Monthly Archives: February 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.



Filed under Commuter Rail, MBTA, Park St, Subway

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.


Filed under Copley, Green Line, MBTA

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.


Filed under Cubic, transit other cities

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.


Filed under CharlieCard, Commuter Rail, MBTA, transit other cities

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.


Filed under Bus, MBTA

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.


Filed under Green Line, MBTA

T in the media – February 24th edition

scanning the newswires to find how local media is covering the T the past few days

MBTA Police Discover MySpace, Criminals Bostonist, MA –
The Globe brings us a story of crime fighting success by the MBTA police. The T has installed a number of cameras in subway and bus stations over the last …

Sinkhole on Newton bridge affects MBTA service
WHDH-TV, MA – Feb 23, 2007 An MBTA spokesman says the T will bus passengers between the Reservoir and Riverside trolley stops on the Green Line’s D branch this morning because of the …

Finding the new Charles/MGH Station
Bostonist, MA – Feb 22, 2007 The MBTA opened up the new Charles/MGH stop last weekend. Among the changes to the station the most notable is pedestrian and handicapped access to the …

BC plans stress unifying campus, improving traffic
Allston-Brighton TAB, MA – Feb 22, 2007 Dumont presented artist’s renderings of the plan, which includes a 400-foot-long MBTA stop in the middle of the road, and an elevated pedestrian walkway …

A breakdown of train, and communication
Boston Globe, MA – Feb 22, 2007… was still obstinately insisting that train service was ‘on or near schedule,’ ” he wrote in an e-mail he sent to MBTA management and shared with us. …

Train crushes commuter’s foot at Concord Depot
Concord Journal, MA – Feb 21, 2007 A Leominster man sustained serious non-life threatening injuries from a MBTA train when he slipped at the Concord Depot on Wednesday morning, according to …

Attempted Suicide at Harvard T Station
Harvard Crimson, MA – Feb 21, 2007 According to Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) police Lieutenant Salvatore L. Venturelli, the man—whom he described as a Caucasian male in …

Man accused of exposing self
Daily News Transcript, MA – Feb 20, 2007 WESTWOOD – A Norwood man is being held on $5000 cash bail after police said he was caught exposing himself to a woman on an MBTA bus Thursday afternoon. …

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized