Review of a recent MBTA experience

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Review of a recent MBTA experience

Postby MattW » Mon Jul 02, 2012 4:47 pm

I was recently on vacation in Boston and thought I'd share my bad experience with the system. Some of this does involve bus riding, but I'm including it so the whole story is out there and some of this includes bus to rail problems. I will not include exact dates, times, or trains or other specific information that could potentially come back on the employees of the MBTA.

We took the MBTA commuter rail from Route 128 into the city on a Saturday to see the USS Constition and the Science Museum. The commuter rail ride was ok and the conductor was pleasant and efficient when he sold us our tickets to Back Bay. The train was a set of Bi-Levels and was fast and comfortable, but there were no station announcements so we accidentally got off at Ruggles instead of Back Bay. Fortunately, I realized the mistake within a second and we bounced back on board (I realize now that Ruggles would have also worked given that it's also an Orange line station). At the Back Bay Orange Line station, there was no clear directional on which train to take into Boston, I had to rely on my own sense of direction and which direction the trains were traveling. Boarding the Orange Line, I was far from impressed. The trains looked old, smelled terrible, felt rickety when moving, and the announcements were unintelligible to the point that I had to stare at the in-train map and count stations until we reached Haymarket.

At Haymarket, we boarded a bus toward the USS Constitution. The bus driver had another passenger who needed to get off a few stops after ours, but near the Constitution, so when we hit the stop request button, the driver kept going and only once we spoke up did they stop (about 1/8 mile past the stop and in less than great weather conditions). Then the driver gave us unclear directions for the return route. When we finally did find the stop just before the return bus arrived (which is very unclear, just a "T" in a circle and no other identification), the bus driver made a remark about "not walking all the way down" to a previous stop (by the bus's direction, not ours). Returning to the Haymarket station was similarly bad. The announcements only listed cross streets and no station stops whatsoever, and the stations were not well market. We finally just got off about where I thought the station was and it turns out we were just a half block down the road. However, when we asked this other driver where it was, they muttered something about crossing the street...so we did, and not seeing any signage, proceeded down the block in the wrong direction. We finally found a street map and I worked out where we were and walked on to the station, but the station sign that was there was tiny, and blends in real well with the background, particularly with the weather that day.

Boarding the Green Line on the Lechmere bound track, there was no indication on the train of its route, and [wrongly] assuming that once the branches converged in downtown, they'd all run to Lechmere. Shortly before the North Station stop, we hear something unintelligible about terminating, and sure enough, the train goes out of service. The next train goes through and we see the museum and return to the Green line and head for South Station to get lunch before going back to Route 128. The return from the museum however, was the climax of this odyssey (and not in the good way). This train has got to be the loudest train I've ever heard! The squealing was so loud, I wouldn't have been surprised if the windows had all just shattered right then and there. I know why it squealed, the curves are tight, but that's no excuse. The curves can be straightened, better sound insulation can be used, steerable trucks used, better rail greasing, or better yet, ALL OF IT! Suffice to say, I'm never riding the Green Line again until it's fixed.

The rest of the trip was basically ok. The signage was confusing, and I still had to station-count and hope we were on the right platform on the Red Line, but at least the commuter rail back (single-level equipment) had station announcements and was just as fast and comfortable with good personnel as the inbound train had. But suffice to say, I'm not planning to ride the MBTA transit again unless it's fixed and has better information on where to go. I'll also note that just two days before, we used the NYC transit and subway for the first time as well and have no problems whatsoever, in fact, I'd hold the NYC system as a model transit system and wish Boston would learn from them. In the future, I'll rent a car or use a cab (and yes, I know what driving in Boston is like, I've done it before).
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Re: Review of a recent MBTA experience

Postby BostonUrbEx » Mon Jul 02, 2012 5:26 pm

MattW wrote:We took the MBTA commuter rail from Route 128 into the city on a Saturday to see the USS Constition and the Science Museum. The commuter rail ride was ok and the conductor was pleasant and efficient when he sold us our tickets to Back Bay. The train was a set of Bi-Levels and was fast and comfortable, but there were no station announcements so we accidentally got off at Ruggles instead of Back Bay. Fortunately, I realized the mistake within a second and we bounced back on board (I realize now that Ruggles would have also worked given that it's also an Orange line station). At the Back Bay Orange Line station, there was no clear directional on which train to take into Boston, I had to rely on my own sense of direction and which direction the trains were traveling. Boarding the Orange Line, I was far from impressed. The trains looked old, smelled terrible, felt rickety when moving, and the announcements were unintelligible to the point that I had to stare at the in-train map and count stations until we reached Haymarket.


