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.



Filed under Davis, Green Line, MBTA

7 responses to “Charlie’s Mailbag – March 6th

  1. Sioux from Newton

    When I arrived at the Newton Centre T this morning in the 6-degree weather (not counting wind chill), there were lots and lots and lots of people waiting on the inbound side. There was a woman on her cell phone saying with exasperation, “You can’t tell me they’re running on time! That’s supposed to be every 8 minutes at rush hour!” I didn’t hear her say how long she’d waited but it was clear a lot of people had waited in the cold a long time. I’m gathering she was talking to the MBTA on the phone and got a dumb answer. Maybe the T has problem with its equipment when it gets extra cold. (This must have been their reason for buying new cars from an Italian sports car company instead of a tried and true manufacturer in Quebec.) Or maybe it’s harder for the drivers to get work. Anyway, they do tend to be a lot slower when it’s cold or snowing, exactly as if they’re surprised that that kind of weather would happen in Greater Boston. I half expected that the train, when it came, would (1) be packed like a sardine can, (2) not stop or (3) both. But the train arrived five minutes after I got there and there were actually quite a few seats (I got one). I felt a little guilty that maybe the train had been “expressed” past other cold people at other stops in order to save me a seat. This evening, a note on a continuing comedy: trains originating at Government Center that have blank signs or are labeled “Government Center.” Usually these mystery trains/Government Center trains are D Riverside trains, but often you have to go up to the driver’s window, knock and ask, “what train is this?” (The driver may announce this at other stops but for some reason at Government Center many of them won’t do it.) This evening for a change the driver of Train 3649A announced to everyone that it was a Riverside train and apologized for the signs not working. When riders asked her why the train wasn’t being put up for repairs, she informed them that she was told there weren’t enough trains and it was better to run a train with a dysfunctional sign than to not run it. I agree. A very genial and helpful driver in tough circumstances.By the way, the crowd at Government Center was six deep. It was probably crowded at Park Street, too, but there was too big a crowd between me and the platform for me to see. The D train was also held at Park Street for headway adjustment. Yet the drivers of the two-car train managed to keep things calm. Telling people what’s going on is becoming more and more a habit with drivers, and we appreciate it.

  2. Anonymous

    ah just think, and Beaconsfield is one of the lower ridership stations.

  3. Anonymous

    they also blamed the delay on the fact that it is “extraordinarily difficult” to do this kind of work and keep the station open the entire time. And it may well be, but presumably the schedule was originally made with this in mind….

  4. Glenn, what time are you going to Davis? The customer service agent there on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings is one of my favorites. She’s always quite friendly and helpful to everyone she meets. (Unfortunately, she can’t do anything about making the escalators work better.) Usually she has plenty of CharlieCards to hand out, too.

  5. Regarding the smokers at Davis – The Spare Change vendor smokes almost every morning. I’ve told station attendants, I’ve written to Spare Chnge, and I’ve told the guy myself that smoking isn’t allowed on the platform and I’ll never buy one of his papers because he continues to obnoxiously ignore the rules.

  6. Redliner

    I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one bothered by smoking on the T platforms. I used to get on at Davis and see this several times a week. Its also common at Downtown Crossing. This is why the T needs to turn its “CSAs” into full blown station managers and have them patrol their stations rather than just hang out near the turnstyles.

  7. Anonymous

    The best part about the smokers @ Downtown Crossing is that they’re doing it right in front of the T police break area on the outbound platform (don’t know what else to call it & they clearly aren’t ‘working’ if they can’t even bothered to stop smoking right in front of them!)

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