That bus isn’t coming.

Via Jay: How deep does the rot in the MBTA go? To the point where they'd cut a bus run, but not tell anyone. We knew that some runs just … somehow … weren't happening, but maybe it was driver absenteeism, or some other lack of planning or ordinary incompetence. Nope. It was on purpose:

Top MBTA officials acknowledge that for years the agency has been secretly cutting thousands of bus and train trips from published schedules to lower costs – a practice that has left legions of customers waiting for rides that arrived late or not at all.

Grabauskas, who was hired as general manager in May 2005, said the hidden service cuts have never been publicly disclosed and that he agreed to talk about them now because of a need for more truth in the agency’s budgeting.

He waited to tell the truth? Now there's a need for “more truth”, because the budget's in trouble? (To be fair, those are Casey's words, not Grabauskas'.)

So there's a T money problem — I believe that. There's a T expansion problem. There's also a T contract problem, with a ridiculously cushy pension system and apparently not a whole lot of accountability. There's a T contractor problem, where MBCR gets a new contract in spite of incompetence. But man, if there's this kind of dishonesty that's just taken for granted, what else will we find? 

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  1. I feel shocked, Cotton!

    I'm shocked that a Willard appointee would perpetrate fraud on the people of the Commonwealth like that. I

    've said here and other places that the T has been lying about bus routes for years. I posted this comment on Universal Hub last month:

    Sometimes I'd write to complain about the same bus route, and shockingly, I'd often get the same cut and paste reply.

    And sometimes I'd get a reply that would say "we are unaware of such a problem, thanks for bringing this to our attention"? How could they be unaware if I emailed them 5 times about the same problem and same route last month?

    Once, I even posed the question about no-show buses in Dorchester to Dan Grabauskas on a boston.com chat. Here, I used the handle "tim":

    tim: The busses in Dorchester are notorious for being "no shows", especially the 201/202 out of fields corner. Several times a week customers are left stranded, often times in extreme heat or horrendous winter weather. We "write to the top", but only get form letter responses. Who will take accountability for this BS and when will it stop???

    Daniel_Grabauskas: I am unaware with a problem of these two routes other than the construction at Fields Corner has caused delays for our customers as it boards both sides of the station. I invite you to contact Deputy Chief Operating Officer Kevin McGuire at kmcguire@mbta.com.

    Now, it looks like I gave them too much credit. I knew they were lying about the no-show buses, but I chalked it up to incompetence, antipathy and not giving a crap. It turns out the simple explanation was fraud - selling a product at full price and not intending to deliver that product. In fact, they made an effort not to deliver that product and lie about it. I wonder if T riders have any rights as a consumer? Probably not. Sigh.

  2. Another thought...

    ...I wonder which neighborhoods got the shaft of no show buses? I've always suspected that the buses run better in Newton than in Dorchester. I wonder if there are any patterns of no-show buses that break down on economic lines? I mean how did they decide which buses wouldn't show up and which buses would run most efficiently?

    • The $quot;money$quot; question

      That is EXACTLY the question - which group of fare-paying individuals was getting the shaft? Were people who live in Dorchester getting the short end of the stick or was it Cambridge?

      And here's a financial kick in the pants - each community pays the T for service. If it can be shown that municipality X was receiving less-than-promised service are they entitled to a partial refund?

      • I can tell you ...

        that the 326 express bus -- West Medford = Medford Square = downtown had times that regularly never ever came. FWIW.

      • No they are not

        No one is entitled to a refund, at least on the commuter rail, because of the crappy service.  Just after Christmas I wrote to the governor and the GM asking for a refund on my pass since they only were on time 58% of the time the month before.  I thought, and still think, that I should get 42% of my money back.  The governor never answered me, and when I called a few weeks later some kid who had the misfortune to deal with me basically said the gov has no power to do anything with the T and that I was out of luck.

        I also never heard back from the T, so I called them.  I keep getting bumped up the chain of command when one person after another keeps telling me they have no authority to change it.  I finally ended up with Deputy General Manager Joe Kelly. I left him a few messages, one on a Monday and a second on Wednesday, but I never heard back from him. I did get an e-mail from someone else at the T, but they never told me why they were e-mailing me, and it didn't answer either of my questions (1- Do you think it is fair to charge a full price but only provide a partial service? and 2 - If not, will you change the current policy so that I can get my money back?) .

        On Friday I called, left another message with his secretary, and a little while later she called me back to tell me the policy wouldn't be changed. I asked why not, and she couldn't answer that. I said I was willing to hold for Mr. Kelly, and shortly after that he came on the line. He immediately started yelling at me, told me he had this other person e-mail me, and after accusing me of harassment he hung up on me. The whole conversation lasted maybe 90 seconds, in which period of time I still didn't get my questions answered.

