Realistic opinions please.

Discussion relating to commuter rail, light rail, and subway operations of the MBTA.

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Realistic opinions please.

Postby jg greenwood » Wed Dec 08, 2004 5:34 pm

As a long time resident of Illinois, I'm completely clueless as to the.......solvency of the MBTA. Those of you from that "neck of the woods", is the MBTA considered a success story? I'm primarily interested in their rail operations.
Thanks for your thoughts.
jg greenwood

Postby vanshnookenraggen » Wed Dec 08, 2004 6:06 pm is better than no transit at all. There are alot of problems with the T but I'd say for the most part it isn't that bad. I might reconsider that the next time I am waiting for a trolly or a bus when it is snowing and 10 below but from what I have hear and experienced from other sytems Bostons T is pretty good.
I think what we would all like is it to be much better. We all gawk over how great European and Asian systems are but that is because they are given a lot more money from the government.

So is the T a success? I'd say so. But there is a lot that needs to be fixed.

Postby MBTA1 » Wed Dec 08, 2004 6:12 pm

People in Boston love to complain about everything. What they don't see is that we pay the least and that our service is acctually quite good. I would bet money on the MBTA against other American transit systems

Postby trigonalmayhem » Wed Dec 08, 2004 6:53 pm

Quite honestly we do get a lot for our money.

That said, I think we need a lot more, but I understand that it can't happen without adequate funding (and possibly better management of funds, which seems to always be a problem with any sort of public "Authority").
My main concern is how the federal and state governments don't seem to make transit funding a priority.

Getting slightly off-topic for a second, it amazes me how New York state seems to think the MTA should be entirely self-sufficient (yet pays boatloads of money to highway interests). Boston at least isn't *that* bad (yet), but its huge investment in the big dig (and all the cost overruns and problems its poor management have caused) have sucked the coffers dry, leaving very little funding for transit. Instead of expanded rail service we get half-baked BRT lines and the state/authority trying to weasel out of legal obligations for system expansion because there's no money for it.
So really it does all come down to money, and in my mind the federal government is certainly partially to blame (although the TEA is definitely taking strides towards righting some of these issues), but most of the blame lies with the state government and their seeming lack of concern for public transit interests.

Postby SnoozerZ49 » Wed Dec 08, 2004 8:24 pm

Regarding the T's "solvency" I am sure someone can relate the funding mechanism that the T has in place. Traditionally it spent what it wanted and the "tab" was paid by the cities and towns that form the authorities membership ( plus of course federal transit money). I believe though that that formula was changed as the T ahs escaped the funding crisis that seems to be gripping systems around the country. I believe that we probably have one of the best off peak ( nights and weekend) commuter rail systems in the country besides NYC. It seems the big problems are not in capitol appropriations but in maintenance and repair funding.

Can someone explain this? I wish I could remember what the T's budget and funding format looks like.

In the words of Theo Epstein the GM of the Red Sox " world series or not Boston will always be the grumpiest city in America".
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Postby NRGeep » Wed Dec 08, 2004 8:34 pm

Having lived in both Chicago and Boston I think the Chicago bus system is more reliable and the bus drivers in general are friendlier, but hey it's the Midwest. Also, the L seems to run more frequently than the T subways but Chicago is a much bigger city. As for commuter rail: I've taken it alot more out here in Boston than I did in 'Chicagoland' but I never had any problems with lines out to Aurora and Geneva when I used them and it seems the T Commuter rail is comparable though I miss seeing Amtrak locos occasionally running down the Fitchburg now that they don't operate the T anymore. Of course Chicago stays open later than Boston so 24 hour service on some bus lines and subways is more neccesary than Boston though it would be great to have a few subway lines run till 3pm on weekends, 'night owl' buses notwithstanding... :wink:
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Postby bierhere » Thu Dec 09, 2004 9:30 am

I grew up in New Jersey, so I'll compare NJ Transit commuter rail versus MBTA commuter rail.

I grew up in Matawan which is one of the largest stations on the NJ Transit North Coast Line. I now commute on the MBTA Worcester line.

Big thing to remember: NJ Transit has about double the ridership of MBTA, so the comparison is a little unfair. And, NJ Transit owns the tracks where MBTA is stuck running on CSX tracks at least in my comparison

* NJ Transit has much more frequent service that MBTA ( Current schedule from Matawan is 6-8 trains during rush hour )
* NJ Transit has much more off-peak service ( 1 per hour, where MBTA service could be 1-3 hrs between off-peak trains )
* NJ Transit has ability to run express trains past locals ( which made for better scheduling )
* NJ Transit has electricified almost all lines. Disesels were converted in the 70's/80's. While the conversion was going on, it was a big pain because they would run trains from Newark to South Amboy as electric and then disesel and then later the swithc was moved to Matawan and finally the trains run all the way to Bay Head electric
* Equipment on NJ TRansit is generally more modern. My father was visiting a couple of weeks ago. He came in on the MBTA commuter rail and his comment was "We had trains like this 10 year ago".

