MBTA: A customer service nightmare

Time to get anecdotal: Mrs. Charley takes the 326 express bus from Medford to downtown, and is fortunate enough to have a monthly pass (“Inner Express Bus”) paid for by her employer, through something called a Commuter Check. Now, it used to be a simple matter of going up to a window at North Station (near where she works) and forking over the Commuter Check, and getting the pass. It took a few minutes.

Well, last month the MBTA inexplicably stopped selling them at North Station. Instead, she and her co-workers were told they had to go to Downtown Crossing, where they waiting in huge lines for an hour-and-a-half, waiting to exchange their Commuter Checks for monthly passes. And it seemed that most of the people in line were conducting business using cash that they could done on the new machines. The whole affair took her and her co-worker two hours.

That’s just completely insane. Do they understand how much this destroys people’s workdays, cutting into workforce productivity? Why would the MBTA stop a very simple service at North Station without notice? The only answer can be bad management.

I’m sorry, I’ve been told that MBTA chief Dan Grabauskas is trying real real hard, but this is pathetic. I understand that he’s not overseeing every little thing, but if this kind of garbage is happening, he’s not delegating well.

The MBTA needs to re-invent itself around customer experience. If it actually worked consistently, the Charlie Card would be a decent start: I like not having to even remove my card from my wallet.

But in the basics of selling tickets, and getting people from point A to point B on time and safely, the T looks more and more like an agency in crisis.

Gov. Patrick, how about a little hands-on treatment of what should be the crown jewel of local infrastructure, but instead is one of our state’s biggest causes of grumbling, inconvenience, lost business and even danger?

To echo an actual T employee:

The main reason I wrote this message is the hope that somebody at T headquarters reads it and decides to actually do something. I want nothing more than for Dan Grabauskas to come to our station during rush hour by himself and see first hand the mess this system is. We have called and asked his office for him to come and have been rebuffed. But we shouldn’t be surprised by this as the running joke with T employees is “The people who run the T have never taken it in their lives.”

Always more from the UHub.

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38 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Well,

    This certainly ads to the customer experience:

    T's searches turn up only false alarms But officials say antiterror effort is a deterrent By Mac Daniel, Globe Staff  |  January 31, 2007

    In the first 2 1/2 months of random bag searches on the MBTA, police found no weapons, made no arrests, but had nearly two-dozen false alarms for explosives.


    Still, MBTA officials said the searches have been effective at thwarting potential terrorists and have been supported by passengers

    Because Dan Grabauskas said so.

    Don't you just love the theater?

    • And what is your opinion of the bomb detonated on I-93 they shut the trains down for today?

      Just another Somerville day?

      • I don't see the connection?

        The deive was found on a girder on the highway, and

        If you are implying that finding something resembling a bomb on the 93 overpass justifies bag searches, I would point out that the neither the bag searches nor the threat of bag searches prevented that device being planted.

      • LOL

        I know terr'sm gives Republicans bladder control issues, but the box of junk "detonated" with, essentially, a water baloon was not a bomb, according to transit police.

        In any case, perhaps the object might have been spotted by cops instead of a passerby if the former didn't have their heads stuck in old ladies' purses half the time. Surprisingly few booby-trapped bridges have been discovered underneath the Kleenex and Efferdent.

        This has been Republican Security Theater. Please join us next week for another episode.

        • And the four OTHER bombs found later in the day?

          Were THEY all water balloons, too?

          But don't believe me- here's WBZ -


          • Um, Peter

            1) It's not a bomb if there are no explosives in it. 2) I believe the point was that they were "diffused" by a water balloon, not that they were water balloons.

            • Sco - do you really think they shut down Storrow Drive for nothing?

              And none of us know the purpose of these 'devices' which I notice are all situated near major hospitals.

              Do you REALLY feel so invulnerable that you would deny a threat exists because it might make another point of view look more valid?

              • Not for nothing

                But they shut down Storrow Drive for concerts ;)  And also, everywhere in Boston is near a major hospital.

                I'm not denying that a threat exists, but I'm also not going to hyperventilate about this until we find out what these things -- again, which the news is reporting contain no explosives -- actually are.

                In any case, the cops and bomb squads are absolutely doing the right thing in assuming the worst.  Better safe than sorry, right?  That said, I'm willing to wait for more information before panicking about how we're surrounded by bombs.

                • Agreed.

                  You are far more intelligent than some other responders.

                • But why miss an opportunity

                  to unload into one's pants, just because the terrifying threat may be an ad campaign for a cartoon?

                  • Guerilla Marketing

                    It's pretty clear now that these objects are Mooninites from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Maybe its a prank by some MIT student with too much time. Maybe its guerilla marketing. Either way, its a stupid f'ing idea to attach electrical devices to bridges in a crowded city in the post-9/11 world.

                    After all the public safety expense and all the people who were forced to sit in traffic because of this childish stunt, I hope someone goes to jail for this. 

      • Yes, they shut down I-93 for nothing

        Nobody involved seems to have recognized that the "bombs" they found were a character from Nickelodeon's Aqua Teen Hunger Force.  These simple little LED boards, functionally equivalent to a Lite Brite toy, have been turning up in cities all over the US.  It's a cute little prank or viral publicity thing or "tagging", but it's no threat to anyone.  It got blown way out of proportion by clueless people acting on fear fear fear!

        Security Theater, not real security.

    • Billions for pretend security that does nothing

      but not one cent to harden nuclear reactors from terrorist attacks.

    • To Steverino

      "T's searches turn up only false alarms But officials say antiterror effort is a deterrent By Mac Daniel, Globe Staff  |  January 31, 2007 In the first 2 1/2 months of random bag searches on the MBTA, police found no weapons, made no arrests, but had nearly two-dozen false alarms for explosives."

      I heard the MBTA found a "suspicious package" with wires hanging out of it.  They called in the bomb squad to blow it up, 

      deterant or not, false alarm or not . . . I wouldn't want to be the guy that says we no longer need to have people performing "random bag searches on the MBTA"  Infact I wonder if we should check every bag.

      • This statement...

        "I wouldn't want to be the guy that says we no longer need to have people performing "random bag searches on the MBTA"

        ....implies that they were necessary in the first place.  I have yet to hear a good explanation to justify that belief.

        This statement....

        "Infact I wonder if we should check every bag."

        ...scares me more than an actual bomb.

        • Sorry Anthony

          but you scare me too my friend

          remember - guys like you hesitate and get us all killed.

          Clinton hesitated after the World Trade Center was viciously bombed in 1993.  Opps sorry that is a sore spot for the democratic base.  What I meant to say was Clinton also shared your opinions - Anthony 

          I mean why should we check every van that comes into the World Trade Center's parking garage.  It's not like one could be filled with explosives right.

          right guys .... guys

          hey where are you guys. . . . where did you all go.

          OH my god everyone is dead! Oh my god a bomb went off.  But Clinton said he had everything under control.  WHY WHY Clinton

          WHY didn't you take this threat seriously. 

          WHY - WHY

          OOOH the humanity!!!

          Clinton - why did you have to chase YOUNG teenage girls around the white house.  Why didn't you take your duties seriously. . . WHY WHY WHY

          Instead of working you are off chasing skirts and smoking grass . . . OOOOHHHH WHY WHY Clinton WHY

  2. WOW

    Is that the only way to get your pass?

    you have to wait 2 hours in line. 

    There is no other way???????

  3. Dear MBTA: The ICA has moved

    As I approached the Hynes/ICA stop on the Green Line this morning -- and heard the announcement "Hynes/ICA" and read it on the digital display in the car and on the signage in the station itelf -- it occurred to me that maybe no one has told the T that the ICA has moved to the waterfront and is served by a different transit line.

  4. Ad hoc

    So much about the T seems ad hoc.  Signage is inconsistent, and even includes sharpie marked cardboard and some "tourist" signs still up from the 2004 DNC.  Maps and map details (like handicap accessibility) differ throughout the stations and cars.  Response to mechanical and other failures seems unpredictable w.r.t. where and how information is made available.

    I agree with Charley that customer service is one of two key MBTA issues (the other is quality of service (QoS), which includes low mean service times, low service time variance, friendly service, fare systems working correctly, clean cars, filled but not stuffed cars, etc.).  They need to roll out a comprehensive strategy that is consistent throughout their domain, so that they are predictable at the very least.

    • I know what you mean but $quot;they$quot;

      don't need to do any such thing. An outside force with experience running efficient transit systems needs to rip apart the T from top to bottom.

