Friday, August 29, 2008

Great Re-entry to the Office Thanks to a Speedy Commute

Hello! Is it already the Friday of Labor Day weekend? How did this happen?

I'm back in the office today, after two days of training and an out-of-town business meeting yesterday. At least my commute in this morning on the P508 was a lot better than my flight home from LaGuardia yesterday. I think I could have driven back home faster than my flight. We got delayed and then sat on the runway for over an hour. Shuttle flights are the worse, too, when it comes to sitting on the runway. Everyone gets so bent out of shape, especially since it is usually all business travelers who have places to go, people to see.

The train was good today and it seemed like a speedy commute, possibly because there weren't a lot of people on board. I'm guess a lot of folks must be getting a head start on the long weekend. We arrived to South Station at 8:19 a.m.

Both The Boston Herald and WCVB-TV Channel 5 reported that the MBTA is developing a real-time "by-the-minute" countdown for when buses, trains and trolleys will be arriving at each stop. Boy, I can't wait to see how this work. Way to come into the 21st century, MBTA. The DC Metro already does this . . . superbly I might add.
“Now you can hear that a train is ‘approaching’ or is ‘arriving,’ ” MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas said, referring to public address system announcements. “But we’ll be able to give a more precise countdown so you know that the next train is coming and it’s going to Braintree, but it’s also four minutes away.”

The MBTA hopes the systems will take the uncertainty out of traveling by public transportation and help increase ridership. It’s a service that’s been requested by customers for years, Grabauskas said.

The multimillion-dollar project, now out for bid, mirrors a $5 million “Next Train” project under way for the MBTA commuter rail that’s expected to be completed by next June. Countdowns, accurate to the minute, will be displayed on signs at each station, using data from global positioning systems on each train.

In other news, ComputerWorld weighs in with an assessment of the MIT student hacker issue.

Here's hoping everyone, especially westbound drivers on the Pike and everyone heading to the Cape or up North, have easy travels. Have a wonderful Labor Day weekend.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sierra Club Calls for Rhode Island Transportation Overhaul

Today's Providence Business News published an interesting article about the Sierra Club of Rhode Island calling for the state of Rhode Island to increase their investment in public transportation.
“Rhode Island must aggressively commit to long-term transit investment, starting now,” said the report prepared by the Sierra Club’s Rhode Island Chapter. “Not only in maintenance and enhancement of the current system, but also towards expansion – including into other modes, such as light commuter rail, bus rapid transit (buses operated like in-city rail, with limited fixed stops along dedicated lanes) and auxiliary services such as subsidized commuter vanpools.”

The article noted that over the last five years public transit ridership in Rhode Island has increased at a rate of about 10% per year. I know, first hand, that a number of my coworkers at one of my former employers gradually moved from driving to work to taking RIPTA. This was due to the first wave of gas increases in 2004. Commuting by bus saved them money on gas and parking. Parking in downtown Providence, surprisingly, costs a small fortune (compared to other similar mid-sized cities).

Similar to other states, expanding and improving RIPTA has been stalled due to funding issues. RIPTA receives 7.25 cents for every gallon of gasoline sold at retail in RI.
“When the cost of gas goes up, RIPTA does not get any more money as a result of the increase in price,” the report said. “In fact, rising gas costs typically reduce gas sales. So when people drive less, RIPTA loses the extra money needed to pick up the slack – while at the same time paying more itself for fuel.”

Instead, the report suggested, the gasoline tax should be indexed to inflation or the price of fuel and tolls should be added to state highways, with a portion of the revenue diverted to RIPTA. It also listed other possible sources of funding, including employer taxes; parking excises; parking taxes; sales taxes; motor vehicle fees; real-estate transaction and subdivision taxes; and private sponsorship.

RIPTA’s capital funding should also be ramped up, using tax-increment financing (TIF), developer support and federal dollars, the report suggested.

Rhode Island's population growth has really spread out over the past 10 to 15 years. If you are ever in South County take note of the carpool lots scattered off of the state highways. This is a good thing, as RI's traffic congestion has increased.

Ipswich Train Whistle and California's Transit Bill

Train Rider is away on a business trip. I believe Train Rider will be back riding the trails tomorrow.

Starting us off this morning, The Boston Globe wrote an article about how the recently reinstated train whistles are bothering people in Ipswich. Ipswich is the town that MBTA GM Dan Grabauskas lives in. I guess these people aren't Dan's neighbors.

Residents are complaining about the train whistles. Trains run through the town 26 times a day. There are five railroad crossings, all within a half-mile of each other. Trains are required to use their whistles four to five times at each crossing. The whistles have been recorded at 118 decibels. Since the noise impacts 1,000 residents, the town is seeking a waiver from the Railroad Administration. There is a national safety initiative called the Federal Train Horn Rule that mandates the whistles.

This isn't just about noise, it is about safety. The whistles were reinstated due to an accident back in 2004. The town can eliminate the whistles if they spend between $1.2 to $1.5 million installing gates and enhanced electronic monitoring to help notify drivers about the trains. The town tried to obtain a waiver. If they got a waiver, they would pass the five-year anniversary of the '04 accident and their risk index would be reduced.

The big transportation story today was a bill passed by both houses of the California state Legislature and now awaits approval by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The bill has been designed to attack sprawl. Here is an editorial about it from today's Los Angeles Times. This bill marks the first time any state has attempted to tie greenhouse gas reduction to both transportation funding and regional land-use planning. Very interesting.

Finally, MIT's The Tech newspaper published an update today about the new MIT commuter subsidies. About 700 MIT employees have signed up for free transit passes, funded by MIT, for the month of September. Interesting stuff.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Not a Surprise

Train Rider has been tied up with some corporate training initiatives so hasn't had a chance to post. Tomorrow I know Train Rider will be out of town on a business trip.

Yesterday The Milford Daily News published a follow-up to last week's article about the Draper Mill complex. State Senator Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge) has warned that the extension probably won't happen anytime soon.
"Given the MBTA's current financial problems and their long list of existing priorities before extending commuter rail, a study funded by the T is probably not something that will be well-received in the short term," he wrote.

In other news, Switchback posted yesterday about the staircase at the T's Park Street station. The staircase, on the outbound side of the Park Street station, is expected to cost $1.4 million. Geesh!

USA Today's Travel blog ran a piece today about business travelers using Amtrak. The take-away: Amtrak is great if you're traveling on the East Coast, especially on the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington, DC. But in Northern California and in other parts of the country, the service could be better.

On the subject of Amtrak, today's The Boston Globe reports on the Acela train. More cars may be added because Amtrak is out of capacity. Ridership on the Acela has climbed 7.7% in the first ten months of fiscal year 2008. The Acela contributed to Amtrak's total rider gain of 11% nationwide. A ticket surcharge may be added to cover the new cars. USA Today reported that rail advocates want the US to look into developing more train projects.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Marketing Blogs and the MBTA-MIT Suit

I know. I know. We've beaten the MBTA-MIT hackers suit to death.

I'm just really cracking up that two weeks later, this is still making the rounds of marketing publications.

Yesterday, Seana Mulcahy, who contributes to MediaPost's OnlineSPIN blog, wrote a post about MBTA and the MIT students. It is a fun read titled Don't Mess With The MIT. Here's a taste of what Seana wrote:
On a local level, I had to laugh out loud (LOL) when I heard about a
completely ridiculous case, the MBTA v. Anderson. It has spawned national ink
(in hard copy and electronic). Nonetheless, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation
Agency (MBTA) has what it calls a Charlie Ticket System. It is a public transit
system that’s supposed to be safe and secure. Well, think again, folks. It seems
a group of students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) hacked the
system and recently published an academic paper detailing the findings.

I just love it when trains and marketing collide.

Boston Globe: Graubauskas Sullies His "Mr. Fix-it" Rep

In today's The Boston Globe there is a a long article about MBTA GM Dan Graubauskas. Before helming the T three years ago, Graubauskas' rep was outstanding. He was known as the person who fixed the Massachusetts' Registry of Motor Vehicles.
But three years later, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is far from fixed, and there are more political darts aimed at Grabauskas. He has earned praise from transportation activists for putting a focus on efficiency and access and has instituted customer service improvements such as the automated CharlieCard and the beginning of cellphone service on subways. But overwhelming debt, political infighting, and a recent series of controversies and crises at the T have tarnished his image.