Having said all this, I'm still happy being able to take an MBTA comutter rail train to work. I just wish service would be more frequent and that there would be more express trains.
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Postby johnpbarlow » Thu Dec 09, 2004 12:43 pm

I have lived in the Boston area for the last 24 years and the T has made a lot of improvements in commuter rail operations. When I moved here in 1980, the Framingham commuter rail line ran only 4-5 trains in rush hour only on Monday-Friday using pretty rag tag stuff like de-engined RDCs (but the T did operate D&H PAs for awhile). Today, service on this line goes to Worcester; there is Saturady and Sunday service. Equipment is at least newer if not in reasonable shape (some coach windows are a little opaque). The T rebuilt commuter rail to the South Shore to Middleboro/Plymouth/Kingston. Rush hour service was extended to Providence. There were north side extensions to Newburyport. And more expansion is underway with the rebuilding of the Greenbush line. Much of the T owned trackage has been extensively renewed with CWR and even concrete ties. So I think the T has done pretty well by improving Hub-centric operations.

However, the T doesn't do much for the workers in the 128 and 405 corridors, except to remove some Boston commuter traffic. And you can't use the T commuter rail to easily get to any major Boston area airport.
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Postby efin98 » Thu Dec 09, 2004 1:49 pm

This is a loaded question...

The T is better than no service at all and a vast improvement over what was there before. How many other commuter rail operations can claim to have had continuous commuter rail service over the years with service expansion to areas that haven't seen trains in nearly 40 years? How about bringing together three seperate bus systems into one single operation based out of the various hubs with transfers at at least one point to rail lines?

Unless I am mistaken the T is the only commuter rail, rapid transit, bus, and light rail operator who coordinates fares between different modes while keeping a seperate fare structure for each mode. Passes from a combo pass and above good on multiple services? Something not even New York has accomplished...

None of the operations have been able keep keep decent service for a bargain rate. The T can lay claim to the lowest base fares in the country for a major transit system! New York, Chicago, DC, Philly, San Fransisco can't claim that. And if you include the costs of express buses and the various north and south shore and I93 zoned buses it's still cheaper compared to other cities. A $2.15 fare for a three seat ride in Boston- you can't get that anywhere else. It's at least 2/3rds of the price of the closest fare for compareable systems.

The T has it's quirks in the system like the costs of express bus and zoned buses but that's the same EVERYWHERE. Same is true for zoned rail service! You pay for going through another fare zone. Sorry if that affects some the wrong way BUT there are built in discounts that NOONE seems to BOTHER to acknowlege. Braintree and Riverside service is expensive BUT there are coupons willingly given out for the service that people don't remember are there. It's a fact of life: the farther away you live, the more expensive the ride to work is.

Postby RailBus63 » Thu Dec 09, 2004 2:51 pm

Like most major systems, the MBTA has its pros and cons:

- Base fares are less expensive than most other major cities
- Extensive system modernization since the 1960's
- Commuter rail service and route expansion since 1970's
- Most outlying rapid transit stations have busways, and bus-rail connections are better than in other older cities such as NYC and Philadelphia
- Extensive park-and-ride options available

- System is geared towards moving people in and out of the central city, and does little to serve suburban work areas
- Separate fares collected for rail and bus
- Entire system shuts down nightly between 1 and 5 a.m. (except for minimal 'Night Owl' late runs on Fridays and Saturdays)
- Less operational discipline than NYC, Toronto, Chicago, etc. 'Inspectors' come up from the rank-and-file (and may move back down) and don't appear willing to come down when needed on their co-workers
- Based on personal observation, vehicle interiors are typically dirtier than many other TA's. Exterior washing is also inconsistent
- Stations look great when new, but usually become dirty within a few years
- Pet peeve - for some reason, the MBTA tends to spec big heavy metal doors for entranceways at new or rebuilt stations that always break quickly and are difficult to open and/or close after a while

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Postby efin98 » Thu Dec 09, 2004 3:52 pm

smashmont wrote:The coupons are for short trips within the South Shore or Newton zones, or a bulk discount on Newton through service. Many other cities have bulk discount purchase programs for the general public, and they are valid for the entire system. New York, Montreal, and Philadelphia come to mind.

Since when has the coupon not been able to be used in additon to the base fare on the D and Braintree lines?

And bulk programs don't have anything to do with the higher fares, each of them have higher fares for zoned buses and expresses like the North and South Shore buses and expresses.

