Friday, October 31, 2008

Fight the Hike

Thanks go to CommuterGirl for this tip. Cape Cod-area commuters do have an option if they don't want to pay 100% more for their commuter rail parking. The new MBTA Parking Hike - Bus is Cheaper - Save $960 blog tells more.

Actually, the blog is pretty bare, but here is the story. If you live in or near Bourne, you can take the Peter Pan bus from Bourne to South Station for $7.50 each way ($15 a day) and you don't have to pay for parking. CommuterGirl equates the bus with a $960/year savings in parking fees and a $80/year savings in commuting pass fees.

CommuterGirl's fares are based on the 20-ride option that Peter Pan sells. If you're interested, visit the Peter Pan schedule page to learn more.

Was Your Commute a Trick or a Treat?

Happy Halloween! I can't say if this morning's commute was a "trick" or "treat," as I'm home sick today. So I guess I got the "trick" deal today.

I know I'm the Train Rider and Commute-a-holic is all about those other inter-related transportation issues. However, you do know that I sometimes have to drive to work, either due to post-work events or because I couldn't catch the train. One bone of contention I have is with the Mass Pike tolls at the Weston / Route 128 area.

According to The MetroWest Daily News, the Pike has a plan in place to reconfigure the toll plazas in Weston to increase traffic flow. Super - I hope this helps.

The MetroWest Daily News
article essentially included the language directly from the MassPike's press release:
All motorists paying cash will be directed to the middle of the toll plaza. The majority of FAST LANE motorists will stay to the left side of the toll plaza. New signage and new line striping will direct motorists to the appropriate lanes. The left lanes will be striped and marked "FAST LANE ONLY."
The new toll booth configuration will be in place on November 3rd. If you're a frequent Pike driver, please feel free to drop a line to worctrainrider AT to let me know if the new booths make your driver better or . . . worse.

Also, yesterday's The Eagle-Tribune ran a story on the Plaistow, NH commuter rail line extension. The news is similar to other reports on this topic.

Along with today being Halloween, it is also the first anniversary of the Greenbush line.

Giving it All Away

Raise your hand if you have ever been on a MBTA bus, subway/trolley train, commuter rail train, or commuter boat and seen drivers or conductors not collect fares? Most of us have seen this happen. Heck, some of us have probably even benefited and received a free ride here and there. But this is a trend that shouldn't be occurring in a system that is as deficit plagued as the T.

Thankfully, WCVB-TV/Channel 5 had the gumption to see if this "rumor" was a reality. Last night, they aired a special report about how the T, rather MBTA employees, do not collect fares.

Reporters on Channel 5's "Team 5 Investigates" staff spent six days riding buses and trains with an undercover camera. They found that getting a free ride really wasn't all that unusual. MBTA drivers on buses and above ground Green line trolleys frequently waved passengers on without collecting their fares. Passengers didn't have to pay or prove they had either a Charlie Card or a monthly commuter pass.
One third of the MBTA's revenue comes from fares. One half comes from a portion of the state sales tax. With the MBTA now over $8 billion in debt, and fare hikes looming, employees were observed letting revenue slip away.
This is why Train Rider and frequent readers of Train Stopping get outraged when their commuter rail passes are not checked on the MBTA/MBCR commuter rail lines. And this is also why suburban commuters are livid that they'll be paying 100% more to park, come November 15th.

