The T is an absolute mess and disgrace

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The T is an absolute mess and disgrace

Postby trolleyguy » Wed Jan 12, 2005 12:25 am

(Please note: I submitted a variation of this commentary under 'Shawmut Station' earlier this month (January 2005), but I wanted to post the principal part of what I had to say there under its own heading, because I feel very strongly about it.)


Although there has been much hoopla in the press recently over the newly-opened Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit service from South Station to the South Boston piers area, what I saw in the Red Line part of South Station during my recent visit to Boston on Christmas Eve, 2004, was a most depressing mess - lots of unfinished work and a general sense that nobody gives a rusty damn how or when or even if the work ever gets done. There is an overall feeling of incompetence and poor workmanship evident in the various subway stations undergoing renovation throughout the T system. Although I now live in Chicago, I grew up in Boston and know it and the T well and, although things are not perfect here in Chicago, either, the CTA is in far better physical shape over-all than the MBTA is.

On the MBTA, the Red Line's trains I saw and rode on have become really quite shabby, with flat wheels on almost every train, and with many of the black cushioned seats on the older cars patched with black duct tape to cover tears or knife cuts in the upholstery. Dirty walls and trash on the floors, less-than-clean windows, and badly deteriorating exterior paint jobs on many of the older cars (not the 01800's, of course) are much in evidence. The din of the roar of the trains I rode through the subway from South Station to Harvard was almost deafening. The excessive noise is due to badly corrugated track (the surface of the rails is rippled, not smooth) - and flat wheels. The screeching of the wheels around curves (as when trains from/to Boston enter or leave Harvard Station) is inexcusable. You have no idea how much quieter your trains would be if these noise problems were taken care of! Why aren't they being taken care of? (HINT: grind the rails, true the wheels, lubricate the curves, teach the trains' operators not to lock up the wheels when braking!!!) Because, I contend, nobody in charge gives a damn what the T riding public has to put up with, as long as the T's junk-pile excuses for trains manage to get from one end of their runs to the other.

There are some stations and trains on the MBTA which I found to be cleaner and nicer-looking than the ones mentioned above, but on the whole, the MBTA fails to make a good impression on its riders. It is doing next to nothing to attract drivers from their automobiles, who would be repelled by the dirty and noisy trains and crappy-looking stations.

In contrast, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), within the last five years, has put much effort into keeping its trains clean, windows, walls, seats and floors included. The same is true for rail grinding and wheel trueing to keep corrugated rail noise and the "bang-bang-bang" of flat wheels to a minimum. Curves are well lubricated. Consequently, trains are now much quieter than they were even a couple of years ago. The CTA's buses are likewise kept much cleaner than they once were, and the new automated stop announcement system we have on our buses and trains works nearly flawlessly (I think it is based on a global-positioning satellite system which accurately determines the location of each train and bus). Again, this stop-announcement system is far better than the one the T uses.

Judging by what I saw at South Station and elsewhere, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for or expecting much of any real improvements to Shawmut Station or anywhere else on the T. From the many postings on this forum, and from my own observations, I have regretfully come to the conclusion that the MBTA is a disorganized and demoralized organization lacking any real leadership or motivation to provide a quality public transportation service. It does the absolute minimum it has to to "get by", and no more. The same 'we don't care' attitude underlies the Type 8 fiasco, which no properly-run public transit organization would have tolerated for anywhere nearly as long as the T did before it finally tossed in the Type 8 towel.

My understanding of why these sorry conditions continue to exist on the T is because, 1) it is chronically under-funded and, 2) it is a political football constantly being kicked around by the State Legislature, which is too preoccupied with other state business to pay much attention to what happens to Boston's public transportation system. Furthermore, I think that the T is still considered to be far less important in the public's eye than are expressways, parking garages and automobiles.

I look forward to seeing what the rest of you good people have to say about my comments here. :(

Postby octr202 » Wed Jan 12, 2005 8:46 am

I have to admit, I kind of agree. Of late most of my "off-MBTA" transit riding was on the Washington Metro, which is not really a good comparison to any older system. Trying to compare the MBTA to Metrorail just isn't a fair fight.

