Saturday, March 10, 2007

Charlie is on the way home ( but it may take awhile)

I have no idea on when the blog will next update as I head home on Amtrak starting at 9 AM out of Emeryville, CA and start the long trip east.

The train is "supposed" to arrive in Chicago at 3 PM on Tuesday and then I connect to the train to Boston 5 hours later.....but

Amtrak concedes that Train #6 from California does not make it back in time to connect to the Eastern trains so I may not be back at South Station until THURSDAY!!! If things go well with the connection in Chicago I will be back in Boston Wednesday evening.

However please continue to email us at and if something major develops will will somehow find a way to update the blog.

Thanks all for your support and may everyone have good commutes next week.

last words from San Francisco

This is my last night in San Francisco and will be on the long trip home by Amtrak starting tomorrow (Sunday)

While the locals may complain about it for the most part public transportation in the Bay Area is quite good. The only drawback I can see is that you have many separate transportation agencies and transferring between them can be a little complicated. The systems have been working on a unified smartcard system but now it appears BART is going off on their own and it is unclear if the BART card will work on the other systems.

BART is showing its age ( now over 30 years old ) and the system is showing wear and tear especially on the rail cars. I did find the vending machines easy to use and trains came quickly when the real time signs said they would.

The MUNI system in San Francisco uses streetcars, trackless trolleys, buses and of course the famous cable cars. The buses on average are older than Boston but I never had to wait too long for one and they can climb the hills in this city. They also have real time info on some routes in the bus shelters which was quite helpful.

Overall I found getting around the area easy by public transportation.

SF Mayor considers making transit free

As I wrap up my time in California I saw this story in the San Francisco Chronicle

Mayor tells Muni to investigate eliminating fares
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has asked transit officials to study eliminating fares on city buses, streetcars and cable cars -- a plan that if enacted would be the largest such experiment in the nation.

"If it could happen anywhere, it could happen in San Francisco," said Newsom, who said free transit could lure people out of their cars and cut traffic.

No major transit agency in America has a systemwide free-fare policy. But more than a dozen cities -- including Seattle, Portland and Salt Lake City -- offer free rides in their downtown business corridors. The small East Bay city of Emeryville provides free bus shuttle service around town and to and from an Oakland BART station.

I hope to have more on transit in the Bay Area later but it is obvious that fare evasion is a HUGE problem in San Francisco.

Meanwhile BART has a fare evasion problem as well
BART losing revenue through ticket scams - Recent fraud find: Manipulation of magnetic strip
He and others on the BART management team are banking on new technology, so-called smart cards. The cards, which resemble credit cards, are embedded with microprocessor chips that can be used for various transactions, such as adding and deducting value on a transit ticket. Officials believe they are more secure than magnetic strips.

BART hopes to have the new system in place within two years. People would be able to use the smart cards to pay for parking at station lots and for BART rides. The chips could be expanded beyond cards and made even more user-friendly by embedding them in cell phones and watches.

and BART riders grumble that their trains are dirty
The dirty little secret about BART is out: Trains aren't as clean as passengers want them to be.

A new customer satisfaction survey commissioned by BART found increasing dissatisfaction over the trains' grimy interiors.

"It's not at all a surprise to us,'' said BART spokesman Linton Johnson.

Past budget cuts, he said, meant less money for cleaning crews. The decision was made to sacrifice cleanliness to focus resources on making the trains run on time, Johnson said. He said the agency is moving to replenish the work force of 77 car-cleaning positions, which had been down 10 workers at one point.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Charlie's Mailbag - March 9th

checking the mailbag at

I have been having some problems with my wireless card in California so that is the reason the blog has been updating later in the day back East as I have been forced to use the San Francisco Public Library ( which is quite nice and modern )

Andy thinks the "new" North Station could be better
I know this is ungrateful, especially after the T worked so hard to improve the plight of space-constrained North Station commuters...but I have a question/complaint about the cosmetics of the new and improved station.

What's with the black and tan ceiling and walls? The gray columns? Why the stygian darkness? Perhaps it complements the outer decor of the platforms and provides an optical transition as one hustles to or from the brightly lit inner hallway. It will hide the dirt. Maybe the T doesn't want people hanging around, clogging up the waiting area. I doubt there's much potential for that. But I don't think it would have hurt to use brighter hues, even a little white to turn a gloomy space into a less gloomy space.