It has been a rough summer for the T. And Dan is the ultimate spin-meister. He noted the following:
"We're moving the ball in the right direction," he said. "But in this particular job, there is no end zone. You're either moving in the right direction, or you're moving in the wrong direction."

And reporter Noah Bierman wrote this:
His team provided reams of lists and graphics, including a monthly system accountability book he initiated, to show where he is improving service and saving money. Canceled trips on buses and subways are down, and the fleets are running longer without breaking down, with fewer speed restrictions. Commuter rail, however, continues to run late more often than promised.

Ah yes, the commuter rail. Yes, why isn't the commuter rail running well? And really - the lists and the graphs - do they mean anything? I, for one, would love to see a correlation between T passes and tickets purchased and the actual number of riders/revenue.

Dan, in his head, is probably chalking up all the negative press to a political battle. He was appointed by a Republican governor and now a Democrat leads the state. I think using the political card is a cop-out.

At the end of the day, this is what is at the heart of the matter:
Much of this discussion of debt and politics is academic to the system's hundreds of thousands of riders, who simply want to get to work on time, with some level of comfort.

Dan used a bunch of PR puffery and didn't really address the issue of riders who just want to get to where they are going on time and without a lot of aggravation. Plus Bierman worked in some of the Dan Graubauskas myth and legend into the article.

My "buddy," Metheun State Senator Steven Baddour appears to be a big Graubauskas fan. I will admit, Senator Baddour is on my list because he was so vehemently opposed to I-93 tolls. Steven, just thank the MetroWest and Western drivers when you ride around the state as we are footing the bill.

So the rest of the article really didn't say much, other than Graubauskas has 20 months on his T contract and there are people in state government who still like him, who don't think any of the T's problems are his fault.

Dan is really in the winner's position. If Governor Patrick wants to oust him, the state would have to pay Graubauskas nearly a half-million dollars. So what's Dan's incentive, really? Not much. He's earning a lot of money, he would generate a huge payout. If he loses his job, he would probably go consultant somewhere. It is all win-win for Dan and a huge lose for commuters and state taxpayers.

Whoever does Dan's PR is a total rainmaker.

In other news, yesterday WHDH-TV Channel 7 ran a piece about raises that State Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen extended to T employees. This was five days before Graubauskas tried to give raises to the T executives. Again, what a mess!

The Patriot Ledger reported on a planned MBTA bus service expansion to South Weymouth.

In case you didn't see this, Daily Worcesteria penned an assessment of the new Union Station garage. It looks like some things still need to be worked out.

Finally, checkout Switchback's new blog design. Very nice!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Along the Line - Worcester Haunts

This is an off-transportation post about fun things "along the line" so to speak. Of course, I'm speaking about things along the Worcester-Framingham commuter rail line. Feel free to contribute some suggestions.

I live in the 'burbs, the Worcester suburbs. Worcester has changed a lot - I think it is a much better city today than it was back in the 1980s. There is a good vibe in the city and a lot of wonderful places to go out for a bite to eat. I know Train Rider and I have both waxed poetic about The Corner Grille.

Earlier this summer, Train Stopping received a comment about KJ Baaron's (I think Grafton Train Rider left it, but I don't know for sure).

KJ Baaron's is a fun wine & spirit shop located at 220 Summer Street in Worcester, directly across the rotary from Union Station. They host periodic tastings for things beyond just wine, including a Monday night Whiskey Witch whiskey tasting. If you come off the train some night and you want to try something interesting, go into KJ Baaron's. I don't think it will disappoint.

At tonight's Whiskey Witch tasting, KJ Baaron's was also featuring cupcakes made by The Sugar Girls. Sugar Girls is new . . . so new they don't have a website. They may not need a website because their cupcakes are that good. Yes. The cupcakes Are. That. Good. Utterly amazing. I'm having a small party in a few weeks and I will be ordering some cupcakes from the Sugar Girls. The flavors are out of this world and I really should know, as I consider myself a connoisseur of the cupcake. If you're interested in ordering cupcakes, they can be reached at sugargirlcupacakes AT

Rounding out some downtown Worcester fun, we capped off our evening at Armsby Abbey. This place was fantastic. It is only a few weeks old and it was opened by the team who operates The Dive Bar on Green Street. Armsby Abbey has an extensive menu of artisan beverages, not just artisan beers but artisan spirits too. And the food menu features locally grown produce. The place, located at 144 North Main Street (so there is a lot of available street parking) is a really great joint. Amazing atmosphere, great service, a fantastic menu, and great cocktails. Check it out - especially after a bad commute, Armsby Abbey will make you smile.

So that's it for the first Along the Line post. We'll be covering other haunts that we like.

Medical Emergency

I took the P508 train in this morning. We were delayed due to a medical emergency at Southborough station. I hope the person is OK.

We ended up arriving at South Station around 8:35 a.m.

On a side note, there was a person on my train who was having the loudest conversation on their cell phone. Perhaps I should contact Muni Manners. Back in May, they wrote a great post about Cell Phone Usage on public transit.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Smooth Friday Commute

TGIF. I can't believe this is the second to last "summer" Friday. Well, at least before Labor Day.

For a "summer" Friday, it has been a busy one. My commute was fine, very smooth. The P508 arrived in Grafton at 7:09 a.m. and we pulled into South Station at 8:18 a.m.

Boy, there is nothing like talking about fares and tolls to get the comments rolling in. Great comments to Grafton Train Rider's latest ordeal. To Anon 9:43 - your E-Z Pass suggestion is brilliant. I, for one, have never understood why Massachusetts had to go its own way and implement the "Fast Lane" program instead of E-Z Pass. A boatload of Northeastern states (NY, NJ, ME, NH, heck even RI will use it for the Newport Bridges) use it. Why did we have to be different? Different can be good and it can also be bad.

Here is The Globe's take on the Mass Pike Toll saga. Just so I don't come off as a person who promotes regional bias. Drivers who live in MetroWest and the western netherland aren't the only ones who will be impacted if the discounted tolls go away. Residents of East Boston, the North End and Southie will also lose their discounted tunnel privileges.

I will say - $.40 to drive through a tunnel that is normally $3.50 is a way better deal than the $.25 discount at the Allston-Brighton tolls and the $.50 tunnel discount extended to Fast Lane users.

To end the week, I'm sharing this article from today's Wall Street Journal (subscription may be required). Some real estate agents (including Craig Della Penna of The Murphys Realtors in Northampton, MA) are taking prospective buyers on neighborhood tours via bicycle. These Realtors are targeting buyers who are interested in alternatives to driving and may be looking for bicycle-friendly places to live.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

All About the Tolls

It is close to the end of the day and I'll be heading out on my own (thankfully toll free) commute. But I wanted to share this article from today's MetroWest Daily News about the recent toll discussion. In the catchy-titled "MetroWest: For whom the commute tolls" the bane of MetroWest (and West) drivers is addressed.

Yup, those of us who live West of Boston are footing the bill for the Big Dig project. I don't think the I-93 drivers who live North and South of the city are thanking us. We're not martyrs, but maybe we should be.
The announcement comes to the chagrin of people like Mary Z. Connaughton, who has served on the Mass. Turnpike Authority's toll equity working group since last fall.

Connaughton, who lives in Framingham, sees the Mass. Pike tolls as an unfair fee structure that places a disproportionate fiscal burden on MetroWest commuters. Expanding the tolls to I-93, both north and south of Boston, is a proposal she would like to see fleshed out.

Through tolls, MetroWest commuters have shouldered the brunt of projects like the Big Dig and supported Turnpike infrastructure outside of the region for too long, Connaughton said.

The article noted that someone driving from Framingham to Boston during the work week could incur toll costs of $1,400.00 annually. Of course, MetroWest commuters could take the commuter rail, but it isn't an option that works for everyone. And not every commuting using the Pike is taking it all the way into downtown Boston. A lot of people have the unfortunate circumstances of working for companies located along Route 9 (TJX anyone) or 128. If you work along 128, it is either drive or try to telecommute.
In a May letter to the Turnpike Authority, Paul Matthews, executive director of the Westborough-based 495/MetroWest Corridor Partnership, wrote Pike tolling options should be reviewed and tolling strategies should be developed where daily commuting cost is "more equitable from all directions."