However, when I recently visited Chicago, I figured that the CTA and the MBTA would be a good comparison -- after all, both are maintaining and operating systems of roughly the same age, and, if anything, the CTA faces tougher budget problems than the T does. With that in mind, I expected to find transit in Chicago to be pretty similiar to the T.

What I did find rather pleasantly surprised me. Over a five day visit (which, I admit, in no way compares to daily usage), I was quite impressed with what I saw. A few comparisons, in a sort of head-to-head comparison as to who's doing a better job:

Vehicle maintenance: CTA. Buses, many older than most of the T's fleet, appeared to be in much better shape, and the El cars looked to be in very good condition. As Trolleyguy mentioned, I saw none of the ripped and torn seats, shattered windows, etc. that seem common on the T. One thing that the CTA has done is move to a uniform stainless steel finish (without paint) on all the cars -- while this is fairly plain looking, it made the cars look much more clean and modern compared to the often fading and cracked and peeling paint on MBTA subway cars (I'm thinking largely of the older Red Line cars and the Blue Line).

Vehicle cleanliness: CTA. While some of the El cars did have some bad odors to them, the cars were much cleaner. Not nearly as much trash. Buses were MUCH cleaner -- sometimes I wonder if T buses ever get cleaned.

Station cleanliness: Draw, maybe a slight edge to the MBTA. The T has, from what I've seen, done a much better job with routine cleaning (trash picked up, floors periodically scrubbed or machine buffed on the Red Line). The CTA seemed to be hit or miss as well -- one station might be great, another pretty cruddy.

Station conditions/maintenance: Draw -- The MBTA seems to do a (slightly) better job at maintaining some of its older stations, but the CTA's renovation projects looked much better. The MBTA doesn't seem able to keep newer stations looking new for very long -- think of Red Line from Harvard to Porter -- its hard to believe those stations are only 25 years old. Porter, with its grimy walls, is a real shame. In Chicago, the older stations were often downright shabby, but renovated ones were very nicely done. The State St. Subway entrances (Red Line) are a nice touch.

ASA Systems: CTA's works much better, and provides more information. I never heard it miss a stop once, and the only human intervention was making special announcements. I was surprised, though, that even the newest El cars lacked a visual component to the ASA -- it was audio only. (Side note: The terminal announcement, "This is <Station Name>, as far as this train goes" cracked me up. Are you implying that there's another train that goes further, even though the tracks end here?) CTA's bus ASA was very good -- unlike the T's newer buses, it always announced the street before you passed it.

Signange: Draw. MBTA stations are better marked, but CTA bus stops are better identified, and when there are shelters, there are maps in them showing bus and rail routes. The MBTA stations have a much more uniform look to them, with the color bands and common design. The CTA suffers from too many signage designs -- but newer stations seem to be getting a much more effective system. Navigating the transfer maze at Clark/Lake between the Loop El and the Blue Line/Dearborn St. Subway was very easy, despite the number of doors and escalators involved. However, in five days (including both riding to and from O'Hare, and one day of riding lines just for fun), I never once had to ask someone where to go. Visitors on the T seem more confused.

Airport connections: CTA. Logan may be closer, but Midway and O'Hare don't have bus connections, the train takes you to the airport. Much easier, if a longer ride (although the Orange Line to Midway is a fast ride (note to railfans -- the Midway Line is a good place to watch freight trains from the El, if you visit Chicago). To the T's credit, the poor connection at Logan is mostly the fault of Massport, but the bus ride is not a good first impression to leave visitors to Boston. Would have been nice to have a people mover to the airport station -- much easier with luggage.

Frequency and speed of service: Draw. The El lines in particular showed the signs of age -- many speed restrictions.

One final note: There was a different feeling I got from using the CTA, versus the T. From looking up information online, to ordering visitor passes, to the way employees and operators made helpful announcements, or held doors for someone running up at the last minute, the CTA gave me a feeling that they were actually trying to attract riders. It seemed like they were trying, within their power, to make the system work as well as they could. While a lot of MBTA employees do the same, I just don't get the same feeling on the T. The CTA felt like it was being run for the rider's benefit, I'm not always sure with the T.
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Postby RailBus63 » Wed Jan 12, 2005 9:18 am

As a native Bostonian it pains me to write this, but the city is disgustingly dirty. It is noticeably dirtier than any other major city I've visited, hands down. Too many people around Boston are pigs. Garbage is thrown anywhere and everywhere, even in the areas frequented by tourists. Barrels are emptied (not often enough), but when was the last time you saw a city worker picking up trash off the ground? New York City at least has the 'neighborhood improvement associations' where businesses pay for workers to pick up garbage and keep the streets clean. I've really noticed this since I moved out of the area - whenever I get back to the city, I'm appalled at the mess.