  5. I ride the T almost every day....

    ....and for the most part it gets me from A to B without incident or too much hassle, but the exceptions to the rule are too frequent and always, always happen at the worst time and there is never any information given to those waiting around.  Just this morning while waiting and waiting and waiting for the Orange Line in Downtown Crossing an anouncement was made, presumably to give info about the delay, but the PA system is so bad that the woman sounded exactly like the teacher from the Peanuts cartoons.  Despite the frustration almost everyone on the platform started laughing because it was just that ridiculous.  Sadly, I think this is beyond the capability of the MBTA to fix, the problems are too vast and systemic.  If there was some sort of Public Trust where funds were protected from misuse and applied with full transparency to fixing real problems that concern commuters I would donate money.  I don't want to drive to work everyday and to me the donation would be worth it.


  6. Dukakis

    Once upon a time, we had a Governor of Massachusetts who actually took the T to work every day.  T service actually improved during those years.  Ever since, it's been on a slow downward slide.  Coincidence?

  7. Oh, so let me understand this...

    ...the Untied States of America is unwilling to provide its inhabitants with public transportation that the Federal Republic of Germany has provided to its residents since some 30 years after the Germany was obliterated in WWII.  Amazing.

    I'd make the obligatory rude comment about health care in the US, but I'll refrain.

    Hundreds of billions of US$ for Iraq--actually, US based contractors in Iraq--not a cent for the US.

  8. T Stranglehold

    Disclousure: Part of this an updated, self plagiarized comment from UHub:

    There is a whole class of people beholden to the MBTA; for some, it is their only transportation option. Other suburban commuters cannot (or it is not feasible to) pay $30-$40/day for parking.  The T can charge almost anything it wants and many of us will simply keep coughing up whatever it costs.

    I had hoped that the multiple blogs decrying T incompetence would shine a much-needed light on the system. But as for the people to whom these comments are directed (Grabauskus, etc), they do not hear real criticisms; they hear it as the T's customers venting about little annoyances.

    If the T were merely annoying people would not dedicate wholesale amounts of time to get their voices heard. We don't bitch (most of the time) because we have nothing better to do. We want change. Every year, I miss countless medical appointments, work hours, classes, etc because of the T's failure. We're not talking occasionally being 10 mins late. We're talking consistent failure to deliver the advertised product and the corollary impact on people's lives. We are talking about no show busses at Field's Corner. If the bus doesn't show up and I can't get to work, I might get fired. That exceeds "annoying". Bernie and Phyl are "annoying". Getting fired because of the MBTA and not having money to eat is infuriating.

    We merely want accountability and service that works as advertised so that we may plan our lives accordingly. I am a healthy young man and it is sometimes an ordeal to wait during nauseating summer heat and painful winter cold; what must it be like for the elderly, the sick, the disabled and young children?

    PS - I reccomend reading the T employee letter Charley links above.

    • What you are saying

      is utterly beyond the comprehension of T management. If not, how could they dare make announcements apologizing for "any" inconvenience--as if there could be any doubt?

      The T thinks it serves people whose time is economically worthless. Eventually, it will serve no one else, because no one else will be able to sacrifice the time and money lost from riding it.

  9. $quot;Commuter Check$quot;??

    What the heck happened to just sending the pass to the employer--why do they have to have an extra transaction in there? I seem to remember getting the pass at work (of course, that was quite a while ago, but it still seems like that would make more sense than issuing checks that then have to be exchanged for passes).

    • February pass info from the T

      This is the February info direct from the T that they sent to my blog e-mail

      February pass info

      1. The Government Center pass sales office has been closed since the beginning of December.

      2. The only passes sold (or loaded onto) on CharlieCards at Downtown Crossing, Harvard, Back Bay, North Station and South Station are Local Bus and LinkPasses. Same goes for the vending machines.

      3. Both Express Bus passes, all Commuter Rail zone passes, and Commuter Boat passes will still be issued on CharlieTickets, whether you get them at a store, a pass office or a vending machine.

      4. Customers who ride Zone 1A, their LinkPass MUST be issued on a CharlieTicket. There is no change in this from last month. This is an important point since most customers who buy passes at these pass offices are commuter rail riders.