        The answers to my questions are no, its not fair, and no, we won't change the policy because if we did we would be even more broke than we already are, but I want to hear them say it.  I 'd also like an apology for the rude behavior, but I think I'd have better chances of getting my trains to run on time.

    • yes.

      that should be investigated.  Of course, we probably know the answer already.

  3. Good, I'm not going crazy.

    There is a certain bus line that I simply stopped relying on to get me into work in the morning because in the half hour period that it is supposed to come twice, it doesn't come at all (as far as I can tell in so much time as was willing to wait).

    Fare collection on buses is a pet peeve of mine.  As was noted at the Universal Hub last week.

    ... Apparently, if you try to pay with cash on the bus instead of using one of these pre-paid cards, they just wave you right on! It's free! Why is anyone paying for this?!

    The system breaks down because it takes too much time to board the bus. It's very noticeable if you catch a bus at Harvard Station because the boarding of the 77 causes a backup of all the other buses. If you are trying to catch the 77 there is a good chance the driver will open the rear door "for people with passes" to get everything moving along. I'd imagine that the percentage of people boarding the bus without paying is high. But the alternative is a good 15-20 minutes to just get the bus boarded.

    The pass system seems to work ok for the trains.  It doesn't work at all for the buses.

    • i can't count the times

      I've gotten on the trollies late in the night with big crowds for free for that very same reason. Not that I'm complaining! (it makes up for the times I've left something in the car, after I already paid for my fare, and had to leave the subway, reenter and pay twice).  

  4. Maybe I'm just naive ...

    but I find this story to be shocking.  I basically like Dan Grabauskas -- he did a good job at the Registry, and he has taken on a nearly impossible task at the T.  But the notion that he found out about this, and he didn't tell anyone until now ... I dunno.

    One thing's for sure: as others have mentioned in this thread, the T ought to disclose exactly which routes were being shafted.  My guess is that it won't be a pretty picture.

    • Your not naive...

      ...it's all that audacious hope floating around the political waters these days.  

    • David - it was Dan that ended the Omerta.

      I had a friend who worked there in the ate nineties, and he told me it was like a minimum security facility, where everybody was just there on work release.  No willingness to work, to customer service - just another day towards the fat pension that the brother in law in the Senate had gotten for them.  He quit.

      Grabauskas stepped into this in 2005, hoping to make changes like he did at the Registry.  What he found was that the MBTA was a deeply corrupt independent institution, where even the GM didn't have the authority to hire and fire the way he did in a regular state agency - similar to the set up at the Mass. Pike.  Also, the T was coping with the beginning of forward funding - that is, having a budget at the beginning of the year and being constrained by it, not just running up a tab and dumping it in the state's lap.

      Ross says that Grabauskas DID make improvements, and is speaking out now to end the fictions associated with funding.  Knowing the culture at the T, that's a gutsy step. It's time that users of the system became acquainted with what it actually costs.

      • Interesting timing

        It's interesting how Dan didn't say anything after Mitt appointed him and that Dan didn't come clean until after Mitt dropped his presidential bid. Politics sure has some interesting coincidences.  

      • Let's posit that this is true.

        And I'm willing to believe a good chunk of it. I'm not at all convinced that Grabauskas is the guy who's about to dismantle that culture. Why did he wait to disclose this information?

        And I have to say that he does not present the image of a hard-charging, customer-advocate, turnaround kind of manager. So much of his interaction with the public is mealy-mouth bureaucratese: "Thanks for your concern. We're aware of the problem [or -- "we're not aware of that problem at this time], and we thank you for your patience. Your call is important to us; please stay on the line and someone will be with you shortly. You are caller number 5,008."

        The MBTA is in desperate need of disruptive change, and I don't see him bringing it. And I have to say that lack of urgency extends to the Patrick administration -- which is a major disappointment.

        • Grabauskas was dealt a bum hand

          He could do better but he actually is a "hard-charging, customer advocate, turnaround kind of manager."  

          Having said that there are plenty of instances one can point to where the T, under his direction, has resembled a knuckle-dragging neandrathal more than a long-distance runner.

          This episode, however, represents something else entirely - a betrayal of trust. I know that since taking over Grabauskas has fired many top level people but I have no idea if it was related to this or not.  

  5. This just makes me crazy.

    I mean, there ought to be a civil suit or two--which will unfortunately stress the system further. But could we have some accountability? Here's what I'd like to see.

    --Fire everyone responsible for this act, which on its face (at least) violates the terms of the MBTA charter from the Legislature.

