Busted Signal at Middle Earth

My trip home from Fenway on Monday night was nothing short of a debacle.

9:45ish PM: Get to Fenway Station, see train on outbound platform.
9:50 PM: After seeing lights in the distance a minute earlier, get on two-car train headed by 3714 heading inbound towards Government Center.
9:53 PM: Halfway between Fenway and Kenmore, train suddenly stops.
9:55 PM: Hear that there is a signal problem and that we’d be holding.
10:00 PM: Same. Half the train is already looking at their phones.
10:05 PM: No change, though now personnel is on the scene to fix the problem.
10:12 PM: We finally get moving, attempting to make up time along the way.
10:20ish: Find out our train is being turned at Park Street. Walk across platform and get on an oddly empty E, 369something, very rusted.
10:26 PM: Get off at North Station. See ad for Orange Line bustitution between Sullivan and Oak Grove. Realize that tonight is one of those nights. Darn.
10:30 PM: Get on Orange Line car 01234.
10:36 PM: Arrive Sullivan. Get in a stampede of people trying to make it to the shuttles which are run as a load-and-go operation, helped no doubt by Charlestown garage being right down the street.
10:37 PM: Internally laugh at Donut & Donuts still being there, thinking of a family member who calls Dunkin’ “D&D” (Dunk & Donuts?)
10:41 PM: Get on third bus so we could get a seat. 0670 which I’ve ridden everywhere from Haymarket to Burlington.
10:52 PM: Arrive Wellington. Joke that inbound shuttle bus “sure isn’t going all the way to Forest Hills.”
11:10 PM or so: Arrive home.

And yet this felt longer than many of the screwups I experienced back down in DC. Having a 75 minute bus-train commute at one point there does things.


A Case of Line Bias

The last two months have been pure heck because of the home stretch of grad school. With papers and projects eating up my time, I haven’t had much time to ride new routes or visit new stations. But after what happened yesterday, I feel compelled to post.

For an early birthday present, my wife got me tickets to yesterday’s Sox/Yankees game in which the Sox won for the first time in my six visits there. Usually from my front door to Fenway on the weekend takes about 50-60 minutes if driving to a station (Wonderland or Wellington). Here’s what happened:

2:10pm: Leave home to drive to Wonderland, about a 10 minute or so trip.
2:20pm: Arrive at Wonderland to see that my grad school-fried brain somehow didn’t check the weekend advisories to see that the Blue Line was being bustituted north of Airport this weekend. Options are to take said shuttle bus or drive to Wellington.
2:25pm: We choose the latter and run into traffic on Route 16.
2:45pm: Arrive Wellington. By the time we get to the platform, a train is approaching.
3:00pm: Arrive North Station to catch a C across the platform. A small crowd already formed.
3:10pm: Upstairs four trains went through but only one comes downstairs to head outbound, that being an E.
3:15pm: A C finally shows up. 2 Type 8’s, the lead car having total door failure. A crowd that could’ve easily have had standee loads in a 3-car train rams into one car as they try to find the problem.
3:23pm (or so): C finally leaves North Station after uncoupling the problematic front car.
3:45pm: Get off at Kenmore and deal with the pregame swarm of fans.
4:00pm: Finally get into Fenway after enduring a bag line and wondering how Stop Handgun Violence can call certain people out without violating libel laws. Miss the top of the first because we were starving/thirsty but we did get to boo A-Rod. Hard.

Thankfully it was a good game and the trip home took an hour and change from ballpak seat to car seat even considering the Kenmore Krush. However, it shows there is line bias very much alive at the MBTA.

While the Blue Line was bustituted, the Red Line’s shuttle for the Longfellow Bridge work was postponed for the weekend. I know Camberville/the northwest suburbs/the Route 2/3 corriors lack the stigma some have on Revere/the North Shore/the Route 1(A) corridors but it’s the same weekend with the same pair of baseball games and the same UFC event at the Garden. Why should one line be exempt but another shouldn’t?

At the same time, for a line that is supposed to have weekend headways of 10 minutes, the C’s failure to show for as long as it did was unacceptable. I could find no clue of there being some sort of delays or congestion heading towards North Station so everyone was in the dark especially as trains came in regularly upstairs. I know money is a concern but how hard could it be to run a few ballpark specials from Lechmere to Kenmore or even fully out to Cleveland Circle before Sox games? As for the problematic car, I hope this was an isolated incident though it came at the worst possible time.

Yesterday was a day in which the MBTA looked like WMATA. You’re too good to be like WMATA, T.