I don't buy the North Shore's seemingly powerful or motivated reps who feel that adding tolls on I-93 would require federal approval. Why? Because, when you get to the heart of it, the Mass Pike IS a federal road. I-90 is part of the great Interstate Highway. And have these same public officials been up to New Hampshire anytime in the past 25 or so years? Guess what - as soon as you cross over into New Hampshire, on Federal roads, you hit a toll booth.

This is a good time for state reps and senators representing Central Mass and Metro West to step up and demand equal parity for transportation costs!

To make matters worse, for those of us who live West of the city, in today's Mass Pike meeting the authority decided to eliminate discounts for Fast Lane users, according to WBZ. Yup, the one discount that benefited MetroWest / West drivers the most is going away. Really, the "discount" was only $.25 at the Allston-Brighton booth and $.50 at the tunnels.

Eliminating this discount will generate an extra $18 million to the cash-strapped Pike.

I suppose it could be worse - the Pike could have raised tolls across the system.

With that, I need to leave the office and drive home.

Fares Not Collected

Grafton Train Rider shared the following correspondence on an inquiry submitted to the Commuter Rail Customer Service site.
Dear Train Rider,
Feel free to post.
Grafton Train Rider
Here was Grafton Train Rider's original submission, sent in because fares were not collected and the P533 train was late on 8/14/2008.
It's bad enough to have your trains arrive over 30 minutes late with no signage indicating so at the station! The female conductor did not even bother to collect fares. I asked another passenger who boarded at South Station, and she said that the conductor did not collect for passengers boarding there either. To make matters worse, there was no announcement, apology and/or explanation about the train arriving over 30 mintues late. Sometimes I wonder why I pay for a monthly pass when the fares are not collected consistently.
This is the response that Grafton Train Rider received from the MBCR:
Dear Grafton Train Rider,
I have read your email regarding your commute on the 14th of August.

I have forwarded this information to the trainmaster responsible for conductors asking that these issues be addressed with the crew of this train. There was a mechanical failure on an earlier train that resulted in the 36 minute delay out of South Station. There is no excuse for not telling our passengers something, even if the crew is not aware of the exact circumstance they are obliged to make announcements throughout any delay. As for not collecting fares, the proper collection of revenue is a major responsibility and I have been assured that this will be addressed as well.

I am sorry that it is necessary for you to have to write to us again but thank you for bringing it to my attention.
Linda Dillon
MBCR Customer Service Manager
I've said it before and I'll say it again, I would hate to work in customer service and I would really hate to have Linda Dillon's job.

Seriously, though, when will one of the media outlets or one of our elected officials start to put pressure on the MBTA/MBCR to do the following:
  1. Collect Fares. The T can't keep on bellyaching that they are running out of budget if they do not attempt to at least collect the revenue at hand. Yes, I get it, I know that the fares do not support the T. But when you have NO money, SOME money has got to help.
  2. Communicate. We live in an electronic age. We are not relying on telegraphs to transmit information. How hard is it to notify riders that trains will be delayed?
Point #2 becomes moot if they just want us to let us ride the trains for free. If the trains were a free service, heck yeah, we wouldn't really have any right to complain if the service sucked.

But the key point is - we're paying for service. At least some of us are. And I suppose fewer people are paying . . . at least in the form of a monthly pass. Because, what's the point? Fares aren't collected. So why blow $250 a month if you're a Zone 8 commuter, when you can gamble and just buy a 12-ride pass for $93.00?

Better yet - how's this for a gamble - buy a Zone 1A multi-fare pass for $20.40 for 12 rides for your outbound commutes. If they're not collecting fares, will you actually get caught for using the cheapest multi-ride ticket outbound all the way to Westborough, Grafton or Worcester?

I would love to see a state rep, state senator or a "mainstream" media outlet run an investigation on (1) how many monthly passes are purchased - by zone, (2) correlate that to the actual number of commuter rail riders and (3) the actual amount of fares collected. If I had to make an unscientific guess, I would bet that there are way more riders than the fares are showing.

MBTA and MBCR - step up to the plate and do your part!

Thanks to Grafton Train Rider for sharing!

Sweet Fun and Other News of the Day

So this is sweet fun . . . featured Train Stopping again.


Thanks to the North Shore drivers who mentioned that some North Shore drivers incur tolls if they use the Tobin Bridge or one of the tunnels for their commutes into Boston. But we still have drivers in a great portion of the state (north of the city along I-93 and south of the city) who don't incur any tolls, yet directly benefit from the Big Dig project. I could even argue that residents directly north and south of Boston benefited more from the Big Dig than others did.

Adding toll booths might not be feasible and could cause massive delays. However, I would like the idea to be researched, not just glossed over. Some cities - such as London - use electronic transponders to charge drivers for accessing roads. Massachusetts already has the Fast Lane program in use on the Mass Pike. I'm all for seeing if it can be extended to other roads. I would love to make sure that everyone is paying a fair amount towards our state's transportation infrastructure costs.

My commute this morning on the P508 was good, right on time again. The train pulled into Grafton at 7:08 a.m. and we arrived to South Station at 8:20 a.m.

From today's Boston Globe, there was an article in the Business section about the NorthPoint development project near the MBTA's Lechmere Green Line station. The state is going to take over building a new MBTA station at the Cambridge site, due to delays caused by the NorthPoint development team in building the $70 million station. The development team was supposed to build the new Lechmere station because the state gave them property for the NorthPoint project.
So the state Executive Office of Transportation said it instead will build the new station, and incorporate the project into its massive extension of the Green Line to Medford. This adds a new wrinkle - and potentially millions of dollars in costs - to a transit upgrade that has been promised for years.

Transportation officials yesterday did not answer questions about how much it would cost the state to build a new Lechmere Station, nor would they say if it will affect the timeline. The project was schedules to be completed in 2014.

The station must be moved to place it along the tracks that are being used to extend the Green Line through Somerville to Medford. Currently, that Green Line ends at Lechmere.

This is a day late, but I loved the headline from yesterday's Bostonist story. Psych! I used that all the time back in the day.

Interesting article from yesterday's The Milford Daily News about a project in Hopedale, MA. The Draper Mill in Hopedale is being redeveloped. Since there is a direct connection between the Draper complex and the Forge Park MBTA station in Franklin, both the town of Hopedale and the Draper's developers would like to see if the commuter rail can be extended to this mill.

This is interesting on a number of different levels. First - residents in many of the towns around Hopedale (Upton, Northbridge, Medway, Milford) either have to go to Franklin or go to one of the Worcester line's stations if they want to use the commuter rail. Second - the reinvigorated Grafton-Upton line could play a role in this. Third - money, if the T does get involved, will be an issue.

Tom Conroy, who is a state rep for the towns of Lincoln, Sudbury, and Wayland, wrote this commentary for WickedLocal Lincoln. It is about fiscal responsibility, especially our state's fiscal issues.

Neal Templin, columnist for The Wall Street Journal's newish "Cheapskate" column, wrote a fun piece on commuting into Manhattan. Neal recently located to the metro-NYC area from Dallas. While the ferry is a better experience, it costs $5 a trip. Neal opts for the $1.75 train that takes him from Hoboken, NJ to the World Trade Center. I'm not sure if today's column would have had the same relevance a year ago. But now, people really are factoring in the cost of their commutes. His article is a quick, easy read, however most WSJ articles do require a subscription to read.

Finally, Commute-a-holic tipped me off to this article from a marketing industry publication called ClickZ. The article is about email marketing, which frankly, I'm not that familiar with. However, I got a kick out what the author used to make his point that (apparently) many marketers are living in a denial regarding digital media tactics. What example did he use . . . trains. Here is an excerpt:
Commuting to New York City frequently, I opt to take the Metro-North Railroad. Each day, it feels like millions of straphangers jam these trains, scurrying for seats for the daily hour-plus ride from the suburbs into Manhattan. This being New York, the trains are a living example of the premise that "if it can go wrong, it will." These trains don't always run on time. It's not unusual for a train to be stopped dead in its tracks for anywhere from a couple of minutes to an hour. Commuters are often left in the dark, without air conditioning, wondering, "What is going on?" Smartphones appear, wireless modems are turned on. Everyone's trying to understand what is happening.