The North Station do-over had a lot of potential for dulling my South Station envy, but so far I'm not sure we made much progress here.

I'd be happy to volunteer on the paint detail if the T should change its mind. I also know a real 'fab' interior decorator who can work miracles. One is needed here.

Andy from Ipswich

The T is not responsible for North Station. The new improvements were done by the Delaware North Company of Buffalo who owns the Garden. Hopefully it will be a bit brighter when the new retail shops that are promised open.

Amy wonders what is causing slowdowns on the Orange Line
Hi Charlie,
I've been riding the orange line ever since I can remember, and
recently I've noticed that, going inbound and outbound between
Sullivan Square and Community College, the train slows down
considerably. At this part in the track, the train is on a bridge and
its leaning quite a bit to one side. It's always leaned like that but
never gone so slow over that one part as it has in the past few
months. Any reason for this?
Love your blog!
I don't have the answer but I am pretty certain somebody will let us know in short order.

Ian writes in about the T's trip planner

I'm a huge fan of your blog, and especially of the Boston Transit Camp idea, which I think would be a lot of fun. I wanted to write you with a quick comment about the T's new web site.

It's obvious that the T (or TransitWorks; whoever is in charge of the site) wanted to give the new that "Web 2.0" look and feel, so they went ahead and built a new trip planner that uses Google Maps to show routes and station/stop locations. It's a great idea, and I'm sure it looked great on paper, but as we all know their implementation leaves much to be desired.

Earlier today I was reading the official Google Blog and I almost jumped out of my seat. There was a post about the South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference and Festival ( wherein the author mentioned that they've added Austin, TX to the Google Transit Trip Planner. (!?!?!)

Yes, that's right, Google built their own Public Transit trip planner. It's been around for a while, too -- here's the official launch announcement from December 2005 (

Currently it only contains information for transit agencies in 10 cities, but if you read the FAQ ( they very clearly outline the process by which agencies can make their own data available to Google:
"4. My agency has public transportation data for my city; how can I get it included in the Google Transit Trip Planner?"If you're at a public agency that oversees public transportation for your city and would like your data to be included, please contact us at

The Google Transit Feed Specification describes how to provide transit data in a format that Google Transit Trip Planner can use."So while they were busy attempting to reinvent the wheel, the T could easily have just handed their data over to Google and let the search company do all the work for them. I'm willing to bet this wouldn't have cost them a penny, and when all was said and done they would've had a system that, in addition to properly calculating routes, would even compare the cost of the trip with the approximate cost of making the same trip in a car. Instead we have a poorly-coded, poorly-tested clunk-factory that hates Fridays and wants to route every Red Line rider through JFK.


I have no doubt that the smart people in Mountain View, CA could have devised a first class trip planner.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

TransitWorks needs E Line riders to help

from Mac Daniels blog at

E branch Travel Diaries
TransitWorks is recruiting volunteers who ride the Green Line's E branch and take notes. Volunteers will record the quality of trips on the E branch during the week of April 1 to 7.

Kate Lowe at TransitWorks wrote that participants may even be able to win a real, live Breda car (smiley face thing inserted here). To participate, you must sign-up for a brief training session on Tuesday, March 27th at 3:30 OR 5:30 p.m. in the Longwood Medical Area.

For more information or to sign-up, contact TransitWorks at 617-557-7349 or

You can also visit their website at

Charlie's Mailbag - March 8th

A warm welcome to CTA Tattler readers who might be visiting after reading about us there. Our post on Chicago can be found here Charlie on the CTA

Checking the mailbag at

Molly writes about the Orange Line

My name is Molly, and this is a copy of the e-mail I just sent "to the
top" of the Orange Line, as the customer comment page will not submit
(which may have more to do with this computer than the T).

Good morning,

The customer comment submission page is either not working or my
browser will not support the submission, so I am writing to you.

This morning, my partner and I were at the Roxbury Crossing T stop to
head to work. The elevator was apparently having some work done, but
there was neither a sign on the elevator nor an update on the
accessibility hotline.