So it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that the MBTA is one of the dirtiest transit systems around. Buses in particular are much filthier than other systems I've ridden. My biggest pet peeve is those Metro newspapers, which most rider apparently leave on the seats and floor of the trains they rode in on. Those papers stay in those trains all day long. The MBTA should force the Metro newspaper company to put recycling bins in all stations.

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Postby Diverging Route » Wed Jan 12, 2005 9:38 am

One of the simpliest things the MBTA can do to clean up the system is to prohibit eating and drinking -- on the cars/buses, and in the stations. Certainly people can go for a few minutes without eating or drinking. I include the commuter rail on this as well. I can't tell you how many times I've almost sat down on a puddle of split coffee, or had to sit next to a slob having a "meal."

Look at WMATA and BART... they're both clean. And both prohibit food. And ENFORCE the prohibition - which is the key to the success.
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Postby octr202 » Wed Jan 12, 2005 11:35 am

I agree with eliminating food and drink from the system. However, that would mean the end of leasing space to coffee stands and vendors in stations, and given the push the T is on to raise non-fare revenue, that's unlikely.

Of course, if these rules were rigidly enforced, maybe the T would have a big new pot of funds from violators. But we all know how likely that is...
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Postby GP40MC 1116 » Wed Jan 12, 2005 2:21 pm

To be honest, why the trains and busses have ripped seats is people just don't care for the system. The MBTA can only do so much to keep things running good. Yes their are some transit systems in the US that are way better than the T, but for us people who ride/use the T alot year after year it gets the job done for us, minus the breakdowns and other uncontrolled factors. Were lucky it's their and we have it to use. Who knows if it's ever going to get to the level of perfection that we want it to, but it' wouldn't be the same T we go to know, thats apart of our lives. It's like pulling into Boylston and actually seeing nice bright lights, we like the dimmness and the history the system has. Anyways the T has alot of Negitive's but some positives as well
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Postby RailBus63 » Wed Jan 12, 2005 3:17 pm

GP40MC 1116 wrote:To be honest, why the trains and busses have ripped seats is people just don't care for the system. The MBTA can only do so much to keep things running good.

I can't buy the 'people don't appreciate the T' argument. Rapid transit lines in New York, Chicago and Washington serve high-crime areas the same as the MBTA does, but they manage to keep their cars clean and the seating intact. The MBTA has created the impression that they don't really care if trains and buses are kept clean. Ripped and stained seats stay ripped and stained. Car and bus interiors are cleaned at the end of the day, so when riders board a vehicle for the afternoon ride home and see newspapers strewn all over the floor and an empty soda can rolling around, they don't think twice about leaving their garbage. At this point, the MBTA would need to undertake a high-profile effort to change customer behavior, complete with fines for those caught littering.

Who knows if it's ever going to get to the level of perfection that we want it to, but it' wouldn't be the same T we go to know, thats apart of our lives. It's like pulling into Boylston and actually seeing nice bright lights, we like the dimmness and the history the system has.

I'm sure most commuters would prefer clean and well-lighted subway stations.

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Postby trolleyguy » Wed Jan 12, 2005 5:15 pm

I guess that Boston's transit-riding public has become insensitive to the dirt and decay of their stations, trains and buses from being constantly exposed to it. It's almost as if they wouldn't know what to do or say if they saw things improving. They are familiar, if not comfortable, with their dirty surroundings.

The most constructive step that T management can take is to require that train operators and bus drivers, as part of their duties, go through their trains and buses at the ends of each run to see that everything is in good order - and when they spot trash, spilled drinks, graffiti, etc., they notify cleaning crews by radio which car or cars need(s) attention. Then, a dedicated cleaning staff make a sweep of the train before it is allowed to depart on its next run. Bus drivers would likewise be required to go through their vehicle and pick up and dispose of trash everytime they reach the end of their runs. There should be a shed containing brooms and trash containers at each bus terminal. If this procedure is followed on a consistent basis, and the stations, buses and trains are mopped down and washed frequently, the public will very soon notice a big difference and will be far less inclined to leave messes behind, especially if they are fined for littering.