Channel 5 didn't just shoot the footage for shock value. They actually took it to Beacon Hill to share with the Senate Transportation Committee.
"A video speaks a thousand words. This is pretty clear," said Sen. Steven Baddour. "In today's climate, every penny counts. We are looking at serious reforms and cuts, and here's an opportunity where people can do a better job."
They even tried to show it to MBTA General Manager Dan Grabauskas. Danny-boy wouldn't watch the footage (how come Dan - does the truth hurt), but no surprise here, the spotlight-loving GM did agree to be interviewed.
Team 5: "Your agency is $8 billion in debt. Wouldn't every fare count?"
Graubauskas: "Every fare does count."
Team 5: "So why aren't they collected?"
Graubauskas: "The fact of the matter is that bus drivers, operators, trolley operators know that part of their job is to make sure that everyone pays. It shouldn't be somebody who is just deciding to shirk their responsibilities. If they are working for the T, they've got to make sure to collect fares."
So why aren't the fares collected? Who is to blame? If you guessed the passengers/commuters you are right. Yes - the T needs to stay on schedule, so fares can't always be collected.
It the T had a dollar for every excuse they give in terms of poor service, poorly kept trains/buses, etc., etc., they probably wouldn't in a budget deficit.
Transportation advocate Eric Bourassa said there's also pressure on operators to stay on schedule. "A person who is monitoring the line by GPS can call the bus driver and tell them that they are behind schedule," said Bourassa. "They know they should get people on as fast as they can and move to the next station."

Team 5 Investigates asked Graubauskas if drivers felt pressure to keep on schedule.

"Well, certainly we have to maintain a schedule, but that's no excuse for not paying," said Grabauskas.
Check it out - Grabauskas actually uttered the phrase "no excuse!"
Drivers on the Green line are supposed to make announcements when the trains are crowded, asking passengers to come forward and pay their fare. But during our observations, no announcements were made about fare collection.

The MBTA said it ticketed 650 passengers this year for fare evasion. But those were passengers, not employees. After Team 5 Investigates told Graubauskas about drivers failing to collect, he said he may take disciplinary action.

"They'll be brought in to see if in fact they weren't doing the job, " he said . "There will be progressive discipline. If we need to get back out there and do self enforcement, then we will do that."
So part of the reason the T's budget deficit is so severe is because they have to provide backpay to union employees. I believe most of the drives/trolley drivers are union employees. If you are owed money, why wouldn't you try to make sure the company you work for collects all the money they are supposed to collect? What if the lack of fare collections had to actually be taken out of employee paychecks?

This is utterly unacceptable. Absolutely unacceptable. Most of us work in a world where, if we don't do what is in our job description, we lose our jobs. Case closed. Boy, would I like to work in a world where I can pick and choose what I want to do and then get regular pay increases whether or not I'm performing up to par.

Thank you Channel 5 for this report.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Birthday, Greenbush Line

So the highly vaulted Greenbush line celebrates its first birthday tomorrow. Needless to say, there has been a bit of coverage about this event. The Daily News Tribune focused on how there are fewer commuters using the boats now that they have the Greenbush commuter rail line. Which leads me back to one of my biggest questions: if South Shore residents abutting the Greenbush line didn't want it and since the commuter boats and MBTA Red Line were already accessible, why oh why did the MBTA push this line extension? The $513 million or so dollars spent on this project could have been allocated elsewhere. I would love to hear a logical explanation by the T.

Of course, commuters are choosing the Greenbush line over the commuter rail, as it is less expensive to ride the train than sail along the harbor.
The Greenbush rail line was proposed as a way to reduce traffic jams on Route 3. It was to supplement the commuter boat, not replace it.

But ridership numbers from the MBTA reveal a troubling trend: Not only has Greenbush ridership been below expectations, but there has been a sharp drop in riders taking commuter boats to Boston.

The number of commuters riding ferries out of Hingham fell 17 percent – from 64,905 for the month of September, 2007, to 53,692 during September of this year.

The drop was even steeper for the MBTA-subsidized commuter boats that run between Quincy and Boston. Some of those runs make stops in Hull. Ridership on those boats declined 22 percent, from 31,996 in September of 2007 to 24,906 in September of this year.

But the T can't say how many rail commuters were boat users. It just seems like the Greenbush line bastardized the commuter boat. I wonder if Route 3 traffic is any lighter? Also, why are Joe Pestauro's comments to reporters so snarky, lately. Really - there is no need for this much snark (outside of the blogsphere, of course, LOL).

Joe Pesaturo, spokesman for the T, this week disputed that number as “an assumption” and added “clearly the reporter is confused.”

Pesaturo, who would only communicate through e-mail for this article, said diverting people from the ferries or Red Line opens up more spots for new commuters. He added it still takes cars off the road, because many people were previously commuting from several towns away to get to the ferries or Red Line stations.