This is unusual, as the commuter rail has been programmed to automatically make all station announcements. And on my line, you have both automatic announcements AND the conductors yell them out anyway. I can't comment much on the Orange Line directions, but there should be signs that say "Inbound to Oak Grove via Downtown Crossing" or "Outbound to Forest Hills". The Orange Line has the 2nd oldest cars in the MBTA system, and they are well beyond replacement. Replacement orders have been continually delayed by administration but I believe the order is out to bid or design or something.


MattW wrote:At Haymarket, we boarded a bus toward the USS Constitution. The bus driver had another passenger who needed to get off a few stops after ours, but near the Constitution, so when we hit the stop request button, the driver kept going and only once we spoke up did they stop (about 1/8 mile past the stop and in less than great weather conditions). Then the driver gave us unclear directions for the return route. When we finally did find the stop just before the return bus arrived (which is very unclear, just a "T" in a circle and no other identification), the bus driver made a remark about "not walking all the way down" to a previous stop (by the bus's direction, not ours). Returning to the Haymarket station was similarly bad. The announcements only listed cross streets and no station stops whatsoever, and the stations were not well market. We finally just got off about where I thought the station was and it turns out we were just a half block down the road. However, when we asked this other driver where it was, they muttered something about crossing the street...so we did, and not seeing any signage, proceeded down the block in the wrong direction. We finally found a street map and I worked out where we were and walked on to the station, but the station sign that was there was tiny, and blends in real well with the background, particularly with the weather that day.


The cross streets ARE the bus "stations". When the bus gets to Haymarket, it actually says Haymarket. And I believe both of Charlestown's bus routes will terminate there and its "everyone off!".


MattW wrote:Boarding the Green Line on the Lechmere bound track, there was no indication on the train of its route, and [wrongly] assuming that once the branches converged in downtown, they'd all run to Lechmere. Shortly before the North Station stop, we hear something unintelligible about terminating, and sure enough, the train goes out of service. The next train goes through and we see the museum and return to the Green line and head for South Station to get lunch before going back to Route 128. The return from the museum however, was the climax of this odyssey (and not in the good way). This train has got to be the loudest train I've ever heard! The squealing was so loud, I wouldn't have been surprised if the windows had all just shattered right then and there. I know why it squealed, the curves are tight, but that's no excuse. The curves can be straightened, better sound insulation can be used, steerable trucks used, better rail greasing, or better yet, ALL OF IT! Suffice to say, I'm never riding the Green Line again until it's fixed.


Again, this is also unusual. The Green Line trains always display their terminus (ie Government Center, North Station, or Lechmere). As for sound, the MBTA is experimenting with various methods on the Mattappan trolley line. Reducing curve radii would be incredibly expensive. Numerous curves would have to be fixed. The rails are greased, and in some places, even greased by hand.


MattW wrote:The rest of the trip was basically ok. The signage was confusing, and I still had to station-count and hope we were on the right platform on the Red Line, but at least the commuter rail back (single-level equipment) had station announcements and was just as fast and comfortable with good personnel as the inbound train had. But suffice to say, I'm not planning to ride the MBTA transit again unless it's fixed and has better information on where to go. I'll also note that just two days before, we used the NYC transit and subway for the first time as well and have no problems whatsoever, in fact, I'd hold the NYC system as a model transit system and wish Boston would learn from them. In the future, I'll rent a car or use a cab (and yes, I know what driving in Boston is like, I've done it before).