Clean, well-maintained trains and buses are absolutely essential, and should be of the highest priority to management, which is ultimately responsible for setting and maintaining standards of cleanliness and good repair. By and large, the public will treat public property with respect if it sees that the T management treats it with respect, too.

In Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) checks its trains at the end of each run - when a train comes in with damage or vandalizm to seats, windows, walls, etc., it is immediately taken out of service and the damage repaired. Graffiti is scrubbed off right away. Trash is removed. When vandals learn that they can't leave permanent markings, they eventually give up. Toronto's stations, streetcars, buses and trains are among the cleanest in North America. The TTC has earned its riders' good will and strong support.

Boston's transit system could be a very good ambassador and advertisement for the city, too, if T management would just make cleanliness, good service and good maintenance its top priority. I guarantee that Boston's riding public will respond most favorably. It will take time to change public attitudes, but they can be changed.

It is vital that the T learns to take pride in a job well done! They will earn for themselves a great amount of good will.

Postby RailBus63 » Wed Jan 12, 2005 5:38 pm

New York City also has cleaning crews go through each subway train upon arrival at terminals - these crews pick up trash and wipe down any graffiti found. Their trains are noticeably cleaner than MBTA trains. I'm not sure if similar procedures are used on bus routes.

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Postby njt/mnrrbuff » Wed Jan 12, 2005 5:51 pm

Yes MBTA needs has a lot of explaining to do in terms of cleanliness. The subway stations are on the other side of being clean. The commuter rail double decker cars should be cleaned on the windows.
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Postby BC Eagle » Wed Jan 12, 2005 7:02 pm

A few comments...

First, I think to a certain extent Bostonians behavior towards the T is a result of the T's actions, behavior, and attitude. As was touched upon earlier, after seeing newspapers, coffee cups, bottles, and God knows what else strewn all over the place, people just don't care. But I think it goes further than that. Now, I know this doesn't apply to all of the T's employees, but the majority I've dealt with just don't seem to give a damn about their passengers. Who's going to think twice about leaving their trash on a train if the operator tried to close the doors in your face? If they don't give a damn about you, why should you for them? That's the kind of mentality that this city has towards the T, and in order to change that, it must begin with the T. (Again, I don't want to diminish T employees who DO care, and ARE helpful, I've met several, but from my experience they truly are the minority.)

In regards to food and beverage on the T, good luck with that. I don't think that would really fix the heart of the problem, and I also don't think it would ever happen. Even if it did, there would be no enforcing it. Bostonians are set in their ways, and would NEVER simply accept that they weren't allowed to eat or drink on the T anymore. Especially people with longer commutes who depend on their morning coffee, or buying a bagel, sandwich etc. from one of the station vendors. The T would never properly enforce it, and Bostonians would never acquiesce. The policy would be abandoned after 6 months to a year.

As far as checking the trains at the end of each run, I've seen it done on a limited basis at least. Every morning the inspector at Oak Grove walks through a train after it pulls in, picking up the hundreds of metros, etc. I've also noticed that when a trolley finishes its run at Government Center, the two operators walk through the train before turning around for the next run. I've always assumed it was to grab the trash, etc., but maybe they're just making sure the train is empty. As for the buses, I can’t really comment. The last time I took a bus, I saw a woman throw up on the floor, and then had to ride the bus for another 25 minutes with it all over the floor. Yeah, so there’s that.
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Postby MBTA1 » Wed Jan 12, 2005 8:12 pm

Here's my two cents, I have lived in Boston my whole life and have noticed a few things.

1) People in Boston are ignorant; they can complain and complain but when asked to do something its "not their job" or "they don't feel like it". They can complain about a coke bottle on the floor but won't pick it up.

2) People in Boston are slobs; the MBTA is a beautiful system but as I said about the Coke bottle, Bostonians believe somebody will come along and pick it up, but the MBTA is poor, and people do not realize it.