At least the opponents to the Greenbush line aren't backing down from the activism, even though the line has been in operation for close to a year.

Martha Bewick of Hingham and her husband, John Bewick, were among the early train opponents urging the state to use the money for Greenbush to improve the existing public transportation options.

Bewick said she and others were upset – but not surprised – when the T announced in its 2008 draft service plan for all its public transportation operations in eastern Massachusetts that it would pare down ferry boat service.

“I have real questions about how they can justify that, except that they desperately need money,” Bewick said.

State Senator Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth) said it the best: "They couldn’t afford to build it, now they’re realizing they can’t afford to operate it,” he said.

In other news, today's The Boston Globe ran two separate train-related articles. One was about a T request to allow a firm from Spain to build some locomotives for the transit authority. This is in direct violation of a Federal Transit Administration ruling that requires transit authorities to "Buy American." An Idaho company is challenging this. The locomotive project is expected to cost $186 million for 28 locomotives, with the option to purchase another 28 at an unspecified cost. Guess what - just like the Korean company the T wants to hire to build some commuter rail cars, the Spanish firm has limited experience working with US-based transit systems. When asked about this, the T claimed they are acting in the best interests of taxpayers, but really, are they? When have they succeeded in working with companies that do not have prior US experience. This is insane.

The Globe's "Starts & Stops" column touched upon an array of transportation issues, including WiFi and a proposed bus for I-93.

The Union Leader out of New Hampshire published an article today about NH's efforts to secure a commuter rail line. The headline summed it up the best: "Experts: If NH wants rail, it will have to foot the bill."

The Silver Line Phase III was the topic of an article featured today on

Finally, WickedLocal Lexington ran a story about transportation options even with the decrease in gas prices.

On Time ... Finally!

Wow, it's an early Halloween miracle ... we were actually "on time" today. We pulled into the track right at 8:23 at South Station. Hallelujah!!!

It almost makes up for being squashed from Framingham all the way into Boston. Some dude decided to practically sit on me so he'd have enough of his own personal space to read the paper and chat on his cell phone. Thanks, rude rider, I didn't need the entire left side of my body.

Lots of comments have been coming in about the parking increase, people are none to happy. I've pretty much resigned myself to the idea that it's coming and there's nothing we can do about it. Unfortunatley, they're certainly not going to make it easy on us in terms of a parking sticker or some other more efficient way to pay the fee.

I quite like the idea of the $4 in dollar coins. I'm going to have to see if these will fit into the slots. I'll report back!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Consumer Activism on the Commuter Rail?

As much as I hate to see it dark early at night, there is one thing I'm looking forward to when we push the clocks back Sunday. . . brighter mornings. Does anyone, besides me, have a problem waking up in the morning when it is pitched black outside? The darkness caused me to oversleep, so I took the P512 train today instead of my regular P508.

Maybe it is just me, but every single time I ride on the P512 train, it is never on time. It is supposed to pull into South Station at 9:08 a.m., but I think it was around 9:20 a.m. or so when we finally got in.

I've noticed a lot of signage at the Grafton MBTA commuter rail lot this morning announcing the upcoming parking increase to $4.00 on November 15th. I cannot wait to try to shove four $1 bills into the slot. That should be a good time. Of course, I could just dump sixteen quarters into the slot too. Another combo would be two $1 bills and eight quarters. But if I'm feeling really crazy, maybe I'll just drop 40 dimes into the slot.

Yes, I know I've said this before, but this parking increase shows how out of touch the T is with their riders. Because if the T really thought this through, they would realize a vast majority of us park in lots without attendants. So we can't hand a $5 to an attendant and get a dollar back, we physically have to place our parking fees into this little box. Plus, sometimes you can't tell which box maps to your actual parking space. On some days, I've inadvertently placed my parking fee into the wrong box, for which I'm forced to pay twice.

