Hello from home, since I can't go to work because the T isn't running, in turn because the T says that if a third train gets stranded they'll have trouble evacuating people in the dark. My Facebook feed is largely blaming this on a combination of excessive weather and old equipment (a third of the Red Line fleet is 45 years old, with an expected lifetime of 30). Meanwhile, our Republican governor, apparently parroting the Republican line that everything can be fixed with budget cuts, is proposing to cut $14 million from the T's budget. Now, $14 million isn't actually useful capital spending in this context, oddly enough — the newest Blue Line train cars cost $2 million apiece — but if the T needs more spending, how does cutting its budget help? Perhaps more interestingly, our governor was elected in part based on his business credentials, could private business run the T better?

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I occasionally make gratuitous use of the commuter rail to get to/from work, and I tried going home last night that way. Except, well, it was after the Red Sox rally, and there were lots of people in North Station. Since they expanded the station area you could still breathe, but it was busier than I'd ever seen it before.

There seemed to be some execution problems. I saw one locomotive pouring out clouds of white smoke; I don't know if they ran that train or not. My Fitchburg train only had 5 coaches in it, MBCR is supposed to run minimum six-car trains. The South Action and Woburn express trains were making local stops, which might actually have been sensible under the circumstances. But most interesting was the announcement, "the Haverhill train on track 4 is now full, please return to the station if you're still on the platform." I'd never heard that one before; I guess people trying to get on that train were stuck waiting another half hour for the next one.

There's now a small bar/restaurant open on the east side of the expanded station area. It looked like it was doing pretty good business, but I didn't actually try to acquire food there. Probably in typical Boston style you're not allowed to actually take alcohol outside of the fenced-in area, even though certain other major US commuter rail systems serve drinks on the train.

This came out of a question I answered on [livejournal.com profile] mbta. Let's say you're trying to get from the Museum of Science to Medford Square in the new fare regime; your plausible choices include taking the T to Davis or Sullivan and then a bus, two busses from Lechmere, or commuter rail to Malden or West Medford and a bus. It turns out that for a bus-plus-subway trip, the cheaper fares and free transfer together make not using a CharlieCard cost twice as much!

RouteCash fareCharlieTicket fareCharlieCard fare
87/88 bus Lechmere to Davis, then 94/96 bus$1.50 bus + $1.50 bus$3.00$1.50 bus, free transfer$1.50$1.25 bus, free transfer$1.25
Subway to Davis, then 94/96 bus$2 subway + $1.50 bus$3.50$2 subway + $1.50 bus$3.50$1.70 subway, free transfer$1.70
Commuter rail to West Medford, then 95 bus$1.70 zone 1A CR + $1.50 bus$3.20Stored-value cards not accepted on commuter rail

...but remember, the new system has fewer special cases, so it's simpler!

RouteCurrent fareCharlieTicket fareCharlieCard fare
Davis to Kendall$1.25$2.00$1.70
Davis to Braintree$2.50$2.00$1.70
Chestnut Hill to Reservoir$3.00$2.00$1.70
Reservoir to Chestnut HillFree$2.00$1.70
Chestnut Hill to Braintree$4.25$2.00$1.70

See? The new system is perfectly simple. Just so long as you don't think about how you're paying. Or transfers. I think "not thinking of any of the corner cases even a little" is the current bane of my existence.

This morning I did, in fact, succeed in acquiring three CharlieCards at the Davis T. I showed them to a coworker today, who said, "huh, what are those?" and was surprised when I told him that you needed them to not get hosed even worse by the fare hike. I also saw this post in [livejournal.com profile] davis_square with more people being confused. And for that matter, if I didn't specifically know that they were handing out CharlieCards and that I wanted one, I would have registered the person as "person handing out irrelevant junk".

In between the fare restructuring and the prox card system, this really is a major change for T passengers. The T has at least given a token effort to communication, but without heavy attention to Usenet and mbta.com the vast majority of passengers (and certainly my coworkers) seem to have no clue what's going on. People might be less irate if they got told that subway passes went up about 35% just like all the other fares and got local bus access, instead of thinking that they got forced from subway passes on to more expensive combo passes which were inexplicably discounted. I think most people know there will be a fare increase but will be upset when their subway fare is $2 and not the promised $1.70 (and not $1.25); and most passholders are probably totally unaware that their free guest on Sunday is going away.

This is just a communication issue. The Diesel ran into something similar with their coffee cards, and wound up pushing back a significant change by six weeks. It's not too late for the T; they can still do things like have subway drivers announce the CharlieCard handouts. Fundamentally, it's something that has more practical impact to the typical commuter than "please report any unattended bags or packages to an MBTA employee"; shouldn't the T give it at least as much attention?
Q: Where in greater Camberville can I get one of these CharlieCard widgets?

A: They will be distributed "at key locations during rush hours" starting next Monday, 4 December, including Alewife, Davis, and Lechmere (all three on both 5 and 8 December). See the PDF here for full dates and locations.

Read more... )

Q: What are you doing?

A: I plan to get a CharlieCard on Monday, probably at Davis, and let it sit unloved in a drawer at home. Meanwhile, I'll keep buying monthly commuter rail Zone 1A CharlieTickets so that, if I want to take the commuter rail from Porter to North Station, it's still free.

I think this is largely for [livejournal.com profile] gaussjordan's benefit, or something. At any rate, the int0rw3b tells me that the reason I haven't actually seen any Boeing-Vertol United States Standard Light Rail Vehicles is that 14 of them were scrapped in May, leaving only 18 in the entire Green Line out of some 188 active cars. Also interesting is that, of the 20 so-called "Type 7 1/2" cars, only one (3700) has gotten the internal rework to interoperate with the ever-so-doomed Breda Type 8 cars.

Passing through North Station, I acquired a copy of the (ooh, glossy) 30 October Lowell commuter rail schedule. In addition to mentioning the Downeaster connection at Anderson/Woburn station and hinting at the seekrit Wildcat Branch trains to Haverhill via Woburn, the cover also advertises "Additional service to Anderson RTC". They're not lying: inbound trains leave Anderson/Woburn at 6:38, 6:58, 7:18, 7:38, 8:08 (express), 8:15, 8:30, 8:45, 9:15, and 9:35. That's often enough that it might actually be appealing to drive from outer suburbia to the 93/95 interchange and park there for the day; get stuck in traffic and miss "your" train? there's another one in 15-20 minutes.

I wonder how well this model will work for the T. It's certainly a lot of capacity (if each of those trains are 6-car trains with 100 seats per car). But it's also a good location, with Anderson having a direct exit off of I-93 just north of I-95, and lots of parking. It feels like the I-95 north corridor (Topsfield, Georgetown) doesn't have great commuter rail access, but coming in on 95 to 93 and parking might be saner than trying to get into the city on 93 at rush hour. Schedule says 27 minutes for the train ride, which feels long, though.

Still, if it was successful, there's already commuter rail service at or near a lot of other major road intersections (Route 128 station at I-95 south; Riverside/Auburndale/Brandeis stations near I-90/I-95; Littleton/495 station near MA-2/I-495; commuter rail practically goes through the I-90/I-495 interchange). So if this works out it's a potentially interesting model for MBTA commuter rail going forward.

(Amtrak's current published schedule has an inbound Downeaster leaving Woburn at 8:31, but not picking up passengers; I suspect that with the schedule change this will become either 7:45 or 9:00, since that's where there are spots in the schedule now.)
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