Dear General Manager Ramirez,
Congratulations on your new job and welcome to Boston! I’m sure you already have your hands full at the T, so I won’t take up much of your time, but I’m hoping to be able to give you a small head start on your first day.
I was thrilled to hear that you would like to focus your early efforts on the experience of T riders. While the T benefits even people who don’t use it – think reduced traffic and air pollution – it’s how we riders experience the service that matters the most.
It was great to see that you are already spending time exploring the system. I hope you had the chance to see how important public transportation is to most of us – my daily life wouldn’t work without it – and how much fun it can be to ride the T. As an aside, there are many hidden gems in the system. If you haven’t yet, I recommend that you try out the Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line, the Fairmount Line, one of the ferries, and almost any bus that will take you to the beach; these are all unique and special parts of our system that will make you appreciate it even more.
Without a doubt, you probably have also already experienced some of the challenges and identified some of the opportunities for improvements. Sadly, despite the good efforts of many of your predecessors, it is still impossible to take the T without noticing room for improvement. But since you are new to Boston and our beloved T, I thought I’d provide you with a list of some of my (and my colleagues’) favorite opportunities for improvements to get you started.
Some are small, easy, and inexpensive to fix, others are more complicated, but still worth your time. The following list is far from exclusive (unfortunately), and it doesn’t claim to be representative of all riders’ experiences, but I hope this is a good start. I have created the list with the help of my colleagues who all rely on buses, commuter rail trains, and every subway line.
- Not every scheduled bus shows up.
- Buses arrive ahead of schedule (sounds good, but then you have to wait for the next scheduled bus, which can be a long time).
- The real-time data feed can be inconsistent or not work on some bus lines.
- Some buses leave from subway stations without waiting for the people who just arrived on the train.
- Bus bunching, in which buses are running in the same place at the same time, rather than evenly spaced and as scheduled.
- Lack of trash cans and recycling bins at stops.
- Stalled trains because of: schedule adjustments, traffic ahead, signal problems, track fires, medical emergencies (at a station behind the train), etc.
- Delays are not announced or are announced without any estimate of how long it might take.
- Condition of the cars, such as only one door opens or the air conditioning isn’t working.
- On the Red Line, not enough Big Red cars during rush hour.
- Major stations without air conditioning or other means of cooling.
- MBTA staff at station left without any information about delay.
- Too many passengers on train to accommodate all riders during rush hour.
- The loud squeak of the Green Line trains.
- The Silver Line is really a bus (and not even bus rapid transit).
- Trains are consistently delayed or cancelled – announcements about those delays and cancellations aren’t always made.
- Air conditioning or heat not working.
- Trains are so overcrowded that conductors cannot collect fares.
- Not all tickets are punched.
- Cannot use Charlie Card.
- No service after 1am and before 5am.
- Disrespectful treatment of youth by transit police.
- Riders cannot rely on the T when it is needed the most: cold, snow, heat, and victory parades.
- Scheduled transfer connections are frequently missed because the arrival and departure times are unreliable.
- Predictable service interruptions are announced only after the interruption has already begun.
- Inconsistent service (commute does not take the same amount of time every day).
- Glitches on the MBTA website when adding value to Charlie Card.
I hope you find this compilation helpful. I recommend following social media, speaking to passengers, conducting surveys, and getting stuck on a train or platform during a signal problem to round out your list. Seriously, you’ll learn a lot by being trapped on a platform when the subway isn’t running properly. To make some quick friends, feel free to copy my oldest son’s approach. When we were stuck on an overcrowded Blue Line train when he was three years old, he turned grumpy faces into laughter, by belting out the chorus from “Tomorrow” by Annie the musical.
Welcome aboard and best of luck. I am willing to bet my bottom dollar that, if you put your mind to it, there will not only be sun tomorrow, but a better T. We here at CLF are available to help in any way we can, so please don’t hesitate to reach out.