The Daily News published an article this morning about the pending parking increase. Commuter Rich Tardiff, who lives in Salisbury, said it the best - the parking increase is "astronomical." The T's quotes show how out of touch this agency is.
"I defy you to find something else that has not gone up in the last six years," Pesaturo said. "The MBTA needs revenue to operate safe and reliable service."

You know, Joe, when other services raise their prices, at least their quality doesn't diminish. The T just takes and takes and takes and the services decrease. So this is not a good stock answer. This is a good way to make your riders even more upset.

Rich Tardiff noted the following:
Commuting to Boston on the Newburyport train since 2004, Rich Tardiff saw an increase in his fare in 2007 that increased his fares $250 a month or $3,000 a year.

Now, they want to raise parking, he said, so it's something he's working to suspend.

This article confirmed some comments I've heard from riders on other MBTA/MBCR commuter rail lines. Commuters, maybe inspired by the 2008 elections or the fact that they're just tired of shelling out cash for poor services, are becoming activists. There are petitions being circulated around a number of commuter rail lines, calling on the Governor to take some actions. The Daily News article noted that the North Shore lines have petitions about the parking fees. I've also heard that some other lines have petitions asking that significant changes be made to the MBTA's management structure. People are tired at the level of daily irresponsibility in regards to our mass transit systems and this is the tipping point.

Paul Tripp is right on in his assessment:
"They've been encouraging people to take the train more and more, and then they increase the (parking) fare?" he said. "The fare increase puts too much burden on people who are already trying to save money. Twenty dollars a day to take the train is a lot, especially for people who have to take the train into work every day."

In other news, WickedLocal Marshfield ran yet another "the T announced an increase in ridership" article yesterday. This article was tied to the first anniversary of the Greenbush line, which is on Friday. This article is mainly a feel-good piece about how the Greenbush line is a fantastic addition to the commuter rail system. Here's an idea - maybe the fees to park at Greenbush stations should be higher than at other commuter rail stations, since this is a line the T desperately wanted to add and really didn't need to add. Part of the T's budget woes can be attributed to Greenbush. Maybe Greenbush station parkers should pay more?

Finally, Boston Daily did a recap of the Hank Phillipi Ryan's investigative piece on the MBTA's lawsuits.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sitting Outside South Station

What do you know? I was able to take the P508 train. My commute was fine this morning. We arrived outside of South Station at 8:33 a.m. and then we did our customary sitting until we pulled into a track at 8:28 a.m. Does anyone know why we have been sitting outside of South Station lately? It is situations like this that make me miss getting off at Back Bay and taking the Orange Line. At least that manueveur made me on time.

Being on time is especially important in this current economic client. I don't think a day goes by where you don't hear of a layoff or a pending layoff. So commuters are definitely more on edge and timeliness becomes an even more important factor. I hope the MBTA/MBCR understands this and tries to ensure that all trains arrive as close to on-time as possible.

In the news today, both the Telegram & Gazette and the MetroWest Daily News published stories about the "new" Worcester-Framingham line schedules. If you were wondering if the Lt. Governor's appearance on yesterday's P506 caused it to run late, guess again. The tardiness of this train was attributed to "mechanical problems."

The T&G's article focused on why local and state dignitaries think the newly added trips will be a boon for Worcester. Too bad they didn't speak with actual Worcester commuters - who would really like to see more express trips. The MetroWest Daily News article touched upon how the town of Ashland and city of Framingham might become buzz kills for more trains.

Finally, WHDH-TV's "Hank Investigates" series ran a report on legal claims made against the MBTA. Reporter Hank Phillipi Ryan obtained the legal claims made against the T over the past two years. These claims, which were in the hundreds, amounted to $17 million. Perhaps the T should try to avoid getting sued instead of raising the fees for station lots that they barely maintain. You know, this is just a suggestion.

The T pays large damages, whereas other state agencies have a cap on damages. Just a thought - why doesn't the T try to cap their damages? If they did, they would have saved $2 million in 2007 alone.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Train Rider Didn't Miss the P508

Train Rider is in a car heading home, maybe still in downtown Boston, maybe on the Mass Pike. In any event, Train Rider is driving home, wishing the commute home was on the MBCR Commuter Rail line, not on the Mass Pike.