Really? It's not that hard to use. I could understand all of your venting, but half of your experience was bad luck. If you can wing it on the MTA, there's absolutely no reason why you can't use the MBTA, like... seriously.
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Re: Review of a recent MBTA experience

Postby 3rdrail » Mon Jul 02, 2012 7:38 pm

I think that this pretty well sums it up:
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Re: Review of a recent MBTA experience

Postby RailBus63 » Mon Jul 02, 2012 8:49 pm

3rdrail wrote:I think that this pretty well sums it up:


Yep.

I do find it curious that the poster has no problems navigating Boston's maze of poorly-marked streets by auto but had difficulty using public transit. If you can presumably use a map to figure out where you are driving, why wouldn't you do the same when planning a transit trip?
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Re: Review of a recent MBTA experience

Postby SM89 » Tue Jul 03, 2012 7:11 am

All of the station interiors are well signed. I don't see why you had to stress to count stops when you could just look out the window at each station.
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Re: Review of a recent MBTA experience

Postby djlong » Tue Jul 03, 2012 7:35 am

Part of the OP's problem with the Green Line is believed to be unfixable - the tight curves causing a lot of squeal.

For years, I believed the 'standard line' about how it would be financially impossible to straighten the curves and that there was nothing they could do.

I believed that from when I was a child in 1971 and rode the Green Line for the first time until September 29, 2010.

I was in Dublin, Ireland and rode their new LUAS trams. They navigate turns just as tight as Boston and follow roads up a thousand years older than Boston's.

It *can* be done. The Green Line *can* be incredible. The MBTA just seems to have some blind spots when it comes to this.
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Re: Review of a recent MBTA experience

Postby KEN PATRICK » Tue Jul 03, 2012 11:47 am

mattw; why didn't you rent a car? or ask some of us about the chopped-up mbta system before embarking on a mini death march.good thing you were'nt trying to go to the airport reflect upon our past governor's decision to abandon federal funding for i-95 expansion from 128 thru the city- all of 5 miles- to where you wanted to go. instead we have $14bil of new roads and you still can't get there easily from where you started. ken patrick
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Re: Review of a recent MBTA experience

Postby MBTA3247 » Tue Jul 03, 2012 8:28 pm

MattW wrote:Returning to the Haymarket station was similarly bad. The announcements only listed cross streets and no station stops whatsoever, and the stations were not well market. We finally just got off about where I thought the station was and it turns out we were just a half block down the road.

Have you ever ridden a city bus before? Bus stops are typically named after the nearest cross-street unless there's an important landmark there, and I'm pretty certain that's true regardless of what city you're in. As Haymarket, being a subway station, qualifies as a major landmark, and our buses announce when they're at stops with subway connections, it's entirely your own fault if you got off before the bus got there.
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Re: Review of a recent MBTA experience

Postby mattl » Tue Jul 03, 2012 11:39 pm

At the Back Bay Orange Line station, there was no clear directional on which train to take into Boston


As you were already in Boston, I wouldn't expect there was. However, there are maps that show the system and signs that say "Trains to Forest Hills" and "Trains to Oak Grove" -- both of which are at the ends of the line.
Oh, I bet you read a lot of Gordon Wood, huh? You read your Gordon Wood and you regurgitate it from a textbook, and you think you're awesome doing that and how 'bout them apples and all that Gordon Wood business?
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Re: Review of a recent MBTA experience

Postby R36 Combine Coach » Wed Jul 04, 2012 6:41 pm

MattW wrote:Boarding the Orange Line, I was far from impressed. The trains looked old, smelled terrible, felt rickety when moving, and the announcements were unintelligible to the point that I had to stare at the in-train map and count stations until we reached Haymarket.

