Bruins sailed, MBTA failed

Just have to relate a personal anecdote from the weekend. Made possible — excuse me, nearly impossible — by the MBTA.

My family and I were planning on taking the commuter rail from West Medford to North Station for the rolling rally. We heard that the MBTA commuter rail would be running a normal Saturday schedule. Hmmm. We got there well in time for the 9:33 train. Lots of Bruins fans there! Families with kids, like us. Many had Bruins shirts, some had face paint. Ages 0 to whatever. Awesome. Ride the train to the parade.

Nothing came.

At 10am a train whizzed by, blowing its horn, didn’t stop.

Another train whizzed by, blowing its horn, didn’t stop.

The electronic message board said there was a train leaving north Billerica. We waited. Train #3 whizzed by, blowing its horn, didn’t stop.

I called the MBTA: the person I talked to had no idea which trains would stop or when – indicating that there had been no communication between the conductor and customer service.

Finally at 10:45am, the message board said a train was leaving Winchester. At 11am, we were on the train, having had been there since 9:20. We had nearly decided to leave, of course, and probably should have. Most of the other folks did, of course. Our kids were exceedingly well-behaved, otherwise we wouldn’t have waited. They really really wanted to go. We made it just in time to see the Cup float by as we were running (kids in our arms) after it.

MBTA GM Richard Davey had said the trains would run on a Saturday schedule. That was false. A schedule says when and where the trains will stop. They did not.

I have read the Globe story in which the T’s spokesman shrugs and says “gosh yeah, there were some challenges, but it all came out OK.”

Pesaturo said the MBTA was “absolutely’’ prepared, employing every train that was not undergoing maintenance and every train crew.

“If we hadn’t have been prepared, we would not have been able to carry 120,000 people,’’ Pesaturo said. “When we got reports of people still on platforms, we sent trains out to get them. In some cases, people didn’t wait for the trains.’’

People didn’t wait an hour-and-a-half for a train? You don’t say. Most people left those platforms.

It was an absolutely absurd failure to plan to serve the public on a special event. We’ve had 7 championships in 11 years — of all the places where there should be no excuse, this is the place.

A schedule is a promise. If Mr. Davey can’t keep those promises, he should resign, or the Governor should fire him. Transportation reform happened, putting the MBTA more under the Governor’s control.  You wanted the mess, Governor — you should damn well fix it.


28 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. One would think they should have run on a

    weekday schedule, at least for 5 hours or so. If necessary, pay the conductors some OT. What the heck- it’s not like events like these occur every month. They may have netted some extra fare revenue, and served a public “need” (albeit, a recreational one) at the same time.
    Yeah, seems like the absent governor should get a fair share of the blame for this mini transportation debacle.

  2. Some transportation stuff is complicated

    managing capital investment with a razor thin budget. Dealing with scheduling both trains and people so that everything gets done.

    This isn’t complicated. If the train drove by, it could have stopped. That it didn’t suggests that the MBTA GM isn’t getting his orders out to his staff. You screw this stuff up once, you lose 100s (1000s?) of riders for a long time — and the political support from those folks to invest more funds in the T.


    • Seriously.

      I couldn’t be a bigger booster of public transportation. Just make it possible for me, huh?

    • Is that strictly true?

      Is it strictly true that “If the train drove by, it could have stopped.”

      What if the train was too full to take more passengers?

      • sure.

        strictly true — the train could have stopped and the conductor could have apologized that the train was full. It wouldn’t have taken any more time nor energy than were the train not full.

        Better yet — they could have used the signs and speakers at the station to announce to the folks waiting on the platform that the next train was full and wouldn’t be stopping.

        Apparently, that didn’t happen.

        Not having enough capacity for the once-a-year (or less frequent) event isn’t a problem. The problem is that the MBTA didn’t communicate the information that somebody in the MBTA knew but didn’t share with the right people in the MBTA, and it wasn’t shared with the riders. That’s the problem.

  3. News account from the north

    From the Lowell Sun:

    How crazy was Bruins fever?

    A 9 a.m. Lowell train that was supposed to make six stops, including a second stop in Billerica and a third one in Wilmington, went directly to North Station.

    The train never stopped. Why? All 11 cars were full, with plenty of fans standing.

    In North Billerica, a crowd of 300 to 400 fans watched as the Lowell train went by. Ten minutes later, an empty train was sent to the station, although dozens of people had already left, probably to see if they could drive into Boston quicker.

    The North Billerica train only made one stop en route to Boston — there simply wasn’t enough room to satisfy all of the fans dressed in black and gold.

    The lack of preparedness is a disgrace. The lack of communication is inexcusable.

  4. We get what we pay for

    I encourage you to direct your well-placed ire to voters who slash taxes and the politicians who pander to them. We’ve refused to invest in commuter rail and the MBTA for DECADES. There aren’t enough coaches, aren’t enough locomotives, and aren’t enough operators.

    Episodes like this will continue until we invest enough in public transportation to catch up with deferred maintenance and current needs. The problem is very real; the lack of commuter rail equipment and services is the symptom.

    • I agree with those priorities

      We should certainly be investing in expanded service and more rail lines, so that more people can get where they need to get by train instead of car.

      Note that investing in High Speed rail so that a few well off commuters can get to work half an hour faster is going to drain more money away from the more practical slow-speed but more reliable and more available rail.

  5. Simple solution

    Sell the entire MBTA to the Japanese (JR) for $1.

    • ??

      Who would buy a money losing transportation system for a dollar?

      • Yes, but...