BUT maybe Train Rider will be happy that today's commute was a forced drive on the Mass Pike. Since the "Manic Monday" post was first added today around 1:26 p.m. EDT, six comments have come in. All with updates about what really happened this morning.

Today was the first day of the "new" Worcester-Framingham line commuter rail schedule. There was a ton of press coverage. The Lt. Governor supposedly even took the train into Boston. Yet, the train was delayed. The P508 that Train Rider "missed" wasn't even the P508 running 5 minutes late. It was the P506 running about 20 minutes behind!! Good grief. I guess it certainly was a Manic Monday commute.

Thanks to everyone who shared an update with us.

My Maniac Monday Commute

So I got hosed with the train this morning. When the P508 arrived five minutes early at 7:04 a.m., I was still in my car on Route 30. There was no way I would be able to get from Route 30 to the parking lot, pay to park and then get across the outbound track to get onto the train, so I hoofed it into Westborough. At 7:11 a.m., I was heading to the Westborough parking lot and the train was already pulling away. The train was way AHEAD of schedule, which I guess is fine if you're actually at the station 10 minutes before the train's departure.

Since I didn't make it to the Grafton or Westborough stations, I had to drive in. What a PITA (and not the best way to start a Monday).

New Monday, New Schedule

Well the media was all abuzz over the "new" MBTA/MBCR schedules that went live this morning.

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette led their story off with a headline that said Worcester riders now have "pre-dawn" options. Of course, the media was attracted to the story because Lt. Governor Tim Murray was in Worcester this morning to ride the "new" 6:05 a.m. train. The Lt. Governor believes that the "new" 4:45 a.m. and 6:05 a.m. trains on the Worcester line will attract more riders. The other changes to the Worcester line include an outbound train that leaves Boston at 2:40 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.

While it was great that the state/MBTA "heard" the Worcester line needed some midday trains, hopefully they'll be able to "listen" some more and add more express trains - especially express trains from Worcester stations.

Here are links to related stories about the new schedule:
Yesterday's "Starts & Stops" column from the Boston Sunday Globe touched upon the WiFi rollout across the commuter rail line. MBTA GM Dan Grabauskas was quoted as saying
"It's an investment that will make a big difference in riders' lives. It will allow people to work on their way back and forth to work and maybe even leave the office a little early to attended a daughter or son's sporting event."
Frankly, Dan, if the trains just departed and arrived on time, it would help a lot more than WiFi that may or may not work.

Yesterday's Globe also contained an article about the lingering effects of the movie "Speed Racers" ads visible on the Red Line between South Station and Broadway. The company who created the ads paid the T $450,000 a year for this special ad unit. The unit was temporarily turned on so some movie execs could look at it. Ads may seem like a nuisance, but they are a great way for transit authorities to increase their budgets. Even Advertising Age wrote about this in today's edition.

Also in yesterday's Globe, another article about train whistles.

The T is going to delay their bond sale until after the November election, according to an article from Saturday's Globe.

Finally, today's Patriot Ledger published an article about how suicides on train tracks impact train crews. How is this for a depressing statistic: an engineer who works 25 years can expect to witness at least three people die on the tracks during their career. There have been six fatalities on the tracks this year, with the most recent occurring in Braintree last weekend.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Roadways as an Economic Indicator

Dr. Paul Kedrosky, who authors the Infectious Greed blog (and is also an investor, writer, entrepreneur, speaker, and an analyst for CNBC), published a post today about the economy. Specifically, Dr. Kedrosky has noticed that traffic on Southern California roads has been a lot lighter than even just a few weeks ago. Dr. Kedrosky noted that California (especially Southern California) has entered the recession earlier than most states.

To support his hypothesis about the decline in traffic in California, Dr. Kedrosky analyzed some data from CalTrans/PeMS that shows a road traffic decline over the past year.

This is the graph that Dr. Kedrosky included on his blog post:

I think this is a really interesting conversation. During the last economic downturn (during the '00-'02 "dot-com" bust), I worked at a company located on Route 128. I knew a lot of people were out of work, but I was always surprised at how much traffic was on Route 128 - both in peak and off-peak hours. Even now, during the whole summer gas issue and now economic situation, the roads still seem to be full of cars here in the metro-Boston area.