State Transportation Building Mystery

Well, the week break between Winter Quarter and Spring Quarter turned out to be a week in which my mind was mostly mush so the reviews I wanted to do got pushed behind. That said, I have a mystery for some of y’all to solve

Lately I’ve ended up in the food court of the State Transportation Building a few times for lunch or whatever and a relevant repressed memory came up. I remember sometime in the 90s actually going up to the reception desk of MBTA headquarters and seeing a ton of maps and schedules for the taking; this may have been in conjunction with the aborted attempt to use the Ipswich-Rockport line from Salem back in ’96. Though I assume this ended when security concerns grew, how long was one able to do this?

That said, when they did the refurb of the food court they could’ve chucked the old late 70s/early 80s signage which makes me think I’m in a National Park or a Golden Girls rerun. If you’re going to rehab, rehab all the way!

Update (4/28/13): I totally forgot about the State Transportation Library on the second floor. I should go there sometime…

Some Quick Easy Fixes

Well, it looks like the doomsday threats are coming back, and this time on top of the threats of killing weekend commuter rail are the threats of ending all bus service after 11:00 PM and cutting 30 bus routes. Here are some simple fixes that the MBTA should consider.

1: MassDOT merged everyone together into a bickering blended family. They should own up to their Big Dig debt.
As much as the crowd outside of 495 will claim that they should not pay for the debt of the Big Dig because it’s solely inside Boston, truth is that it is a utility for the entire Commonwealth and beyond. The Big Dig benefits just as much benefits those from Salisbury to Sheffield to Sandwich as it does for those in Southie and Somerville with improved vehicular capacity through town, improved access to Logan, and more.  When the Commonwealth merged everyone under the MassDOT umbrella, they should have demerged the Big Dig debt which the Cellucci Administration forced upon the MBTA for something they really did not contribute to. One umbrella, one debt.

2: Merge some lesser bus routes into singular routes.
Several years back when the Port Authority in Pittsburgh had their own Doomsday cuts, they ended up merging several routes which shared a common terminal into singular routes to help boost efficiency and maintain as much service as possible. I was going to suggest these in a proposal post but here are a few which could be done.

  • Merging the 62 and 76 full-time as the current 62/76 operates on Saturdays.
  • Combining either the 70 or 70A with the 91, running straight through Central between Waltham and Sullivan.
  • At least on middays and weekends, merging the 108 with the local portion of the 426 (which would help West Lynn, East Saugus, and northeastern Revere as the Blue Line will  soon be an eunuch).
  • The 354 is extended over the local portion of the 352 after rush hours. As much as it’d be bad for Burlington commuters outside of 95/128, making this the core route would not be  bad thing.
  • Merge the 131 and the northern/eastern portion of the 430 while terminating the 430 at Square One Mall. This would not only add an elusive bus connection between Saugus and Melrose, but would also redirect the 430’s resources where it’s needed.

(Everyone, join in and leave your suggestions in the comments!)

3: Make pass prices resemble something resembling reality.
Right now a weekly pass ($18) is only 1.6 times the cost of a one-day pass ($11) and is equal to nine rail rides paid via CharlieCard. I understand the one-day pass is a bit of a tourist tax but seriously the weekly pass could be raised to around $24 and still be seen as a bargain. Similarly, $70 for a monthly pass is still quite low compared to the MBTA’s peer agencies and could be hiked beyond $80 and still be seen as a bargain.

4: Charge for CharlieCards (and maybe CharlieTickets too)
When I was living in and around DC,the initial cost for a SmarTrip was (as is now) $5. In contrast, the CharlieCard is free. I’m not saying to emulate WMATA – nobody ever should – but even if the MBTA charged as little as $2 for a CharlieCard it’d make some money. Imagine how much they could’ve made over the last eight years off of CharlieCards for a nominal fee.
Similarly, the MTA in New York is now charging $1 for a new MetroCard. I think even a 50 cent surcharge on getting a new CharlieTicket would raise some extra funds and would show those that use them that getting a CharlieCard would be a good move to make.

5: One More Quarter
Compared to peer agencies, even with last year’s fare increases CharlieCard fares are still cheap at $1.50 for bus and $2.00 for rail. Hiking these by a quarter while leaving the $2.00/$2.50 cash fare as-is would still have the MBTA on the low end of their peer agencies. Ideally, going to one united fare would be good but the insistence of having bus be cheaper than rail would need to be put on the back burner.

6: Peak hour MBCR surcharges
Being from the New York area, I’m used to the concept of a peak-hour surcharge on both Metro North and the LIRR, charging a higher fare going into Penn/Grand Central in the morning and out in the evening. I know the MBCR lines don’t have the intensive levels of service that their New York counterparts have, but a surcharge of a couple of dollars for trains during rush hour would help raise some extra money from suburbanites. There are some problems with this, namely if the Zone 1A and Fairmount Line stations should be made exempt or not, but it’s worth the thought.

