Sunday, June 15, 2008

The MBTA: aka the commute from hell

A recent article described how the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) services is looking increasingly attractive as gas prices soar. The Authorities on Transportation used this opportunity to launch a campaign promoting the use of public transportation in Boston.

As an ex-hippie, and non-car-owner, I'm all in favor of public transportation. In an ill-planned, one-way befuddled city like Boston, the "T" is often the best way to get around. That is, unless there is a breakdown in the system.

This weekend, unbenownst to me, the train from Kendall Square to Park Street was rerouted through a series of shuttles.

Day 1: Despite the lack of signage and knowledgeable individuals to direct us, the masses emerged from the Kendall Street stop and boarded (crammed) into the waiting shuttle buses. At Park Street station we were required to pay the fare again in order to get back on the train. There is nothing I love more than a delay in my morning commute other than double paying for it.

The way back home got even better. Park Street was a mass of confusion: tourists wandering in every direction, and no obvious sign to the shuttle stop to be found. After much searching I managed to find one MBTA officer who INDIVIDUALLY directed people down the street to South Station. SEVEN hot blocks later I reached South Station only to find even more mass confusion. After much searching I managed to find another single MBTA officer who INDIVIDUALLY directed people around the corner and across the street to the shuttles, where we were crammed, hip to hip, armpit to armpit, for the ride back to Kendall Square.

Day 2: See Day 1.

There are a couple of issues here:

1. Why not ANNOUNCE ahead of time that the MBTA is not in working order. A simple sign or something over the station loudspeakers would do.

2. Have some WELL-LABELED employees around to direct the thousands of people. Give them a loudspeaker or a large sign. FYI: Informing people one at a time of where to go is one of the most inefficient means of conveying information.

3. Add SIGNS that direct people to where they are supposed to pick up the shuttle. If the shuttle stop is a freaking 10 minute walk away, why not inform people of this fact BEFORE they exit the station. I can only imagine how handicapped people got around the city this weekend.

4. If you know that there are going to be delays, why not POST this on the front page of your WEBSITE rather than have people find out in the middle of their commute. If, for example, someone has a wedding to attend that evening, this sort of information would have come in handy ahead of time.

5. I understand that things happen and the trains will break down from time-to-time. These acts of god, however, are not MY FAULT. Do not make the good riders of the MBTA pay twice after rerouting by shuttle. If I were truly an ex-hippie I probably would not insist that the MBTA ought to pay ME for time lost. As things stand, I'm tempted to make that claim.

As I am a pseudo-ex-hippie without a car, I will continue to ride the MBTA. In fact, on Day 2, I took the "T" and double paid for the trip AGAIN. If only I could be assured that the extra income would do some good in this world. At least blogging about it makes me feel slightly better about myself.


p.s. To the right is an image of the Park Street station. Imagine this place overrun by thousands of baffled tourists and commuters. You get the picture.

Images lifted from and


pahkcah02 said...

Much like the airlines, the MBTA is 100% staffed with twisted individuals who seem to find satisfaction in making your life less convenient. Service breakdowns happen, but with over 100 years of service the MBTA has had plenty of time to make this a non-issue in the eyes of their paying customers. I'd write the T a letter requesting a refund. They should have given you a free ride for the inconvenience, not charged you double.

flutterbyblue said...

You know, I think I just might do that! On the MBTA website they list individuals for each line. I'll write to the redline guy and see if this yields a response. At the very least, it will make me feel a lot better to formally lodge a complaint!

J.S. said...

ARRRRRRGGG! I was trying to get around that day too! My pseudo-sister and I finally had a chance to spend a Saturday having a relaxing shopping outing, and we headed down to Downtown Crossing. Since, as you pointed out, the good MBTA folks weren't doing anything to notify people of the delays before the point of fare-paying, even though it would have been just as easy for us to stay in H-SQ or bus over to Cambridgeside, we decided to squeeze our combined $3.40 and brave whatever they had in store for us. Why it was a good idea to mess with the track on the Longfellow at any time other than 6am on a Sunday morning eludes me.

When we got to Kendall, we noted that multiple busloads of people had been similarly roped in, and given the nice weather and the lack of time pressure, we might as well walk over the bridge. So we did, and besides a little chafed foot-age from new sandals, no major hardships. We went shopping amid the Pride Parade without incident, but thought we'd be a little more clever going home: We took the green line in the opposite direction from the construction toward Hynes, in order to hop a 1 bus.

While we were waiting for the 1 bus on Mass Ave. (which runs dreadfully infrequently on Saturday afternoons anyway) some folks popped out of the subway complaining that there had just been a fire at South Station. Sure enough, a horde accumulated at the bus stop within minutes, and when Mr. #1 finally showed up, we got elbowed out and didn't make it on. We ended up using the money my friend had on her from returning some clothing at the Macy's to 1) grab a taxi, 2) buy the pearl tea we'd been craving all day, 3) split some Bartley's cheese fries to reward ourselves for surviving the whole ordeal. Boo!