Train Jumper

Was anyone on last night's P527 train? If you weren't, you missed a massive amount of excitement. The P527 departs South Station at 5:35 p.m. and it is an outbound train to Worcester. After the Wellesley Hills stop, the train started to leave the station when, all of a sudden, the emergency brakes came on and we jammed to a halt. It seems a passenger jumped off of the train as we were leaving.

Now, for the semi-comical part, there must have been at least 10 announcements that we were at the Wellesley Hills stop . . . so it's not like said passenger shouldn't have known we were at the station. I don't believe the passenger was hurt. According to the conductor, I know they refused medical attention and limped away. You know, the three Wellesley stops are not that far apart . . . is it worth it to risk serious injury JUMPING OFF OF A TRAIN to save 15-20 minutes? People are wacky!

Onto this morning's commute. I think the conductor on my car of the P508 was cranky. Either that or he had no patience for people who didn't have their passes out. I think his announcement was something like "Next stop West Natick . . . and here's an idea . . . have your passes or tickets ready." So, maybe he's glad it's Friday too. Anyhoo, we arrived outside of South Station at 8:20 a.m. and sat there for 6-8 minutes, with an official arrival time on the track of 8:28 a.m.

Now this is really weird. I never received an update from the MBCR's RailMail about the new MBTA schedule for the Worcester line. I know the updates were sent to riders on other lines. One of my coworkers rides the Plymouth line and received an update. Plus, yesterday the author of the Charlie on the Commuter Rail blog RAILED against the Franklin line's new schedule in a blog post. Even MySouthborough posted a Southborough-centric schedule. Yet I never received an email from RailMail. Who knows - maybe I'll receive it today.

In any event, my company sent out an announcement about the schedule changes going into effect this coming Monday, October 27, 2008. Here is the announcement:
Beginning Monday, October 27, 2008, changes will be made to the schedules on the following lines:
  • Framingham/Worcester
  • Franklin
  • Greenbush
  • Needham
  • Old Colony
  • Providence/Stoughton
No changes to the schedules on the following lines:

Lowell, Newburyport , Rockport, Fairmount, Fitchburg, Haverhill

Schedules are available to view, download and print online at where you can also sign up to receive e-alerts when your schedule changes.
Finally, The Patriot Ledger published an article in today's paper about how South Shore commuters feel about the new MBTA parking increases. Here are some quotes:
“The money has to come from somewhere, but I think the state should be helping more,” said Elizabeth Stouhlsatz of the Wollaston. “It’s bad all around.”

Jim Cotter of Quincy said that although he does not frequently park in MBTA lots, over the past six months he has been taking the T more often.

“I can’t imagine there aren’t ways they can cut costs internally instead of putting it on the public” he said. “They should be enticing people to take the T.”

The article also noted that the T is the largest owner of paid off-street parking in New England, with 43,000 spaces in 150 locations. What a trivia stat! In 2007, the T claims that more than 9 million vehicles parked at T lots.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Good Times Thursday MBCR Commute

Today has been a crazy-busy day. My commute on the P508 was fine. We arrived to South Station at around 8:23 a.m.

For one of my friends who commutes to work on the Pike (since his office is located outside of Boston), today's morning drive wasn't so smooth. He got into a minor fender-bender in the stop and go traffic. This is just another reason why I really don't dig the Pike during rush hour - it's accident central!!

Emerson College's The Berkley Beacon wrote another article today about the Silver Line project. If the Silver Line project happens, Emerson College will be directly impacted.

Now in the "really strange news" department, today's Boston Metro contained an article about how the MBTA is trying to sell the Solari station sign that currently hangs in South Station on eBay. Um, didn't Governor Palin try to do this with some plane in Alaska (and didn't it not really sell on eBay???)? Anyho, if you desire to own this sign, the bids start at $500. However, if you win it, you have to haul it. The sign weighs 2,600 pounds. I couldn't find it on eBay, but if you do, you know I'll link to it (you betcha!!).