When tempers peak, the lights return, the air flows, and we move on. The train operators realize that angry customers aren't a good thing. In their great wisdom -- and with a focus on customer service -- they leave commuters with a 5 in. x 7 in. piece of paper on the seats for our evening commute, entitled "An Explanation for the Morning's Train Delay." If passengers aren't careful -- and, really, who is after a long day? -- they'll sit on the sheet of paper without looking at the message.

Here we are, in the media capital of the world. The year is 2008, not 1878. And the mass transit organization hasn't figured out how to send breaking news alerts and apology notifications via e-mail? Can you imagine how many hours it took the department to format this printed notification, then put it on the seats in every car of every train leaving Grand Central Station during rush hour? It's absurd! Especially in light of the fact that all this work was done for one day's train delay.

Trains are delayed all the time. This practice gets replayed hundreds of times a year. What part of the e-mail and Internet movement has the transit authority missed? If it started looking at the technology that its customers use each day, it would figure out that the best way to communicate -- the essential way to communicate with customers -- is real-time e-mail.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Ueventful Commute

It is GORGEOUS out ... love, love, love this weather!!!

This morning's commute was uneventful and on time today.

Regarding the T's announcement that Danny G. is going to roll back the salary increase. Finally, a good management decision! Who cares that the Secretary of Transportation told Danny-boy mandated that this be done. It got done.

Today's Globe published a longer article about the MIT-Charlie Card saga than yesterday afternoon's story.
"It's good that they've at least acknowledged that," Zack Anderson said in a telephone interview after yesterday's hearing. "The issues really do need to be fixed."

The lawyer representing the MBTA, Ieuan G. Mahony, and T general manager Daniel A. Grabauskas said the agency will now try to meet with the students in hopes of learning more about their research - a much more conciliatory approach than it had taken over the previous two weeks. Civil liberties groups and Internet technology buffs have been watching the case closely for its possible ramifications on the limitations of free speech as it relates to electronic security.
The article noted that fewer than a third of the T's riders actually use CharlieTickets. That seems low for such an extensive, expensive system. Of course, commuter rail riders can't use the tickets. About 70% of all T riders use the CharlieCards.

Along with the more in-depth article, The Globe also published an Editorial called "Charlie's devils." The editorial contains some good background history into the technology behind the CharlieTicket/CharlieCard.
STRAPPED WITH an $8.1 billion debt, the MBTA can't afford expensive upgrades to its automated fare equipment. That may explain, in part, why the transit agency put such extraordinary legal pressure on three MIT students who claim to have found a way to hack into the transit system's $180 million automated fare system. But trotting out the lawyers didn't make the T less vulnerable to future hackers.

The MBTA needs to find better ways to secure its revenues without sinking further into debt or stomping on the First Amendment rights of hackers. That probably leaves out purchasing an entirely upgraded MIFARE system that uses more advanced encryption standards but would cost about $6 per card, according to T officials - about 12 times the current cost.

While much of the public is focused on a courtroom where a federal judge yesterday lifted a gag order on the MIT hackers, there has been too little attention on what the T is doing to protect the public transit system.

The T erred by not seeking an independent analysis of MIFARE's security capacity during the purchase phase. But it is not standing still. General Manager Daniel Grabauskas says the agency is pressing NXP and its vendors to improve the current system. And new encryption features already have been added to the CharlieCard to frustrate hackers. "The next generation of protection is already in the works," says Grabauskas.

The Day of No

Wednesday must be "no" day for transportation in Massachusetts.
  • No Tolls for Interstate 93 Drivers
  • No Raises to T executive employees who earn less than $70,000 per year
The Telegram & Gazette ran a brief article this morning about the I-93 toll proposal. Mass Pike drivers, who unfortunately live West of Boston and thus outside of the political realm in Massachusetts, will continue footing the Big Dig project. These are enhancements that I-93 drivers probably take better advantage of than those of us who live West of the city.

Mary Connaughton, a Mass Pike Board Member, feels that this announcement effectively ends any attempt at toll equity.

Sen. Steven Baddour from Methuen (who I'm beginning to not really like, mainly because I disagree with his stance on a range of transportation issues), of course is thrilled that the prospective tolls will not be imposed on I-93 drivers.

Could we please have some transportation parity here in Massachusetts?

I can't find an article to support this online, but during this morning's newscast on WCVB-TV Channel 5, the report mentioned that the State Secretary of Transportation, Bernard Cohen, had asked for a traffic study to be conducted on I-93. Due to the political ramifications of adding tolls to 93, the study was not completed. Instead, the state used data from a few years ago.

I'm really ticked off about this. I don't understand why North Shore and South Shore drivers get a free ride into Boston, where as everyone who lives West of Boston need to continue to pay to get into the city. It is so unfair.

In other news, the 9% raise that the MBTA announced last week is off the table. According to an article posted last night to, Secretary Cohen sent MBTA GM Dan Grabauskas a letter asking him to immediately halt the raises.
Cohen's proposal would spare some of the lower paid employees, giving them a partial raise, while asking executives to go without one. The MBTA has an $8.2 billion debt and had to reach into reserves to stay afloat this year.

“This request is a necessary and important step as we leave no stone unturned in restoring fiscal health to all transportation agencies and deliver high quality and cost effective services to citizens of the Commonwealth," Cohen said in his statement.

Grabauskas also announced that we would voluntarily decline the cost of living increase he was due under his contract this year, as would his general counsel.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

MBTA Admits CharlieCard Ticketing Flaw

This just in from Gag order lifted against MIT students as T admits ticketing flaw.
The MBTA acknowledged today that flaws exist with CharlieTickets that will take months to remedy after being exposed by three MIT students who hacked into the transit system's automated ticketing system for a school project.
So how long will it really take the T to fix this? What's a couple of months? Because further in the article, the T's attorney said that it will take five months to fix this.
Attorney Cindy Cohn of the Electronic Frontier Foundation represented the students today in court. She took issue with using the word "hacking" to describe the students' work, saying that they used a legal method know as "reverse engineering" to comprise the MBTA's system. Regardless, Cohn cheered the judge's decision.

"I hope it gives people comfort that they can continue to do security research without the fear that they are going to be dragged into federal court and gagged," Cohn said.

And in the "we couldn't have send it better ourselves, AJ really articulated why we're all so outraged about the T's "raises" in this comment posted earlier today:

In the end, I still don't feel for a company with so many problems the thing to do is reward past behavior. That's essentially what this is. Most people get raises based on performance, and this team has done nothing to steer this ship in the right direction! If there were a light at the end of this tunnel, or the T had just unveiled some radical new plan that would bail them out without resulting a ridiculous fare increase (some increase is to be expected), then perhaps this move wouldn't be so scrutinized and even then not acceptable but maybe tolerable.

Muggy Morning Commute

Belch! It was muggy this morning. Plus, when I arrived to the office, our AC wasn't on. So it was 83 degrees. Egad! Double-double muggy.

This morning's commute was fine. The P508 has been running a few minutes early of late, so it behoves people (and when I say people, I mean me) to be at the station early as well. The train arrived to Grafton at 7:07 a.m. and we arrived at South Station at 8:19 a.m.

If you work for the MBTA, decide to skim some funds and get caught, what happens? Well, if you're Gilberto Carrasquillo, you get fired. Read all about it in today's Boston Herald. Carrasquillo, who worked for the T for 22 years, admitted that he had stolen funds from the T at least 4 other times.

The Herald also ran a great editorial about the T this morning titled MBTA passengers taken for a ride. It is all about the T's 9% raise to managers, the T's debt, and other ongoing issues.
But MBTA riders who are trying to get by without raises at all in this dismal economy won’t see it that way. And neither do we.
The Herald isn't all brawl in the editorial either. They acknowledge that the employees who are receiving the raises haven't received a raise since 2005 and they will be paying more for their health care insurance deductibles. Yet the editorial staff made this point too:
But with $8 billion in debt, the possibility of a massive fare hike looming and no money on hand to meet its ever-growing obligations, the MBTA quite simply can’t afford to engage in a practice just because it’s always been that way. No one can!
In other T news, CNet published a nice article about Zack Anderson, one of the MIT students currently involved with the "hacking" issue. Zack is obviously super-smart and has big plans for his future. Good luck to Zack and the other students involved in this messy affair.