The 01200s date back to when Carter and Mondale were in the White House (1980!) and have not seen any major overhaul program (brown rust can be seen on many cars). They are due for replacement in about a decade. The wood trim interior does, however give a 1970s feel, not unlike a R44/46.
Since my friend continues to chain smoke nonstop, she is probably an Alco.
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Re: Review of a recent MBTA experience

Postby BostonUrbEx » Thu Jul 05, 2012 7:10 am

Here's a review of my recent experience:

So you pull into the new garage at Wonderland, and it is spotless (well, I'd hope so at this point) and gleaming. The rates are quite clearly established at the entry, and 0-14 hours is just $5 -- that's pretty good for an MBTA garage right now! Staff immediately run at you with a smile and try to help you, too! As you make your way to the well kept station, there's more staff to help you, waiting for people going to the trains or to the buses or to the garage so they can direct you. A sparkling new train pulls up in a moment and then you're off. Automatic announcements were crystal clear and next thing you know, you're at Aquarium and you can run up to the Charlestown ferry where some friendly ferry staff greet everyone aboard. Oh!, and on the return trip? It was free, to handle the throngs of people. The signs were so easy -- down one set of stairs to go outbound to Wonderland, or down the other to go inbound to Bowdoin. And leaving the garage, more friendly staff ready to run at you, but the garage is so easy to use that it was unnecessary. And then the staff thanked me and smiles as I left. Like woah.
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Re: Review of a recent MBTA experience

Postby diburning » Thu Jul 05, 2012 6:42 pm

I had to do a double take because I thought I was on Yelp for a second there.
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Re: Review of a recent MBTA experience

Postby jscola30 » Thu Jul 05, 2012 11:48 pm

I got to NYC a few times a year and ride the subway (for fun! imagine that!). While I agree that NYC has a better transit system than Boston's (of course, being the size NYC is, it MUST have one, however, I will say, I recently subscribed to MTA alerts, and the system is well...not as problem free as I once thought), I cannot see how the MTA is more confusing than the MBTA. For one thing, not to put myself on a pedestal, but I consider myself to be pretty transit savy and every once in a while it confuses even me. For example, it took me a while to understand the Downtown in Boston and Downtown in Manhattan refer to two completely different things. So if you don't know that, imagine like, what confusion a sign that says "Uptown via the 7th Ave. Express" could cause. Furthermore, I can't fathom to see how the green line is anymore confusing than trying to get around Manhattan by any of the subways. Again if you've never been, pretty much all of the subway lines at one point share another's track and they are grouped by color; so you have like ACE, 123, 456, BDF, NQR, etc. And of course, while they may share the same track, not all trains will stop at all stations. Some trains are locals, some are express, and some just...I can't explain it...and then variously, probably more so than in Boston, let's say you board an A train (usually an express), let's say there's a problem somewhere, they'll announce it's going local or vice versa. AND AND AND AND, some trains are local in one borrough and express in another or between stops. That's something you just have to know by reading maps. AND AND AND AND AND, some trains can operate over each other's lines that aren't normally grouped (usually when there's work). For example, when I was there once, A trains were operating over the F line between a few stops in Manhattan. Now as far as clarity goes, I will say, moreso than Boston, announcements are made much more clearer, however, I would not say it's universal.
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Re: Review of a recent MBTA experience

Postby Eliphaz » Fri Jul 06, 2012 12:20 am

The squealing was so loud


...I've always loved the squeal...thrilling.
part of the magic.
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Re: Review of a recent MBTA experience

Postby Gerry6309 » Fri Jul 06, 2012 12:25 pm

SM89 wrote:All of the station interiors are well signed. I don't see why you had to stress to count stops when you could just look out the window at each station.


The first stop out of Back Bay is Tufts Medical Center. This is the poorest lit station on the system and it is almost impossible to see that you are even in a station until the doors open. (Unless you note that the tunnel lights stop flashing by) The others are better lit, but the signs are small and you have to know where to look for them. (more difficult if standing) The announcements are normally good, considering that the operator is trying to spot the train as he is making them. The automatic system on the newer Red Line cars can be badly out of sync, and the operator may or may not be able to correct it, if he knows about it.

Sadly, everyone assumes you are local, and clued in to Boston's wierd layout. Out-of-towners don't get much sympathy, unless you run into someone like me, who enjoys sharing anout the city. Try riding the New York Subway as a newbie, you will appreciate our straightforward better.
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