    --Restore the phantom service pronto.

    --File legislation criminalizing this kind of behavior by public officials and employees.

    Is this thinking small? The T should be replaced with an agency that is (1) reformed and (2) funded, but let's see some accountability on this behavior.

    • how?

      how will we pay for these phantom services? The fact of the matter is they weren't canceled for kicks and giggles, they were canceled because there isn't enough money going in as compared to the money going out. I'm not condoning it, that's for sure, but unless the state is willing to give the T more revenue from more sources, then nothing can feasibly change. (Personally, I think the businesses who depend on their employees getting to work need to chip in - somehow.) Not even a rate hike will solve the problems, because it's already too damn expensive and rate hikes just give people another incentive to commute into the city, instead. Heck, it's faster and more convenient a majority of the time, anyway.

      • Oh, we'll pay all right

        and we'll pay for the civil suits as well. More pressure for another fee hike bigger and sooner, more of a fiscal crisis, more cuts.

        BUT.

        It is a matter of fundamental equity and fairness to restore these phantom buses. Then let's sort out the damage together, in the open.

        Cuts will have to be made in the sunshine. The burden of the T's fiscal meltdown will fall on everyone and not just on some neighborhoods selected in secret.

        I don't like the cuts and I don't like the meltdown but I hate this secrets and lies business.

        My town is well served by bus routes that are generally reliable. I was pleased with that until I learned that the level of service I enjoy is secretly based on selectively cutting the service quality to other places.

        That makes me an unwitting beneficiary of a kind of transportation redlining.

        No thanks--and do the right thing.

        • well, i agree

          if there are going to have to be cuts made, they have to be made in a fair and equitable way.

          That said, at some point if the waits for buses and trains become so long and tedious, the public transportation system is a failure no one will even bother using. How far do we need to space these buses before our public transportation becomes a literal farce of a public transportation system. It's teetering on that brink anyway, so I'll repeat my claim from about a month ago: the state needs to solve this crisis and is likely going to have to find additional, non-customer revenue to do it. On a personal level, I don't think we can solve this problem until the companies that rely on public transportation to import their work force actually kicks in money to help pay for the system. After all, they're the biggest beneficiaries of the system.  

      • better investment?

        Here's something that should be giving the T a big boost in revenues: the Charlie Tickets, the prepaid cards.  I've got one I bought in July with $16 sitting on it.  There are thousands (millions?) of other peoples' cards that are not in regular use.  This means that all that money is sitting in a T account somewhere month after month.  I don't see why they couldn't be investing these funds.

        Just an idea.

  6. F*ckers!!!

    I missed an important meeting in a new job once because the #20 bus took an hour to come, w/no sign of the three buses that were supposed to have come in the meantime.  

    Insult to injury dep't: then-T-director Bob Prince lived on the route and people reported seeing him getting driven to work in a Caddy.  

  7. So Grabauskas knew that the T was willingfully lying

    and he still has a job now?

    I want the T to work.  I believe that a fully functioning MBTA is necessary for population and economic growth in Boston.

    How to fix this particular problem?  Easy.  Every single vehicle working a route for the MBTA -- buses, street cars, subways, commuter rail -- has a real time transponder.  The data is collected by the T for their own analysis.  The data is published by the T in real time for its customers.  The data is collected by a third party to audit services.

    If they're simply not running routes, it's transparent.  You look at the publicly available logs, and you count how many buses on route so-and-so passed a particular point in a day.  Then, you cross check the schedule.

    It would also allow communities to keep an eye on their own service, allowing them to pressure their legislators, executives, and others to improve service to their neighborhood.

    You can't do analysis without good data.  However, with good data you can make all kinds of improvements.  Let's get the data.  If I were a state rep, I'd fund it.  The Lege will pay for this upgrade, and will legislate that the data be handled openly.  Then, the T will have far more eyes on it, and you'll see improvements or more heads rolling.

  8. My T complaint

    Last summer, I was trying to get from Arlington Center to Porter Square on a Sunday afternoon.  Schedule for the 77 in hand, I still missed the bus I intended to take (it may have been a minute or two early, I may have been a minute or two late).  

    The Sunday schedule had a 15-minute headway, but there was a half-hour wait at that stop for the next bus.  I filled in the MBTA complaint, and got an email back denying any service problems on the line on the date in question.

    This makes the miserable hunt for parking in Cambridge far more tolerable.

  9. 23 years

    But for this stellar service, MBTA employees get to retire after 23 years with full pensions.  Can anyone in the private sector, other than an overpaid CEO, echo that "sweet deal"

    Grant

  10. HA HA

    This explains the E train I guess.....

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