Finally, Inside Higher Ed weighed in on 4-day workweeks. A number of colleges, especially community colleges, are experimenting with 4-day workweeks, which directly impact students. I could see this model working for community colleges, but I would think it would be tougher for residential colleges to implement.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Missed Letter to the Editor

Sometimes I don't get a chance to read newspapers delivered to me off-line right away. Such is the case with this past Saturday's The Boston Globe.

Mark Slater of the Bay Village Neighborhood Association wrote a pertinent letter to The Globe's editorial staff titled "Reckless expansion distorts T deficit." Mark - we could not say it better ourselves.

Here is the letter in its entirety. Well said!
IN AN AUG. 7 editorial ("T for troubled"), the Globe lamented that the MBTA's service failings can be attributed to "$8.1 billion debt that saps 27 percent of operating costs just to pay the interest. The debt is unfair and severely distorts the T's balance sheet. The state should find a way to ease the burden."

The Globe ignores common sense by blindly asserting that the MBTA general manager has limited ability to control its finances, as "fares are the only significant part of the T's budget over which Grabauskas has control."

Quite to the contrary, the MBTA has a great deal of control over its finances and its debt levels. The MBTA's fixation on debt-funded expansion - even when a lack of projected ridership revenue fails to support the increase in debt - will cause a continuing degradation in service levels and a need for ongoing taxpayer bailouts.

A leading example of this fiscal folly is the widely reviled Silver Line Phase III, a $1.5 billion to $2 billion bus tunnel touted as providing Roxbury residents with a "one-stop ride" to Logan airport. This project will result in an increase of the MBTA's debt by $600 million to $800 million, despite adding an insignificant number of new riders to the system and despite the fact there is no demand from Roxbury residents for this route.

As it has in many such situations, the MBTA has studiously ignored far less expensive alternative solutions which would avoid the consequent debt increase.

Until the MBTA fixes its thoroughly broken system for project planning, it will stay in a cycle of constantly increasing debt to fund its mismanaged expansion. The bailout of the MBTA without needed planning reforms will simply allow the problem to grow unchecked.

Road Work = Missed Train

Chi-town was awesome. What a great city. I loved it!

I was even able to take the EL train. My flight was delayed due to weather on Friday, so I finally arrived at Chicago's Midway airport around 8:30 p.m. CDT. It took me 45 minutes to get into downtown Chicago from Midway. I connected somewhere on the Loop. It was cool riding an EL train.

Since I parked at a remote lot, I took the Silver Train to my car last night. The Silver Train was a total cluster eff. Ah, back in Boston I guess.

My original intent was to take the P512, which departs Grafton at 7:49 a.m. But due to unbeknownst road closures in my area, my drive to the station was re-routed and I didn't arrive until 7:47 a.m. Since the train was already there, I didn't have time to park, walk across the bridge and get onto the train. So I drove in. Blah. I was really looking forward to my train naps!

The MIT story is the one that just keeps on going on and on, huh? Another front-page article in today's The Boston Globe. The T is just not handling this very well. Zack Anderson, one of the three students involved, noted the following:
Anderson said the MBTA should consider his project an opportunity to improve security. He says the students omitted enough key details from their 87-page PowerPoint presentation, titled "anatomy of a subway hack," that others would not be able to program free rides onto their CharlieCards. The students also say that after they were visited by FBI agent Jacob Shaver and MBTA Sergeant Richard Sullivan on Aug. 4, they gave the MBTA a confidential "vulnerability assessment" so the agency could fix the gaps in its fare-collection system.

"It wasn't to enable others to get a free fare or cause any sort of havoc," Anderson said, calling over the Internet from Mexico, where he was on vacation last week. "It was really to show how major the issues are in this system, which also might resonate in many other systems around the world."

Even one Scott Kirsner, a columnist who covers technology and emerging issues, has weighed in with an article about this situation. Scott provided a great summary of the coverage to date - he noted that Kristen Amico, a blogger at high tech PR firm Schwartz Communications in Waltham found 400 blog articles along on the topic. Amazing, huh?

The bad news for the MBTA just keeps rolling in. A T employee is the latest "public servant" who apparently thinks that skimming from public funds is A-OK." What is this - the third Massachusetts public employee outed this summer for stealing? In the latest case, 20 year MBTA employee Gilberto Carrasquillo was caught in a sting operation for stealing cash from MBTA lock boxes. Unreal. I really enjoyed reading The Boston Herald's point of view. I guess Gilberto's $70,757 annual salary wasn't enough? Shame on him and all the other public employees busted for stealing from the Commonwealth this year.

Yesterday's "Starts & Stops" column that ran in the Western Globe regional editions was interesting. Apparently the Metropolitan Transportation Agency in New York needs to make-up a $900 million deficit. They just implemented a 3.85% rate hike in March and another one for buses, trains, subways, and bridge/tunnel toll booths may be coming. Essentially the MTA is encountering the same issues as the MBTA - more riders, higher fuel costs, and less revenue from taxable sources.

The Northern edition of "Starts & Stops" focused on an increase in ridership for buses operated by the Lowell Regional Transit Authority.

Finally, WickedLocal Acton covered the ongoing saga of the South Acton commuter rail station's parking lot plan. People who live in South Acton feel that the planned one-story parking structure will ruin the character of an historic neighborhood, increase traffic and not help solve the parking issues plaguing this Fitchburg line's stop. South Acton has some of the heaviest traffic flows in Acton, especially during rush hour.

The T is being charged with adding 1,000 parking spaces along the commuter rail lines as part of an agreement with environmental groups that was part of the Big Dig's mitigation. The South Acton garage is supposed to coincide with other improvements to the Fitchburg line. The goal is to cut times from Fitchburg into Cambridge and then North Station by about 30 minutes.

Acton residents are frustrated with their inability to obtain details about this project from the MBTA. The town may have to commit to the project before plans from the MBTA engineers have been finalized.

Some interesting suggestions were made at last week's meeting to discuss the South Acton station.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Tech Support 101 and 9% Raises

It is so unreal how the MBTA is turning the tables on the three MIT students. This students must feel like they are living in a nightmare.

In an article from today's Boston Globe, the MBTA's Chief Technology officer gave employees the following warning in an email:
"The e-mail, sent yesterday afternoon and obtained by the Globe, warned MBTA computer users to "be aware of the possibility of malicious activity aimed at MBTA Information Technology (IT) assets and resources."

This is IT 101 - employees should ALWAYS be aware of harmful emails. Is the MBTA really the juvenile circus they come off as being in the press? Are they professional at all, what so ever?

Maybe I'm just too close to techies, but I sincerely doubt these students wanted to hack into the MBTA's system. It can be hard to find original research in academia. Why can't the T look at this as three students who just saw an opportunity for some original research that could actually be applied instead of just theoretically discussed?

Robert Caron of Northborough wrote a letter to the Globe's editors with a similar sentiment (albiet a lot more pro-Grabauskas than I usually am):
IT'S SURPRISING to see the MBTA's actions concerning the MIT student project concerning Charlie Card security ("T sues 3 students before hacker show," City & Region, Aug. 10). This is very unlike Dan Grabauskas; I can only guess he was browbeaten by his legal staff into wielding a sledgehammer here.

Grabauskas has long been a competent, out-of-the-box state official. He has a shining track record for fixing what's broken in state agencies, often with the most innovative of solutions.

What I would have expected is Grabauskas to form some kind of team or partnership with the students, praising MIT for its students' contributions to the betterment of the Commonwealth, and reaping their undoubted expertise. Instead, it seems like both an operational and promotional opportunity missed.

As if the T isn't in enough hot water in terms of budget, both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe report this morning that more than 200 T executives are receiving a 9% raise.

Are you kidding me? Seriously - are you really kidding me? Everyone - raise your hand if you've ever worked at a for-profit company and if you received a 9% raise when revenue is down?