Edited at 7:40 p.m. EDT: Check out the Solari sign on eBay. Thanks to Anonymous for sharing!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

New INRIX National Traffic Scorecard Special Report

INRIX released a special report today showing how the increase in fuel prices has effected driving behaviors across the United States. The INRIX National Traffic Scorecard Special Report includes an analysis of traffic patterns during the first part of 2008. Additionally, the report features data from a Harris Interactive Survey conducted in October 2008.

The report found that 96 of the nation's top 100 markets experienced a drop in traffic congestion levels in the first half of 2008 compared to 2007. Across the nation, there was a 3% decrease in peak commute hour travel. Also, 2/3rds of consumers surveyed said they changed their driving habits as a result of the increased fuel prices. The habit changes included everything from car pooling to using public transportation and alternative methods (such as bicycling).

The cost of gas increased from $2.29 in January 2007 to $4.09 in June 2008, but prices began to decrease in October. As of the week of October 10, 2008, the average price of gas nationwide was $3.30.

Income level was a determining factor in the behavioral change. Those earning less than $35,000 were most likely to decrease their driving compared to people earning more than $75,000.
"It is fascinating to see the disproportionate response that the impact of gas prices has on traffic, particularly how consumers changed their behavior more in markets like Atlanta, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and throughout the Midwest. You would think that major metros with significant public transit infrastructure such as in NYC and D.C. would have shown a much stronger correlation with gas prices through increased ridership,” said Bryan Mistele, INRIX founder and CEO. "Although we can't predict the future price of fuel, we can predict the potential impacts to traffic congestion. As a whole, the population appears to have made lasting changes to their behavior, which we expect to persist at some level even if gas prices revert to pre-2007 levels.”
Springfield, MA was one of the cities that ranked in the Top 10 with the strongest and most significant correlation between gas prices and the Travel Time Index. Traffic decreased in Springfield 1.7%.

Interesting data.

Windy Day Commute

It is quite chilly today. Also, it is super windy on the waterfront.

My commute on the P508 seemed like it was running 5 to 8 minutes off the usual pace. I sure hope this isn't a "scope creep" trend now that we're heading into the winter. We did pull into South Station at 8:26 a.m, so we were a few minutes behind schedule.

No major stories in the news today. I read a man was killed on the Braintree tracks over the weekend. That is sad.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Missed My Train

I'm fighting a slight fall cold. As a result of taking some medicated NyQuil last night, I overslept this morning and missed my train. So I drove into Boston. The Mass Pike was a cluster yet again. Honestly, any time I've driven on the Pike during rush hour, the traffic has been just horrible. From my perspective, I can't really see how they're "suffering" and losing money. It is jammed pack during morning and evening drive-times.

Things seem to be pretty quiet on the news front. I've seen a lot of editorials against Question #1. The editorials cite funding to the MBTA as one of the reasons to vote against this ballot initiative. Also, I would like to thank everyone for their feedback regarding the parking increase and the need for more express trains on the Worcester-Framingham line. You can read comments here and here.

Today's Brockton Enterprise had an article about the town of Abington. Abington selectmen have asked the federal Railroad Administrative to study noise levels at MBTA/MBCR crossings in their town to see if quieter whistles can be used.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Cinderella Goes to the Ball

So the baseball season ended for Red Sox fans last night. Well, at least our team made it to the ALCS. Cinderella, the Rays, are going to the Ball. Now that baseball is officially over here in Red Sox nation, it sure appears as though fall has finally arrived. It was nippy this morning.

I'm not sure what the deal was during my commute on the P508 this morning. We sat outside South Station for a while - at least ten minutes - so we didn't pull into the concourse until 8:36 a.m. I don't recall there being an announcement regarding the delay. I had to book it to work for a 9:00 a.m. meeting, so I'm hoping today is just an anomaly and not the start of a new trend.

Yesterday's Hartford Courant published an interesting column written by Tom Condon about Worcester. Mr. Condon actually attributes Worcester's population growth to the MBTA/MBCR commuter rail service. The column also provides a good analysis between Worcester and Hartford and why train service can help a local economy.

