T-Tales: There must be a place in Watertown to load Charlie

The mailbag at charlieonthembta@gmail.com brings this saga from Charlie (no relation)

Hello Charlie,

I work in Watertown Square, and today took the 57 bus to get there, as I occasionally do. Upon entering the bus and paying my fare, I noticed I did not have enough left on the card for my return trip. I said to myself, “Oh ok. There must be a place in Watertown Square where I can load more value onto my CharlieCard.” Instinctively, I went to the convenience store on Galen St across from Watertown Yard which has been selling monthly passes for years. I asked the gentleman there if I could load value onto my CharlieCard. He replied that he only sells CharlieTicket passes, and does not have a computer for CharlieCards. I then decided to call the Stop and Shop in Watertown to see if they were equipped for it. They were not. I did a search on mbta.com to discover that the convenience store on Galen St is the only place in Watertown which sells T fare media, and only CharlieTicket passes – no CharlieCards whatsoever. So, on my ride home, I will board last in line and hope that the bus driver lets me add value to my CharlieCard through the farebox, as it truly is my only option. It truly astounds me that there are no sales locations in Watertown equipped to handle CharlieCard transactions. This is especially surprising since Watertown Square is where bus routes 52, 57, 59, 71, 502, and 504 terminate, and routes 70 and 70A pass through.

First off why hasn’t the T installed a FVM( fare vending machine ) at the Watertown Yard. It would seem to be a logical location for one. But given the costs of these machines perhaps the T feels a machine there would not generate enough sales to justify installing one.

Indeed Watertown only has the one location to buy a pass and it is only at the end and beginning of the month.

Galen St. Mart
City: Watertown
Address: 39 Galen St. (across from Watertown Station)
Hours: M-F, 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Pass Types Sold: Local Bus, LinkPass, Zone 1A, Inner Express and Outer Express.
Payment Methods: Cash and Commuter Checks
Dates Sold: Monthly passes are sold the last four (4) and the first four (4) business days of each month.

Now the T website gushes

We are aggressively pursuing partnerships with retailers to sell our tickets, cards and passes using retail sales terminals. You will be able to obtain a CharlieCard from one of these retailers: Sales Locations. Once you have your CharlieCard, you can go to these retailers to load value or a pass on your CharlieCard.

So where are they? Watertown was one of the original 14 cities in the old MTA and is one of Boston’s oldest transit suburbs with excellent bus service. So just how “aggressively” are they pursuing adding locations?

But the lack of retail outlets maybe because of the way the system was designed. I know of one location in Cambridge that was interested in doing this until they saw what was needed to implement it. The manager told me

What the T wanted to install takes as much space as the lottery and Western Union machines. It takes too long to run a transaction and it isn’t worth the bother.

I personally tested the process at All Checks Cashed in Allston. The clerk has to take your card, go to a computer terminal, scan the card, and then enter the information on the keyboard. It took 2 minutes for her to load $5 onto the card. Most 7/11’s, Store 24’s and other locations just can’t allow their clerks to be tied up that long. The T has signed up several check cashing stores and supermarket chains in the area but they are limited in number. The picture on the left is what the Scheidt & Bachmann device looks like.

In Chicago the CTA teamed up with their fare collection vendor(Cubic) and came up with a solution that retailers have installed all over the city. The locations marked with a (*) have the device shown on the left.

The process is simple.

Using Touch-n-Go devices,
simply follow these four steps:

Present your Chicago Card to the currency exchange clerk.

Choose the reload amount you would like to purchase and pay with cash. (Cash is the only accepted form of payment at this time.)

A $2 bonus is earned for every $20 of value added to your Chicago Card. This bonus can be earned only when adding value to Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus accounts, not to Transit Cards.

Take your receipt and Chicago Card.

Start your trip!

The clerk never has to leave the register and the transaction is done as quickly as using an ATM. Riders love them and more importantly so do the merchants.

The Boston system allows credit and debit cards but Chicago made the decision not to use credit/debit cards at their point of sales locations including the stations when they installed their system. None of this helps Charlie this afternoon as he wants to get home ( there might be a song there ) but it may explain why retail locations are few and far between.

BTW I have no connection with Cubic Transportation. I simply have researched to learn about the system that the T rejected but is used by some of the largest transit companies in the world. (London, New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington to name a few)

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5 Comments

Filed under CharlieCard, Cubic, MBTA, Scheidt-Bachmann, transit other cities

5 responses to “T-Tales: There must be a place in Watertown to load Charlie

  1. Anonymous

    Why not just load the charlie card through the Bus Farebox?

  2. Helen

    It took the clerk at Shaws in Allston 10 minutes to load my card with $20. I see Chicago gives a bonus like New York for holding passengers money. Please Governor Patrick clean house at the T and have the state auditor look at this Charlie contract. Where is the Globe Spotlight team? This is a disgrace.

  3. Jack (Cambridge)

    Last week I went to the check cashing store at Central Square to put $15 on my card because I don’t like putting that amount of money in a vending machine. The clerk took my money came back 5 minutes later and gave me the card.

    I went into the subway and there was no money on it and I had to go back to the store, wait in line to have her do it again.

    Bring back the token

  4. Anonymous

    The picture from the S&B site has nothing to do with the devices used by the T. The terminals installed at stores are black all-in-one PCs (imagine an iMac with no keyboard or mouse) with a separate unit for magnetic tickets and a smart card reader.

  5. <> Anonymous said…

    The picture from the S&B site has nothing to do with the devices used by the T. The terminals installed at stores are black all-in-one PCs (imagine an iMac with no keyboard or mouse) with a separate unit for magnetic tickets and a smart card reader.

    The picture I posted is identical to the what they have at the Harvard Sq pass office and at a location in Allston. Today I saw what you described at a location in Maverick Square.

    I gave the Maverick location a test run to see how quickly the transaction would take and it was about 3 minutes. That is simply too long to tie up a clerk.

    Chicago had to get something that the Currency Exchanges would accept and it seems to be working out as all areas of the city have the reloading locations.

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