According to the Herald, the raise will be spread out across three years. Still - that's 3% a year. I've worked at profit-driven companies that have given a lot less than a 3% raise when times were tough. Here are some quotes from the Herald article:

Rene Mardones, community organizer for the T Riders Union, blasted the raises given the fiscal situation, saying, “I understand the working class people might need a raise to keep up with the cost of living, but for senior executives, it’s hard to swallow.”

MBTA officials declined to say how much the raises, which are for managers often raking in $100,000 a year or more, would cost. The wage hike comes after employees at the largest union at the MBTA won $150 million in raises over the next two years in an arbitration settlement.

It is pretty hard to have any sympathy for the devil.

Our favorite GM Dan Grabauskas was quoted with the following:

“I don’t see any reason to penalize this very small number of employees simply because they are not in the union,” Grabauskas said.

Dan - 240 employees (confirmed by The Globe), is not a "very small number of employees." You must think that the citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are utter morons. It must be really good to be among the 4% of employees who are T managers. Boy - they really deserved their raises because your agency is just purely top-notch.

The MBTA has estimated the pay increases - if applied to all 6,300 MBTA employees - will cost the agency $150 million more over the next two years. Grabauskas has not said how the agency will pay for that, but he has acknowledged it will be a challenge given the MBTA had to deplete its reserves this year to patch a $75 million deficit this year.

Where is our Governor? This is crazy.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Street Cars


I wanted to share this article from yesterday's The New York Times about the reemergence of street cars in American cities.

Cincinnati, OH plans to revive their street car line (dismantled in the 1950s) to connect the city in a six- to eight-mile loop. At least 40 other US cities are also exploring streetcar plans.
Modern streetcars, like those Cincinnati plans to use, cost about $3 million each, run on an overhead electrical wire and carry up to 130 passengers per car on rails that are flush with the pavement. And since streetcars can pick up passengers on either side, they can make shorter stops than buses.

Portland, OR has spearheaded the reintroduction of streetcars to American cities. They launched the first modern streetcar program in the US in 2001, which has helped spur development. More than 10,000 residential units have been built. Also, there has been $3.5 billion invested in property within two blocks of the streetcar line. Wow - talk about urban restoration.

There are detractors - some feel that streetcars only help spur downtown revitalization projects.

It is certainly an interesting time in transportation in the US.

Off to Chicago

I'll be visiting Chicago for the first time ever this weekend. Consequently, I drove in, since my return flight arrives to Logan late Sunday night. I'm excited - I've heard great things about "The Windy City."

Yesterday The Telegram & Gazette jumped on the "increase in ridership" bandwagon with an article about how more people are using public transportation instead of their own vehicles.

The state's 15 regional transit authorities have all shown monthly ridership gains of between 3 percent to 11 percent. The MBTA's Fitchburg line stations have seen an increase in parking revenue, according to the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority. For stations along this line, parking revenues are up 15 to 20 percent.

As we all know, all is not well in the world of public transportation. Since people are buying less gas, there is less money being contributed to the transportation authorities coffers.

Information Week had a great article yesterday about how efforts, such as the MBTA's, to quaff security research usually backfire. Here's an excerpt:
The problem of trying to solve security vulnerabilities like this through the legal stifling of speech are manifold. Like the fact that it does nothing to solve the underlying security problems, and steals energy away from actually mitigating the problem. Chris Wysopal summed it up very well in his Zero In A Bit blog at VeraCode:
"Security problems go away by mandating independent security testing before a product is accepted, not by trying to get security researchers to be quiet. This is a good example of how the reactive approach doesn't work. The flaws are still in the system and suing researchers has just shined a bright light on them."

Wysopal is right, and if the energy used to stifle the MIT students from publishing their research had been used to test the payment systems before it was deployed, you'd be reading about something else right now. So if you're upset at these researchers for finding these flaws, your anger is misplaced: it should be directed at the authorities for buying such a sheep of a system.

The idiocy of this all, especially now, is that the student's PowerPoint presentation was given to the thousands of Defcon attendees, and a 5-page vulnerability analysis already has become public. Not to forget, as ZDNet's Richard Koman noted earlier, that the MBTA, in its legal compliant, put a 30-page confidential report written by the students into the public record.
So what's the latest in the plight of these students? According to today's Boston Globe, the federal judge refused to lift the gag order that the MBTA imposed. He also ordered the three students to privately provide more insight into the alleged security flaws.

Have a great weeekend!! I am looking forward to riding the fabled CTA El!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Early Train Arrives in Grafton Again

I'm back from the beach.

My commute was fine this morning. The P508 train actually arrived in Grafton at 7:06 a.m. AJ commented that the train did the same thing on Tuesday. People were still pulling into the parking lot when the train pulled in. To the engineer's credit, I do not think we departed for Westborough until 7:09 a.m. We arrived at South Station at 8:18 a.m.

Today's Boston Globe reports on a MBTA Board Member's "scathing" criticism of the T's ticketing system. Board Member Janice Loux distributed the MIT students' report on the vulnerabilities of the CharlieTicket and CharlieCard programs at yesterday's monthly MBTA board meeting.

Finally, a voice of reason. Janice was quoted with the following comment:
"Whatever the reality of the reports, the automated system is a mess," Loux said, calling for an external audit of the program. "I've lost all confidence in our general manager."
This is what Dan-the-Man Grabauskas had to say:
Daniel A. Grabauskas, general manager of the MBTA, said Monday that claims made in the past against the cards have either been dismissed or dealt with, adding yesterday that both internal audits and federal reviews monitor the program's performance.

Federal officials "have not raised any concerns," Grabauskas told the board. "They have been highly complimentary of the program, and they are pleased with how it's proceeded."

Comments like this cause me to have a confidence crisis in regards to both our federal and state governments. Honestly - Dan's comments make everyone in government seem like a moron, which I know isn't true.

The article closed with noting that Dan avoided answering reporters' questions about potential threats to the T's ticketing system. Good grief!!

In other news from The Globe, another article about the MetroWest Regional Transit Authority's link to the MBTA's Green Line.
"The T focuses on everything within Route 128, but doesn't come out as far as Natick, Framingham and Marlborough, which are big job areas," said John Stasik, chairman of the MetroWest authority's advisory board and its Framingham representative. "Now the buses will connect Boston with employers on the west end of Route 9, including the Bose Corp., Genzyme Corp., and Staples, to the Green Line."

The MWRTA, which was established in 2006, is also adding the region's first public bus route between Weston and Marlborough and they've linked the Natick and Framingham bus services together.

The MWRTA's administrator, Ed Carr, said his operation is looking for ways to accommodate the area's changing commuting patterns. According to Carr, 57 percent of area residents commute to jobs within the Interstate 495 corridor. As a result, he said, local communities have a pressing need for more comprehensive transit services.

"MetroWest, in the last 10 years, has changed from a region of more or less bedroom communities to an area where six of the 10 largest companies in the state are located," said Carr. "There's been a lot of job creation."


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The MBTA In the News

Train Rider is taking a beach day today. What a great day - finally we woke up to some sun instead of fog and rain.

The MBTA in the News . . . (wow - for all you techies - yes CNet!) published an article about the MIT students who found the security flaws in the Charlie Card. The state is going to ask a federal judge tomorrow to place a gag order on the students. The article even contains an email trail between EFF (the Electronic Frontier Foundation) and the MBTA. This is fascinating.

I actually think these students should be commended for discovering the security flaws. It disappoints me that our state continues to use sub-par contractors in developing important projects. The T and the state should want to avoid a security breach at all costs. Look at the issues surrounding TJX, Hannafords, and The Boston Globe. And in the scheme of things - thoses three security issues were relatively minor. Electronic data needs to be processed in a very secure system.

In other news, yesterday WHDH-TV Channel 7 aired a special report on MBTA buses. Maybe they can air a similiar report on the MBTA/MBCR commuter rail system?