7: Take one for the team, Local 589
With service cuts come the inevitable complaints about unionized labor and all the negative stereotypes of unions and the “typical” unionized employee. While Local 589 doesn’t have the overtime abuse problems of TWU 100 and the other MTA unions or the mass corruption at ATU 689 at WMATA, I think that it might be a good PR move for Local 589 to make some concessions to help protect their jobs. Given the choice between voluntarily taking a pay rollback of a couple of percent and having jobs flat-out eliminated, I’d be willing to take that most Local 589 members would seriously consider the former. Such a move would be a sign of solidarity and would send a good message to a union-cynical public in a time when unions need the good PR.

I have one other bigger idea I’ll share in another post, but these would be better than getting rid of all weekend Commuter Rail service or ending bus service a good two hours before subway service. Then again, doomsday is doomsday and often doomsday never comes.



Proposal: Route 362 (Bedford-Downtown Express)

One of the most beloved parts of the transportation infrastructure of Greater Boston is the Minuteman Bikeway, the pioneering rail trail running along the former Lexington Branch between Alewife and Bedford. Though that branch had been in near-disuse for decades before its demise, to this day there is still a hole for one-seat service between Bedford, Lexington, and downtown Boston. Right now, many people take the drive into Alewife to park and take the Red Line with some hardy souls taking the 62 or 76 to connect and I think that there may be a market for an express bus or two linking the points.

On the Bedford end, the route I have an idea for is the 362 which would begin at the shopping center at the split of Routes 4/225 and 62 (why do you have two Great Road Shopping Centers, Bedford?), follow the current route of the 62 bus outside Route 128, run express on Routes 128 and 2 to Alewife, then work down Route 3 across the Charles to Storrow Drive eventually terminating downtown. If this sounds confusing, here’s the 362 illustrated in Google Maps form. Given the length of the 62, the lack of commuter rail, and for those who drive the lines getting out of Alewife’s garage, this could work the same way the 352, 354, or North Shore express routes work as a one-seat ride for an area without one otherwise.

If anyone has some input, please comment or Tweet me. I’m mulling the idea of routing this via I-93 or even the MassPike instead of bringing it through Cambridge as an Alewife stop may make this the first MBTA route with 3 fare buckets (Inner Express for Alewife, Outer for Downtown).

Proposal: 350 Limited

So, the last month on my end has been tumultuous. I moved from Saugus to Winchester concurrent with starting a new job in Burlington. Without going into detail, let’s just say that only getting an occasional ride on the 350 is the least of my worries lately but it means not much content to write about. Until today.

Getting off work, I walk the short distance to an inbound 350 stop to see a bunch of people waiting which is expected as it is a somewhat key stop (it has a shelter!). A bus comes by with a fully seated load and some standees and of the 45 or so passengers who were on when I boarded, all but a couple were still on when I got off about 15 minutes later. During my ride, I realized that a Limited version of the 350 would do wonders.

Having ridden the 350 many times, I’ve noticed that most people who board at Alewife ride until the corridor between the Crossroads and Burlington Mall with the reverse heading inbound with some in-between points getting some riders namely Arlington Center, Horn Pond Plaza, and Four Corners. Though this is a symptom of the gaping transit holes the Northwest suburbs have, there has to be something done to handle growing ridership. I think the solution may be to run a limited version of the 350 alternating with it as an overall service boost. Imagine a 350 which stopped only at the following

  • Alewife Station
  • Alewife Brook Parkway (Cambridge-Arlington Line)
  • Lake Street
  • Arlington Center
  • Winchester Country Club (Arlington-Winchester Line)
  • Church/High Streets
  • Horn Pond Plaza (Winchester-Woburn Line)
  • Woburn Four Corners
  • Lincoln Knoll Lane (Crossroads)
  • Wayside Road
  • Lahey Clinic
  • Northeast Executive Park
  • Burlington Mall
  • Northwest Park (not on the current 350 but with its redevelopment a future traffic generator)

I know that this often is what reality is for the 350 but it’d be a good thing to try especially with the 350 a route bursting at the seams. Let me know any feedback either in the comments or tweet me on Twitter. Be on the lookout for more proposals soon!

Kenmore (vs Navy Yard)

This weekend, the Red Sox will host the Washington Nationals for the first time since 2006 and for the second time since the Nationals moved from Montreal at the end of the 2004 season. As a former DC resident, I have a bit of a soft spot for the Nats (and the Expos before them and their Curly W logo back when it was “Senators retro”) and I have tickets for one of the games this weekend.

Since there was positive feedback to my “Bruins vs. Caps, T vs WMATA“) post on Boston to a T a couple months back, I think it’s a time for a sequel this time pitting Kenmore versus the opposition’s home station, Navy Yard on the Washington Metro. Two stadiums, two cities, two totally different Green Lines. Get your peanuts and Cracker Jack ready for a whole bunch of baseball-related puns!

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