A $2 flat fare -- no zone surcharges, good for the train and two buses -- in both NYC and Chicago will take you much farther than $2.10 does in Boston. You can see this demonstrated on the following page, which graphically scales the density and range of Boston's rapid transit to other cities':

With a rail and bus system spread out over a huge area like Chicago or New York that's easy to accomplish HOWEVER the vast majority of riders for each take either trains OR buses to get where they need to go. The bus and rail systems in those cities are integrated together in that passengers need to take either or to get where they need to go, not so for those who travel on the MBTA.

Postby octr202 » Thu Dec 09, 2004 4:10 pm

However, when you consider that Boston is a much smaller city (and I'm including the inner suburbs), there is still extensive area not covered by the subway. NYC, Chicago, and some others are light years ahead of Boston in the fare structure for bus-rail trips. After all, why is my trip from Watertown to Boston almost twice the price of a trip from, say, Malden to Boston. Just because I have to use a bus for part of my trip? I hope, at some point under AFC, that the concept of free or low cost transfers between the bus and rail systems are considered. The two-tier system employed here also serves to entrench the division between bus and rail services. As they cost less, bus service is seen as inferior to rail -- as merely a feeder service, despite the fact that in many areas (even large parts of the city of Boston itself) they are the only transit services. At times it seems as if this becomes a self-fufilling prophecy with regards to the MBTA's bus system -- reenforcing that notion of being the "second class" part of the system. Unfortunately, this wall between the two parts of our transit system is well-entrenched, both in the minds of the MBTA and its riders.

I think, that if the quality of bus service could be improved, it might be possible to raise the issue of going to a NYC-style fare structure (i.e., charging the same base fare on bus and train, but allowing transfers between the two). This could be done without eliminating the zones on bus routes, or the higher charges longer rail lines. Ideally, this would both fuel greater use of the bus system, and eliminate the need for those wanting to stretch their fare to use slower buses for long trips when/if a rail option is available.

To tie it back into Chicago, I'll be visiting that city in January for the first time of any consequence. I'm very much looking forward to exploring the L and maybe Metra if there's time. Considering the similiar age of much of the system, it'll be interesting to see how another transit authority that isn't New York is coping with bringing a 100 year old system up to date.
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Postby Noel Weaver » Fri Dec 10, 2004 12:35 am

I have ridden various transit systems and commuter rail lines over the
years in many different places.
I think the Boston system overall does a good job with what they have to
work with.
A couple of ideas here, please don't bite my head off, they are just ideas.
I would suggest an increase in the basic fare for rapid transit operations
but I would also use an all day pass for a set fare, still higher than the
present fares. What would I use the increased revenues for, to clean up
the system somewhat, stations are about the dirtiest of any place I have
ridden subways etc, I would run a basic service during the middle of the
night, probably two trains per hour on the rapid transit lines. People who
get out of work during the late night hours or have to go to work during
late night hours will ride in the other direction during more normal hours
and this would generally increase ridership.
I guess they are in the process of going to a fare collection system that is
something like the system in New York. I think that would help.
Finally, send some of the operators and others who deal with the public to
a "charm school". The trolley operators and fare collectors are just about
the most discourteous of anyplace that I have ridden trolleys.
I think the commuter rail system is one of the best in the country and it
has always been a pleasant experience for me to ride it. To be fair to
those who may not agree with me, I am not a regular user of it of course
and I last rode a Boston commuter train in 2003.
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Postby jwhite07 » Fri Dec 10, 2004 9:57 am

What would I use the increased revenues for, to clean up
the system somewhat, stations are about the dirtiest of any place I have
ridden subways

You've apparently not spent much time in Philadelphia...

Generally I find Boston's subway system to be pretty darn good compared to other cities I have been to (lessee here... NYC, Newark, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Baltimore, DC, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose, Toronto, that I can think of at the moment). For a city of its size, the MBTA is quite comprehensive and convenient. Several times when visiting Washington DC (which supposedly has the "best" subway in the country) I found it ridiculous and maddening to have to pay for a taxi to get to Union Station because the subway didn't start running until 8:00am on Sundays! I couldn't even figure out why Buffalo bothered to have rail transit at all. San Francisco's system is big and goes about everywhere, but buses are dirty, late, and constantly packed, and I have yet to see any other place with such utter hordes of panhandlers!

Boston's not the best (from the list above, that honor would easily go to Toronto), but it is nonetheless an excellent system in many ways.
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Postby efin98 » Fri Dec 10, 2004 6:11 pm

jwhite07 wrote:Boston's not the best (from the list above, that honor would easily go to Toronto), but it is nonetheless an excellent system in many ways.

Funny you mention Toronto, I find it to be as close to Boston as any of the other major systems...Boston could teach Toronto a thing or two about street car tunneling(they have one, but they desperately need a second one) and Toronto can teach Boston about coordinating bus and rail fares and service better(free bus/rail transfers at stations, unified lower fares($1.75USD, not too bad!).


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