My partner currently has a broken foot, and even without that, she has
mobility issues; she can walk, but stairs are difficult and dangerous
for her. When we asked the T employee on duty, we were told the
elevator wouldn't be working for an hour and were asked if we actually
needed it, which I believe is not something that is supposed to be

Fortunately, the man who was working on the elevator got it to work
for us, but we missed two trains while we were waiting and we were
both late to work because of this. I would request that employees be
reminded that just because people are not in wheelchairs does not mean
that they can take stairs and that if an elevator or escalator is out
of service, for any reason, that it be clearly marked and that the
hotline be kept current.

Thank you.
It does seem that with the frigid weather both escalators and elevators are breaking down at an alarming rate. I still can't believe the T gave the new contract to repair them to the same Finnish company that failed to provide good service in the past.

You might try contacting KONE direct at their US HQs in Illinois

Kelly grumbles about the Framingham-Worcester line.....AGAIN!!!!

I guess I shouldn't even bothering writing in about the 707am inbound Worcester train this morning that was 15 minutes late and had no heat and no lights? The conductor actually made an announcement as we proceeded into the tunnel at Back Bay to “grab your stuff now, because it’s about to be really dark in here!” Um, shouldn’t all train at least have emergency track lighting? And, did I mention it was 13 degrees out this morning?

Thank you for letting me vent. I have also sent this in to the MBTA, but I don’t expect much. At least you are listening.

Kelly hopefully somebody at the T is reading this.

MBCR and the T can blame CSX for the delays on the line but MBCR is responsible for the heat and lights. The service was never this bad when Amtrak ran the Commuter Rail but they no longer wanted to do business with the T.

Susan froze waiting for an E train last night

Some trains on the E line were running "express" last night around 9pm,
driving past all the above ground stops near Longwood and the MFA. It
was in the single digits with below zero windchills, while people
waited for over 15, 20 minutes for a train..... The best part was
seeing the train skip my stop, leaving people out in the cold, and then

If the purpose of these express trains is to make up time when they are
running late, I fail to see how doing this on above ground stops helps.
There are still stop lights every block. If you're going to stop at
those, you might as well pick up some frostbitten passengers while
you're at it. Seeing an EMPTY train go by without stopping when you are
freezing to death outside should qualify as reckless endangerment on
the T's part. Of course the response is always "there's another train
right behind us", but "right behind us" means another 5 minutes in the
cold tacked onto the 15 you've already waited. This is more than just
an inconvenience when you are waiting outside. It is dangerous. In this
kind of frigid weather you can easily get frostbite in less than 30

Thanks for posting these stories on your blog. We can only hope that
the T reads them and actually cares.
Yes Susan, we can only hope.....

A lost trolley?????

I just happened to run into this trolley this morning on Market Street in San Francisco.
The City of San Francisco runs a vintage streetcar line down Market Street that then continues to Fisherman's Wharf and each car is painted with another city's transit colors. Car 1059 is painted to look like a car from the mid 1940's when the Boston system was known as the Boston Elevated Railway.
A dreamer like myself would love to see a vintage streetcar line connecting North and South Stations with stops along Atlantic Avenue but I doubt we will ever see anything like this in Boston.
For more info on the San Francisco vintage streetcar line CLICK HERE

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

MBTA retiree accused of skimming $40,700

MBTA video allegedly shows a retired employee who came regularly to turn in stolen coins and tokens for CharlieCards. (Jodi Hilton for the Boston Globe)

One of the reasons that the T decided to install the Charlie system was because under the old token method the system was being robbed blind over the past 25 years.

Still this story amazes me that a retired T employee would risk his pension ( and possibly his freedom ) .

MBTA retiree accused of skimming $40,700

I actually first saw the story last night on the 11 PM news in San Francisco (KPIX)

Charlie's Mailbag - March 6th

Greetings from San Francisco where the Commuter Rail info signs work ( and they are from the same company that made the T's )

Catching up on reader email at

Glenn from Cambridge is fed up with Davis Station
Are we powerless to deal with the MBTA - a truly underperforming public transit system? Is it because, here in the "regulation and punishment" capital of America, things can't be made too convenient for the sinning public?

I'm fed up with the MBTA and Davis Square especially. It's not only the average of 1-2 dysfunctional escalators on any given day at Davis; it's not even the function of problemmatic gates that don't always open - again, at Davis; it isn't even my anger that the $50 I put into a paper Charlie Card can't be converted to my plastic card except at one station - and how does one get a plastic card if you weren't lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time to obtain one; it isn't even that apparently smoking is allowed on the platforms in the morning as long as you're at the extreme end of the platform (at least at Davis and Downtown Crossing).

