Thursday, May 1, 2008

Commentary: Phoenix's Special Report on the MBTA

While I was coming into work on the train today, Commute-a-holic was busy gathering links to some of the articles from The Phoenix's special report on the MBTA. Thanks Commute-a-holic!

I found the Phoenix article “The Trolley Svengali” entertaining and rather humorous, although I’m not sure that was the intent of the author. I felt compelled to provide some comments and observations on the article itself. From the article:
The train finally came, everybody found seats, and a conductor entered my car. A woman sitting near me suggested that — since she’d been waiting an obscenely long time, and hadn’t been allowed to board the last train that showed up — she shouldn’t have to pay. The conductor replied, testily, that this passenger could fill out a refund request, but that she (the conductor) would lose her job if she didn’t collect every fare.
I have to give kudos to the conductor for trying to enforce the rules. Often, when you forget a pass, the conductors let it slide, so if they ask to see one, you should show it, regardless if your train is late or not. I’m a monthly pass holder, so I get steamed when my pass isn’t checked, because it isn’t about a free ride. As commuters (and Mass. state taxpayers), we should want our passes checked or tickets bought because the T needs revenue in order to improve underlying service and other issues.
"On-time performance on trips delivered on subways and buses has never been higher — ever — in the history of the T,” notes Grabauskas. The catch here is that this doesn’t include the commuter rail, which the T operates in conjunction with the independent Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company, and which was plagued with delays for much of 2007. According to data provided by Grabauskas’s office, however, on-time performance on the commuter rail has been increasing sharply and steadily since December."
Yeah, that’s a big catch in relation to the commuter rail … and I’m not entirely sure that the improvements relating to on time performance would have happened without all of the recent schedule changes, whereby the MBTA/MBCR basically threw their hands in the air and said “we’ll add 10-15 minutes to all train schedules so that our on time performance will finally be right.” Here’s the crux: the trains do not go any faster. The schedules were changed to reflect the reality of what had been happening for the better part of two years, performance decreased to the point where trains were consistently 10-20 minutes late every day … so now, the onus is passed to the commuters to change their schedules to accommodate the new T schedules
T ridership declined for five consecutive years earlier this decade. But in Fiscal Year 2007 the system had its second-highest ridership ever, with 353 million distinct (or “unlinked”) passenger trips. That’s a million less than the all-time high of 354 million, in FY01; and far above the FY06 and FY05 totals of 334 million and 325 million, respectively.

I really think this is a function of the economy and specifically high gas prices, not so much the “expert leadership” of Dan Grabausaks. Economically, it makes more sense to take the commuter rail or the T than to drive, pay tolls and park in Boston … let alone suffer the wear and tear on your car. The Boston Globe agrees, having written on April 4th “The high cost of gasoline has helped fuel a sharp increase in MBTA riders over the first two months of the year and a decrease in the number and length of traffic jams, according to T officials and traffic specialists.

These are my opinions. Some people may agree, some people may disagree. I think everyone can agree that they want our transit system to be well functioning.

No comments: