your wallet next to a machine and watching doors magically open in front of you?

Does the student CharlieCard have your photo on it similar to the Senior/Disabled smart card?

I am also hearing that indeed some buses HAVE disabled the adding value to a CharlieCard because too many boxes have been simply eating the fare and the T doesn't want to go to the bother of fixing the machines. If anyone has more info on the fareboxes please share it with us.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Charlie's Mailbag - February 26th - bus complaints

Charlie is still riding the CTA in Chicago and if you think Boston has problems.....I'll post more on that later but the situation in the Windy City concerning transit is not good.

from the mailbag at

Umer is not happy with the 503 bus

For almost as long as I have been riding the 503 express bus (2 years), it
has always had an issue with being on-time. Recently, it has gotten to the
point where the scheduled bus doesn't even show up which means I have to
wait for another half-hour for the next one. Even then, sometimes that one
is late 15 minutes and this reflects heavily on my tardiness to class. I go
to BU Medical School and I rely on this bus to be punctual since it serves
an area of Boston that is mostly employed by professionals (Copley area).

One of my major problems with the 503 is that it has an even shorter route
than the 501 yet the 501 comes (exactly as written on schedule) every 5
minutes during the morning. I do not see any reason for the 503 which runs
EVERY 20 MINUTES to not be on time.

I am really disappointed in this service.

I am not familiar with the 503 but one look at the inbound/outbound schedule shows that the T has no margin for error on that route. That maybe the root cause of your problems.
503 - EXPRESS BUS Brighton Center - Copley Sq. via Oak Sq. & Mass. Turnpike

Anne grumbles about the #39 bus
Does anybody know if the T has cut back on the number of buses on the #39 route inbound from Jamaica Plain? Many mornings I have waited 15-20 minutes for a bus that is scheduled to arrive every 5 minutes.

I was under the impression that the T added buses to that route on December 30th. Perhaps one of our bus gurus has the scoop.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

A horrific T story reported in the Sunday Globe

Mac Daniel writes about a situation that will make anyone shudder

The following story made us cringe.

"I am reporting a traumatic incident that occurred on Wednesday, Feb. 21, at 10:30 a.m.," wrote Sharon of Melrose.

"My 7-year-old, 5-year-old, and 8-month-old daughters, 74-year-old mother, and I were preparing to board a Green Line trolley leaving Government Center heading toward North Station. Since we and many other families were traveling at this time to attend Disney on Ice, we were following other families boarding the trolley.

"My 7-year-old boarded, and I was immediately behind her bending down to lift my 8-month-old [who was in a stroller] onto the trolley. To my horror, the driver closed the door on me and my 8-month-old. [My 5-year-old daughter and my mother were immediately behind me].

"Being in a state of shock that a door was closing on me, and not wanting my 8-month-old to be hurt by the closing door, I backed up. The door then closed with my 7-year-old on the train. I panicked. I banged on the door and screamed that my daughter was on the train -- but to no avail. The train proceeded on.

"Thanks to an off-duty police officer from Maine who was on the trolley with my daughter, as well as the MBTA inspector at Government Center who alerted the driver to wait at Haymarket, I was reunited with my daughter in a relatively short amount of time.

"According to the MBTA's Customer Bill of Rights, 'safety is [its] top priority.' Safety was not on this employee's mind," Sharon wrote. "The drivers of buses and trolleys are the T's customer service representatives. If this person was not paying attention to the people boarding the trolley, or felt that he or she was there long enough and wanted to go, then this person should not have this job. Either way, he or she was negligent. Since this is not the first incident that I've seen of doors closing on a person with a child, I'm starting to wonder if safety really is the T's 'top priority.' "

The T responded quickly when told of this late Friday and promised to investigate. The inspector who helped reunite the family talked with Green Line managers about the incident, and they were tracking down the trolley's operator, who will be disciplined if it is determined that rules were violated.

T policy is that drivers are to close train doors only if they are clear of anyone. "This woman's report is very troubling," T spokesman Joe Pesaturo said. "We're thankful that the mother and daughter were safely reunited."

"The MBTA does not condone the operator's actions as you described in your e-mail, and I can offer no excuse for the operator's performance," Alfred A. Ricko, supervisor of the Green Line, wrote to Sharon in an e-mail sent Friday afternoon. "I am also a father and can understand the anxiety you surely experienced as a result of being separated from your child."

We called Sharon last week and asked about her daughter. "She was horrified at the time, but now she can't wait to tell all her friends," she said. But on the return trip home, given a choice between the Orange and Green lines, she said her daughter chose the Orange.
This is a story that has to be followed up.

I have never seen anything like this happen but I have seen drivers closing the doors at Government Center when passengers are still trying to board the train. Perhaps the T should install a closed circuit monitor so drivers can see exactly what is happening on the platform so something like this can not happen again.