It's the MBTA attitude - you have a problem and mention it to the maitre 'd at the station (formerly the toll booth monitor) and you get an explanation of "Here's why it's not my fault." or even better "Call your state legislator." Or, it's made clear that you should mind your own business while "I'll look into it" is the blah reply.

Why in hell can't we have a decent subway system where the escalators work, the stations are well built and maintained and don't reek of some stench, and people actually look like they're working?

By the way, my daily commute includes the Red Line to Downtown Crossing, Orange Line to State, and Blue Line from there. On average, during any given day, there's an average of two broken escalators. Who the hell maintains these things? Who makes sure they deliver? And what's with the Orange Line timetables. Are trains on this line much fewer than on other lines for a particular reason: like why should the MBTA care about Roxbury? Could it be more obvious?

My work takes me to Washington where the stations are clean and the trains are well maintained (and, so, the riders respect them). We can go right to the National Airport terminal quickly instead of lengthy subway rides to Logan. Trains run on time and predictably, including electronic notices of how far away the train is. Staff are courteous.

If only the Romney people had gone after the MBTA employee unions the way they persecuted teachers, and held the MBTA to 14 layers of regulation and oversight like they do with schools, we might have seen improvements.

And, finally, can't someone a) fix the train and station sound systems so people can hear what's being currently mumbled to them, and b) give some public speaking lessons to whomever broadcasts the stuff so they're polite, clear, and helpful?

And it's $1.70 to $2.00 for a ride depending on whether you're lucky enough to have a card? Enjoy Canada.
Actually it is California where I am and I won't tell you how warm it is in San Francisco today . The escalators systemwide are a mess and have been for a few years and yet the T gave the new contract to the same Illinois company that couldn't do it right in the first place. Real time train announcements is an issue I have harped on and the T has refused to answer any requests I have made for updates.

I'll have a report on San Francisco transit in a couple of days.

Daniel like many was very cold waiting on the D Line Tuesday morning

Making passengers wait 30-plus minutes in single-digit weather, only to then subject many of them to trains too full to board, is absolutely inexcusable, yet that was my experience this morning on the D line inbound at Beaconsfield. When I arrived at the platform at approximately 8:20, there were 30 or so people waiting, which I took to be a good sign. It meant that I didn't just miss the train.

By 8:35 the platform had probably accumulated 75 very cold people, and by 8:45 the number was easily over 100, not counting the many who gave up and walked to the C-line.

We watched three outbound trains come and go before an inbound train arrived at around 8:55, already very full. I was one of the fortunate ones, able to board the second car. As we pulled out of the station there were still a couple dozen people who were not as lucky, and I can only hope that another train was close behind.

At each subsequent station, the story was the same. The train arrived and sometimes fewer than half the wating passengers were able to squeeze on.

I have no doubt that the same cold that made waiting unbearable was also responsible for the delay. But leaving people waiting in dangerously cold weather with no word on the status of the delay is irresponsible. It would have been more than simple for one of the outbound conductors to yell to the platform that inbound service had been delayed, and then we could have all walked to the C line or made other arrangements.

Doing nothing should not have been an option.
I also had reports that riders were waiting 20 minutes at Newton Center.

Brad comments on Sunday's Globe column by Mac Daniel


Mac Daniel caves into the T again with his report on Kenmore being 10 months behind. This is unbelievable! Of course, he allows Joe Pesaturo to place blame on the city for permit problems. Why did it take 10 months to figure out that this project is clearly behind? I guarantee it won't be done on time for the new completion date. It was also mentioned in the article that the contractor would recieve more $$$ to get the project done. Not shocking at all that another project goes overbudget and more friends of the T (contractors) get more money.

Kenmore is going to be a mess on Red Sox Opening Day and it will only get worse when the D Line has the shutdown later in the summer. I would love to know why the City of Boston and the T seem to have problems with subway projects as permit problems have also delayed construction at State Street on the Blue Line.

Frank has a question about his Senior smartcard
My wife and I have updated our senior passes. On an on-going basis how can we determine how much money is left on each card?

Frank you can always check the remaining value at any fare vending machine and the amount remaining on the card will display on the upper right hand corner of the screen after you tap your card. To check on a monthly pass simply hit the card information button from the menu.