      5. The only customers who need to use the ticket windows listed above are those who get "transit checks" or "commuter checks" from their employer. Everyone else can get ANY pass (monthly or 1 or 7 day) from ANY vending machine throughout the system. There is no need to stand in line at these ticket offices if you are paying with cash or debit/credit card.

      • #2 doesn't seem to be true

        I used to always get my monthly pass at South Station, but last month with the beginning of the Charlie Card I was told I could no longer purchase a Charlie Card at South Station with a Commuter Check.  Instead I had to go to Downtown Crossing.  People in line at Downtown Crossing told me they were told the same when they went to purchase a Charlie Card at Back Bay.  As far as I can tell Downtown Crossing is the only place that accepts commuter checks, and it sure looked like it if you saw the enormous line.  There were only 2 "cashiers" at Downtown Crossing handling the transactions.  I got in line yesterday at 5pm and felt lucky that I only waited 40 minutes.  Whoever was at the end of the exponentially growing line after I left must have been there for at least 2 hours.

        Before this I thought Mr. Grabauskis was doing a great job.  The time it took me to buy a monthly pass at South Station was way better after he took over.  Shorter, quicker lines and more pleasant attendants.  But buying the Charlie Cards with a Commuter Check is a disaster.

  10. the T keeps commuters informed.

    With today's crazy bomb scares, it would have been nice to get online to MBTA.com to see how service has been disrupted...but i've been waiting about three minutes now for their site to load.

    glad to see they can handle all the traffic to the site to keep commuters aware. (oh...wait...no they can't!)

  11. Hey Charley!

    It's not just the MBTA --Much of what you describe is happening here in WORCESTER.

    I believe that is why Gov. Patrick made it clear in the campaign that he believes in a stronger system, and an increase in service in the entire state.

    But I know first hand what you mean. Public transportation is  MY main mode.  NOW ADD the fact that I'm in the wheelchair, it TRIPLES the aggravation!

    We have ONLY One place to get our tickets. Downtown Worcester.  M-F - 8-4! (parking - LOL $12.00 or meter, uh , yeah! to "run in and grab a monthly pass, Yeah, right,)

    There are about 10 satellite sights in and around Worcester, but not all carry all the passes and NO EXCHANGES, not even at the Customer Service Center.

    And after 5 years of PERSONALLY being in the face of the WRTA Administrator, (gone now to wreck, Springfield), our Mayor, now Lt. Governor Murray, and our City Manager Mike O'Brien, (who is the Chairman of the WRTA Advisory Board and holds 38% of the voting stock) and I even created a consumer riders group, "Bus Riders Coalition", helped produce a petition with several hundred signatures of riders upset with "changes" stranding monthly passengers.

    All on completely Deaf ears and Yes, Charley our elected officials DON'T RIDE either.  Not even after a public challenge to GIVE UP their cars for JUST One Day!

    Oh yes, it's Broken Everywhere!

    Maybe we should challenge our Administration and Legislature,  (H & S) to Ride With Us for one month, in our own home towns on our public transportation, Great Publicity for the System, and you'll have a "captive audience" in the official, to give them a piece of our mind, on what is WRONG! 

    I could come up with a hundred more ideas, and I thought that was what "CIVIC ENGAGEMENT"meant.

    Now I understand that the Governor can't be everywhere, but our LOCAL officials certainly can!

    I'm getting really perturbed with the words, "due diligence" & "expediency"!

    COME ON DOWN - LADIES AND GENTLEMEN -of those that have the POWER to make changes in not only the MBTA but ALL of our urban public systems!  And start at the TOP!

    • I think this is a great idea

      Maybe we should challenge our Administration and Legislature,  (H & S) to Ride With Us for one month, in our own home towns on our public transportation, Great Publicity for the System, and you'll have a "captive audience" in the official, to give them a piece of our mind, on what is WRONG!

      Hell -- they don't even have to ride.  They can just not drive alone.  Carpool, walk, cycle, MBTA, whatever.  Invariably, it will be some of each.

      • Oh for sure

        We want them riding ! On the buses that haven't been cleaned in days.  To have to sit and listen to the language that spews from the mouths of teens.  Screaming babies, drivers not paying attention when the bell goes off and they drive right by the stop! 

        Oh yeah, we want them to see it first hand, what their lack of funding public transportation creates, it's not a pleasant commute, even when you're NOT in Boston.

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