        It’s such a wonderful fantasy. If the train was a mere minute late, you would have a white-gloved station agent apologizing to everyone on the platform. It doesn’t happen very often.

        • White-gloved station agents

          I suppose you’d also have them shoving more people into each car until there was breathing-room only. While that might have had some effect on charley’s wait, I wonder if it would be tolerated here.

  6. Yawn

    Really, what did you expect? We all know the T is underfunded and doesn’t really maintain a lot of excess capacity to handle giant events like this. And anyone who has ridden the T regularly knows first hand how bad the T is at dealing with failures and communicating status to their riders. It is disappointing, of course, but hardly surprising.

    I also think it is unreasonable to expect the T to be able to transport the largest crowd ever seen at a rolling rally without problems.

    • They've lowered our standards, so it's OK?

      Not good enough. When does cutting them slack stop?

      • I don't want to pay for them to handle dumb crowds

        It’s a Commuter Line, not a Douchebag Line.

      • Did you read what I said?

        I didn’t say it was ok, I said it was not surprising.

        As a frequent T rider, I am not especially sympathetic to complaints people have when they only try to use the system under the worst possible conditions. I would rather people got upset about the all-to-common failures that happen during daily commutes. I can forgive the T for having problems when a million people are all trying to get into Boston within a couple hour window. Anyone who expected the T to run without a hitch on Saturday was a fool.

        I am much less forgiving when they can’t manage to tell daily commuters why their train is late. That is really the T’s worst failure. We can all understand how lack of funding could lead to cutting back on maintenance and higher system failures. But there is absolutely no excuse for the inability to communicate information about failures to conductors and train drivers and pass that on to riders. They act as if every rider did not have an option to take some other form of transportation to their destination and have no choice but to wait, so what is the point of telling them more.

        • Fool is nicer

          That’s what I should have said. And I agree about the lack of communication, there is no excuse for that. Maybe if we knew the operators Facebook name, we could check their profiles for updates as they text their way down the line.

          Isn’t the problem that so many people went to such a giant rally? It must have cost millions of dollars. Maybe now that all four teams have had their day in the duckboats, we will scale back future rallies and be more ho-hum about championships. I think it is absurd that we have so little public spirit about everything else, but are so crazed and zombified about sports, we feel an obligation to go cheer for someone accomplishing something as if it made up for how lame we are the rest of the time. It’s an opiate of the masses, and a warning sign.

  7. A future word of advise

    but don’t spread it around too much. When all of the news outlets are harping about taking the T in instead of driving, drive. Back in ’92 we were supposed to go down in the middle of the Tall Ships event to check out a band for our wedding. Media was non-stop “Take the T, don’t drive”. We drove, parked legally (and easily) in front of the Aquarium, and were in and out without any to do. But as I said, don’t spread it around.

    • On the other hand

      If you drive, don’t be surprised if you do get stuck in traffic and/or cannot find parking. The Tall Ships is really nothing compared to events like this. When there are this many people rushing into the City, the best bet is to plan to get there several hours in advance regardless of your mode of transportation.

      • Granted

        although we went in the night of fireworks and were absolutely huge crowds (but a deserted Atlantic Ave.) From talking to people who went on Saturday seems that you could only get in if you were at the terminus of the line.

        Point of driving is that you at least have some sort of control over your entrance/exit.

      • Update and I stand by "when they tell everybody Y, do X"

        spoke with the mother of my son’s friend who went to the Parade. They originally planned on taking the T from Braintree but you couldn’t even get off of Exit 17, so they drove in. Parked without difficulty @ Post Office Square, saw the parade, and were back in Duxbury by 1 pm.

  8. BTW, what's with the timestamps on recent comments?

    When I look at “Recent Comments”, the times for the most recent comments are all several hours in the future. Is your server set to the wrong timezone or something?

  9. redline 'rush hour service' - what a joke!

    The redline was a complete disaster as well. Rush hour schedule, my ass… But really, the MBTA is pretty much an embarrassment in general (even though I have a pass and use it every day). Squeaky wheels, no information, erratic service, and indifferent employees – and I could go on, but it’s too depressing.

  10. Joe Pesaturo

    Joe Pesaturo: not the MBTA spokesperson, more like professional liar.

    No T rider should trust Pesaturo

  11. Recent arrival-used the T alot the last week

    I had family visiting, and we used the T quite a lot to move around. The lack of signage and info makes getting on the thing at the right time and pointed in the right direction very difficult and I would almost call using it an “insider’s game”.
    We did go in for parade, but after seeing what cluster**** the system is, and how full it is even under normal conditions, we didn’t trust the schedule at all, or that there would be capacity on the train, so we went down and caught a train at about 7 AM.
    The thing needs massive upgrades. It also needs a route that circles the city along 128. You’d think some enterprising folks would run for office on an upgrade the T and upgrade the economy sort of platform.

    • I like it!

      However, that sounds like an “I will raise your taxes” platform.

      Extend the Red Line north through Arlington and Lexington to the end of the Route 3 freeway in Burlington, with a huge park-and-ride. Even better, run the Red Line up the median of Route 3 to the Commuter Rail station in Lowell.

      Extend the Orange Line north through Melrose and Wakefield to I-95 and 128, then along the median to a huge park-and-ride where 128 and I-95 converge in Peabody.

      Extend the Orange Line south, two branches, one to replace the Commuter Rail line to Needham, and the other one to the current 128 commuter rail station in Westwood. Expand the park-and-ride to capture cars coming north on I-95.

      Extend the Blue Line north through Lynn to Salem.

      Expand light-rail inside 128. Bring back the streetcars!

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Sat 29 Apr 7:21 PM