The Daily News had a short and direct editorial about the T today. They recommend that MBTA GM Dan Grabauskas try to things before raising fares:
  1. Demand that the unions accept changes in the T's ludicrously generous schedule of salaries and benefits, at least for those employees just walking in the door.
  2. Stop giving away service when demand is heaviest. Whenever there's a big event in Boston, people ride the T for free. It might be an inconvenience for both passengers and employees to collect fares; but when there's money to be made, the T should take advantage.

Both recommendations make a whole lot of sense to me. How about actually collecting fares and trying to run the trains and buses in a logical fashion too? And why not, if you're at it Dan-the-Man, eliminate the "vehicle" privileges for your 65 "on call" employees?

Finally, The Salem News mentions that funding for the Salem MBTA station parking garage has been approved.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Slow Commute

My morning commute was slow today.

I took the P512 which departs Grafton at 7:49 a.m. We got into South Station at 9:17 a.m., which is about 11 minutes behind schedule.

I wonder if the delay was due to the weather? Something else? Who knows, as there was no official announcement. It was slow going from Framingham through the Wellesley's.

On a different note, last night's thunderstorms were CRAZY!!!! I'm ready to see this Florida/London weather move on to another place. Seriously - it is either humid like Florida or just damp and wet like London. I guess as long as it is nice over the weekend . . .

I won't be commuting in tomorrow morning. It will be a beach day instead.

Transportation Funding and Charlie Card Security Breach Finders

According to this morning's Boston Globe, Govenor Deval Patrick's administration is trying to avoid a transportation melt-down. Yesterday, Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen met with the heads of the T, the Turnpike, Massport, and the Highway Department. The subject: finding funding for the debt-plagued T and Turnpike. One solution - diverting monies from Massport and the Highway Department.

Transportation insiders note that another strategy is needed, as there are doubts that this monetary infusion will help the T and the Turnpike with their significant budget issues come fiscal year 2009.

IT publication NetworkWorld published an article yesterday about the MIT students who wanted to show the security flaws with the T's Charlie Card. It is a fun read - case in point:

Oh, sure, their diversionary assault was problematic enough for the clueless bureaucrats: The students did manage to gather details of the cheesiness of CharlieTicket and CharlieCard -- named for you know who -- and they were hell-bent on distributing that information at the recently concluded Defcon security conference.

But here's the real reason the MBTA sought and was granted that court injunction: Seems those MIT hackers had unearthed incontrovertible evidence that Charlie did get off of that train -- and right quick, mind you. What has followed has been a massive cover-up stretching six decades.

One of the comments to this article is dead-on:

The hackability of the MBTA's "smart" card is not news. Neither is the T's inability to manage the system when it actually works.

Since the poor selection of technology was made by our blundering "Authority", security experts have been sounding all manner of warnings. Presenting some findings at a security conference won't tell experts more than they already know. Rather, it will serve to rightfully humiliate the inflated egos and T seat-warmers who, as a matter of job description, maintain a sense of self importance lest the alleged legitimacy of the "Authority" be shaken. Any threat to reputation, particularly when the bondholders get to read about yet another blundering mess, most certainly deserves a Code Red. Never mind the big investors who the T (and therefore the state and taxpayers) are out billions for. What if the public finally got the drift: that their critical piece of transportation infrastructure is headed by idiots, political hacks, and the very unemployable elsewhere? Why, they might revolt and clean out the joint! Maybe the "Authority" would be no more. Can't have that. The T has always been a sweet deal for nephews of State Senators and friends of others in high places. Horrors!

Imagine the trouble for those former T hacks who would have to fend for themselves in what we call the "dreaded private sector"? They'd lose all those perks such as"Authority"-provided SUV's (for employees of a public transit system - one that runs trains and buses).

Gee, I wonder if a rider of the commuter rail, bus, subway, or commuter boat submitted that comment?

The Globe also published an update on this issue. The MIT students made some really reasonable recommendations. Too bad when Danny G is on the hot seat, he only knows how to freak out.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Busy, Busy Monday

Sorry for such a delayed post - I was jammed busy this morning. My commute on the P508 train was fine this morning. Nothing unusual to report.

Did everyone hear about the three MIT kids who hacked into the MBTA's Charlie Card to show some of the security issues with the card? Well the T is suing them. According to The Boston Herald, the MBTA students wanted to show the MBTA how to fix the problem. Why fix something that doesn't work, when you can just sue?

Commute-a-holic gave me the latest Worcester Magazine issue over the weekend. There is an article about the Worcester line. Since they rejiggered the schedule back in March, the Worcester line is now the 4th best performing of the 14 MBCR commuter rail lines. The line's on-time performance in July 2008 was 91%.

Has anyone noticed that the monthly on-time performance charts at South Station, which used to be visible, are now hidden? What is up with that?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Blog Fun

Two fun blog posts about the MBTA.

Redfin - Boston Sweet Digs yesterday wrote about why Harvard needs to bail out the T. That article linked to this clever list created by Mike Mennonno. Mike - a brilliant list on 10 ways to fix the T!

Over at Universal Hub, an interesting discussion yesterday about why the media is so lenient with Dan Grabauskas.

Happy Weekend!

Lucky 08-08-08 Morning Commute

Those storms were terrible last night, huh? I lost my power around 11:40 p.m. and it didn't come back on until 2:00 a.m. Crazy!

This morning's commute was good. The P508 train arrived in Grafton at 7:09 a.m. and we got to South Station at 8:22 a.m. It wasn't that crowded today, either. I'm sure a lot of people took the day off, as there are really only four more summer Friday's before Labor Day. Boy, does the summer zip by.

Let the games begin . . . the Olympic Games that is!

From today's The Boston Globe, an interesting article about commuter delays on the Haverhill commuter rail line. Due to unexplained power surges that short out signals, at least 100 trains have been delayed on this line since January. National Grid runs power lines along the tracks. The electrical disturbances do not cause a safety issue but they can disrupt travel.

The MBCR sent National Grid a letter in July complaining that the power company is not doing enough to fix what is described as an "emergency situation." This issue has caused 1 in 4 trains on the Haverhill line to be at least five minutes late in both June and July. At least 10% of all the Haverhill trains have been late since February 2008.
"It's just frustrating," said Jeralyn Levasseur of Haverhill, an administrative assistant at Massachusetts General Hospital, "that every day, if you have something you need to be to at a certain time, that you're not guaranteed to get there."

Levasseur is annoyed with many aspects of the service and safety on the trains, though she praises conductors for acting professionally despite the turmoil.

MBTA GM Dan Grabausaks was quoted as saying this situation is "unacceptable."

My question - if this issue has been going on since January, why hasn't the T or the MBCR tried to communicate the seriousness of the issue to the media, to put pressure on National Grid to resolve the situation?

Supposedly the issue will be fixed soon.

In other news, the T has introduced some "green" buses into the bus line. Yesterday 155 low emission buses were launched into the bus fleet. Seventy of the buses will serve the North Shore, 65 will serve the South Shore and 20 will run routes around greater Boston.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Fitchburg Line Delays from Porter Square

Fitchburg Rider sent the following email to us today, regarding some recent delays on the Fitchburg line.

Thanks Fitchburg Rider for sharing.

Hi Train Stopping,

I regularly ride the Fitchburg line from Porter Square/Littleton, and since they started fixing the tracks during the day, the 4:50 pm Commuter Express from Porter Square has been at least 10 minutes late every day for the past two weeks. And because the crowd waiting for the 4:50 pm train now gets on with the other crowd waiting for the 5 PM train, the trains are packed solid, with no seats left such that riders must STAND UP for the entire express trip from Porter Square to Acton. It is ugly. And MBTA will never admit it -- they claim that only the trains from mid-morning to mid-afternoon are affected, but now we are even more miserable. They should add more cars, but dream on...

Fitchburg Rider Chat with Dan Grabauskas hosted a chat with Dan Grabauskas.

According to the chat's transcript, you can email Dan directly at I have no idea if this is actually Dan's email address or if it is some general email address that is used to answer rider concerns. visitors asked some good questions. Some of the answers, though, tend to fall into the standard Dan-speak of canned answers. I still don't get why the media loves this guy so much. I would grade his performance at a C- at best.