3) Lack of Respect; maybe I am delusional but people always diss the vehicles, yet they do not understand that these vehicles are not like toyota's or Ford's, they run about 20 to 21 hours a day, and though they get some days off they operate back to back in some of the worst weather conditions in the county and are abused by their slobby, ignorant riders.
[quote]GP40MC 1116 wrote:
To be honest, why the trains and busses have ripped seats is people just don't care for the system. The MBTA can only do so much to keep things running good.

I can't buy the 'people don't appreciate the T' argument. Rapid transit lines in New York, Chicago and Washington serve high-crime areas the same as the MBTA does, but they manage to keep their cars clean and the seating intact. [/quote] crime has nothing to do with it, buses on the 455 are as dirty as the buses on the 66 or the 39. The T can not clean the vehicles because its not on the top of their list, their trying to get over a 600 million + debt.

Postby Mdlbigcat » Wed Jan 12, 2005 8:50 pm

Reading some of the comments, I would think I would be riding SEPTA here in Philly, the similarities are uncanny.

Now when I visited Boston in September, I noticed how shabby the subway cars looked [especially on the Red, Blue, and Orange Lines]. In Philly, the Broad St cars have passed their 21st birthday, and they still look almost new [except for some small scratchitti on the windows]. The 5 to 6 year old Market-Frankford cars have those shabby cloth seats [a MAJOR blunder on SEPTA's part], but those seats will be gone soon [they will be replaced by bus-type seats]. The Kawasaki cars on our Subway-Surface lines [some people here in Philly call them the Green Lines too!] have soldiered for 25 years and tend to still look and ride like they were new. The K cars on the Media-Sharon Hill lines look and run even better in the burbs. Last, but not least, the N5 cars on the Norristown Line [now age 10] still has the best and softest seats in the system.

As far as habits, I find that Bostonians, New Yorkers, and Philadelphians are almost the same concerning how the riders treat their transit equipment. The same messy conditions you mentioned can be found in all three cities. A surprising place you can find messy trains is in Washington, DC, particularly since WMATA got rid of the trashcans in the stations, on a lot of trains, I see a load of discarded papers on the train, though you do not find food and drinks on WMATA since the cops are real pricks about that.

The thing that makes people in NY and Philly complain so much is that both systems charge 2 bucks a ride, that'll piss anybody off at the farebox. I'm still trying to figure out your byzantine fare procedures [one fare for buses, one for subway, double fares in some areas, and the kicker: the freebie outbounds on the Green Line surface portions.]

SEPTA [despite it's poverty] keeps the stations up [especially the ones rehabbed. The hellholes at Girard, Spring Garden, Fairmount and North Philly, on the Broad St Line, need a LOT of work], and I think MTA in NYC just has to deal with the sheer number of stations in their system, but I think that they do a good job, especially at their transfer and terminal stations.

Basically, dirt [abuse, neglect] is relative no matter where you go. In each city its the good with the bad.
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Postby ST214 » Wed Jan 12, 2005 8:53 pm

I hate to say it, but the commuter rail is becoming as bad as the subways. there is trash everywhere, windows/floors never cleaned, grafitti on walls/carved into windows, and stabbed/slashed seats repaired with ducttape. Metro-North doesn't even look that bad and they run thru upper harlem and the Bronx.
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Postby efin98 » Wed Jan 12, 2005 10:29 pm

No system is perfect, no matter what the T does people will find something to complain about. "My bus is late" Sorry, but the T can't control traffic despite the cries of so-called "experts" who ride a bus once and think they know everything about it. "My train and or bus takes forever" Sorry that the line doesn't have the same ridership at all hours of the day and night and it makes no sense to run more trains and buses when they will be empty! "My train has to stop at every stop" Sorry, but the T can't help it if their trains are packed to the brim with people who have every bit as much right to ride the train as you and who actually get on/off at stop other than the huge ones. "My trains and buses are old" Sorry if the T runs buses on one line that are still good and are going to be replaced in a few years as opposed to spending huge amounts of money to replace equiptment that are not ready for retirement!

You want spotless trains and better service? Dig into your wallet and be ready to pay more to take the buses and trains otherwise shut up! It costs money and if you are not willing to pay up then shut up!


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