This question caught my eye. You might think it is because I ride the Worcester-Framingham line, but that's not why I was drawn to this question. No, I was fascinated by this question because they did not answer it.
Ttime: A colleague of mine takes the Framingham/Worcester commuter rail. She is going to cancel her monthly passes and purchase 12 ticket rides, because the conductors do not check passes when the train is crowded. What are your plans to enforce that every rider has to show a pass or have their tickets punched? I would imagine that this is costing the T quite a bit of money!
Hmm, Dan, why don't you address it? Because those of us who aren't doing it are thinking about doing it, especially if raises get raised. Why . . . because we're spending a great deal of money on passes that aren't being checked and because loads of people are using the commuter rail and the T for free.

No surprise here either . . . commuter rail schedules will be adjusted again in the near future. Dan said that schedules are adjusted twice a year, but I think some schedules are tweaked more often.

There were other questions in the chat that didn't have answers and there were some answers that really weren't answers.

Lousy Weather, Late Train Not Really Late

Man, this weather really bites.

I took the P508 train in this morning. My train was running about 5 minutes behind today ... we arrived at South Station at 8:25 a.m. which i think is very close to the scheduled arrival time, but usually we get there at 8:20. a.m.

So that's why my train was "late," but not really late. We all get accustomed to arriving at a specific time. And if the trend is an early arrival, that is what you start to expect.

With the weather and the delayed P504 train, things could have been a whole lot worse.

P504 Late

As I was watching the morning news on WCVB-TV this morning at approximately 6:35 a.m., the SmarTraveler updated noted that the P504, which departs Framingham at 6:50 a.m., was running late. While it is great that they announced the train was going to be late, I wonder how many actual train riders heard this update? I would think that most people were already either at the station or driving to the station. Does anyone know why this train was late this morning? I hope the rest of the morning trains on the Worcester-Framingham late run on time.

The SmarTraveler update also said there would be delays on the Middleborough line. Boy, this line seems to experience a lot of delays too.

Editorials about the MBTA were published in today's Telegram & Gazette and yesterday's The Boston Globe.

I must say - the media loves MBTA GM Dan Grabauskas. I just don't get the love affair? Why are they so hard on other elected officials and public leaders, but they just give Dan softballs everytime?

The T&G closed their editorial with this . . .

We are confident that Grabauskas will explore every means of balancing the MBTAbudget. The public knows Grabauskas is capable of massive reform — witness theturnaround he made when faced with a similarly intractable situation at the
Registry of Motor Vehicles. Now we want to see him take on the T.

Seriously - whatever Grabauskas did at the Registry was in the past. As the head of the T, he really hasn't done anything to blow off anyone's socks.

The Globe sent this love letter to Grabauskas - belch!

It must have been frustrating for Grabauskas to watch the Massachusetts TurnpikeAuthority get help from the Legislature in the waning hours of this session.
After all, Grabauskas didn’t get in over his head with exotic market‘‘swaptions’’ the way the Pike did. Governor Deval Patrick broached a plan to let the Pike transfer a portion of its debt to the Commonwealth, where it could pay a smaller interest rate, and the Legislature added some much-needed oversight reforms. But unlike the Pike, the T’s credit rating is actually better than the state’s.

What about "it must be frustrating for commuters who rely on the T's services to not know if their train or bus will actually show up, be functional, have their fares collected, etc., etc." And what about other Massachusetts residents who don't necessarily use the T, but support it through gas tax and other financing methods. Aren't we owed an explanation about the vapid mismanagement?

In today's Globe there is an article about the state transportation bill approved last week. Also in today's Globe, Salem residents and businesses are trying to encourage commuters to use alternative methods to commute.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

"Frustration" with the "Big Mess" at the MBTA

A great article from today's The Boston Globe titled "Big mess at the T." As many people may know, former Governor Michael Dukakis has always been a big proponent of public transportation. So the "frustration" quote is tied to our former governor:
"People ask me if I feel vindicated" by all of the new riders, former governor and Riverside line regular Dukakis said yesterday. "No! I feel frustrated."
What should be a pinnacle in time for the MBTA, is a nightmare. Yes, while ridership is up, the T has a legion of problems - many caused by the agency itself. I'm sick of the media's leniency with Grabauskas - he has been in charge long enough to assume some accountability for the T's issues:
This is because the T's finances, which Grabauskas inherited, are a gargantuan mess.
This is more like the truth, though:
So, instead of a world class system, we are left with the prospect of one with major problems - crowding, crumbling infrastructure, and too much debt to fix inevitable problems.
The article went on to describe the relationship most of us have with the T - a love/hate relationship. Commuters are sick of the lack of reliability and the lack of communications when trains or buses are delayed or canceled. Plus, riders want more, cleaner trains without spending more than what they are spending.
"The last thing in the world we need at this point in time is a fare increase," Dukakis said. "All it will do is drive people away from the system at a time when we want more people, and not fewer, riding it."
Finally, if you have the time, do consider reading Charlie on the Commuter Rail's most recent post, published today. I think most of us can relate to the reliability issues, the not late trains that are late, and the overall plain disgusting antics of Danny G. and the T.

Speaking of late trains that are not really late but are late, has anyone seen any recently published on-time performance stats? The MBCR was sending this information out earlier this year, but it seems to disappear. As a public entity, the MBTA and the MBCR need to be MANDATED to publish this information. Otherwise, there is no official accountability. Oh, I get it, they don't want to be accountable.

Gary Gets an Answer, If You Can Call it That

Gary, who I wrote about in a post late last month, finally got an answer from the MBTA for his complaint email sent in after the P500 train never arrived. Well, he sort of got an answer. What do I mean? Read for yourself.
Dear Gary,

I have read your email and would like to begin by apologizing for the delay in my response. I realize that some time has passed but want to assure you that your concern is of importance.

There is no question that our LED messaging system is somewhat outdated and has flaws; still operating off of a dial-up. Our communications department sends out delay messages and receives a "transmission sent" response following this effort; however, we are not able to see if the relay reaches its final destination.

I am pleased to report that the MBTA is in the process of procuring a new GPS messaging system which will greatly enhance our ability to provide our passengers with delay information in "real-time".

I am unable to speak to the lack of information provided on the MBTA's website but have forwarded this to the appropriate personnel for their review.

I am sorry both for the inconvenience of the delay itself but more importantly for the lack of information provided to you and your fellow passengers waiting at the station.

Linda Dillon
MBCR Customer Service Manager
Gary sent along a follow-up email that generated this response:

Actually the answer to this is simply that we are two different companies. We provide the MBTA with the delay information but we cannot access their website to post delay information; that falls under their purview. When this new system comes into play, this should be a moot point. If I may anticipate your next question, the MBTA has provided no timeframe as yet for the roll out of this upgrade.

Linda Dillon
Thanks for sharing, Gary.

Boy, am I happy I do not have Linda Dillons' job. It is a tough one.

Even in the Rain, Today's Train Arrived on Time

My inbound commute on the P508 train was good this morning. We were on time, though I neglected to look at my watch so I don't have the exact time we rolled into South Station.

How sad about yesterday's fatality on the train tracks in Westborough yesterday. According to The Boston Globe, the man who was struck and killed by an Amtrak train committed suicide. This was the second accident this week on the Worcester line. Yesterday The MetroWest Daily News reported on injuries to a homeless man who was struck by a train in downtown Framingham on Monday. Yikes.

Following-up on yesterday's post about the "hefty" MBTA fare hikes looming, I wanted to mention that both AJ and Kidney Stones made some good comments about the fare hikes. Honestly, I'm in the same boat they're in. If my pass goes from $250 to $320, I am not taking the train anymore. With the delays and the impact to my schedule, it just doesn't become financially enticing to ride the rails. Not to be crass, but eff that!

By the way, I'm really enjoying's The Green Blog. I'm not sure how long this blog has been around, but some of the recent article about transportation have been really enjoyable. Yesterday, they published a Q&A with our good "friend" Dan Grabauskas. There is even a video, see below. The Q&A generated 63 comments so far. Many of the comments are rational - people want to see new leadership, better management, and fare enforcement. Pretty logical, huh? I think this is a good point for our elected officials, including our Governor, to step up and get involve. This is a pretty big issue impacting a good segment of the general population.

Finally, The Greater Grafton Blog published another report on the plans to reinstate the Grafton & Upton railroad.