A letter to the editors of The Boston Globe written by Doug Anderson of Scituate was published yesterday. Doug's letter focuses on the "stealth" T fare increases in the form of increased parking fees. Doug makes some excellent points that I would love to see addressed by Governor Deval Patrick. Here are his arguments:
Why do I need to pay more to park at a commuter rail station than a driver who chooses to take the turnpike instead of the T pays in tolls? Why is the state backing up the finances of the Turnpike Authority, an agency which outlived its usefulness years ago, while suburban users of the MBTA are forced to fork over money for the urban transit workers' salary shortfall?

Should I just take the money for my $198 monthly T pass and my soon-to-be $80 monthly parking fee and put it in my gas tank? This is what current public policy is encouraging me to do. After all, there are no tolls going into Boston from the South Shore, and I could get free parking at my office.

Why does the governor seem more concerned about turnpike users than he is about T users? Where are our legislative leaders on this issue?

I know I would love to have these questions answered!

Also in yesterday's Globe, the "Starts & Stops" column alluded to more transportation cuts - in the form of subsidizes to private bus companies that provide long-haul service to Boston from communities including Marlborough, Northborough, Newburyport, Taunton, Plymouth, Marshfield and Worcester. Many commuters rely on these buses as they provide a more convenient alternative to either mass transit or driving into Boston.

Finally, The Salem News published another article about the Salem's quest to build a new commuter rail station garage.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Don't Stop Believing!

I'll admit it ... I went to bed after the bottom of the 7th. I was tired and not feeling well. I thought it was a given that the Rays would be spraying champagne all over Fenway (something which I've never forgotten when the Yankees did it in 1999). Imagine my surprise when the texts came in mere seconds after JD Drew hit the game winning single. An unbelievable night in Red Sox history and I'm happy to be proven wrong.

Continuing the goodwill, the train was on time today, we arrived to South Station around 8:24. I think a lot of my fellow commuters were tired from the game, there seemed to be a lot of dozing on the p508 this morning.

Enjoy the beautiful fall day ... and as always ... GO SOX!!!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Meet the MBCR Managers, Take Two

I took the opportunity to go to the Meet the MBCR Managers event at South Station tonight. It seemed to be a very well attended event, from commuter rail riders to subway riders to the MBCR management team.

I had the opportunity to speak to Jack Mimms, Safety Inspector and Linda Dillon, Manager of Customer Service. I was really impressed that they took the time (I think I spoke to them for about 1/2 hour) to listen to my concerns and recommendations.

My concerns surrounded the following:

1.) The parking increase - for me it's 100%, which makes me unhappy, especially since it seems like the money is going to pay the union back pay and not improve service in the parking lots. I also mentioned that it would be very difficult to stuff $4 into the slots and that the whole system is antiquated. It seems that the MBCR is working with the MBTA and the private parking companies to come up with some alternative way of paying; the two ideas I heard were via Charlie Card (commuters would switch to that as opposed to a ticket) or via your cell phone. There was no time frame given however, so I'm not sure how soon anything like this could be implemented.

2.) The new Worcester/Framingham schedule - I mentioned that there are really no express options for riders west of Framingham after a certain time. Case in point, last night I had to work late, was finished by 9:00, had to wait for the 10:20 to go home and didn't get to Grafton until 11:45. I didn't really hear any options from MBCR about the train/schedule, but at this point, I think it's important to voice opinions.

3.) Windows on the trains - I mentioned that I still notice windows that you can't see out of on the trains. Apparently there are 75 new cars on the way and in 3-4 weeks, the last of the "dirty" windows will be replaced.

4.) Customer Service - I mentioned that it was frustrating to get the run around when trying to get a question answered or a problem resolved, i.e. "oh, that's an MBTA problem, not my problem." Linda Dillon seemed interested in what I had to say and liked my suggestion about having a single point of contact, that she would be able to farm out any inquiries commuters might send in to the appropriate entities.

If any of you have additional suggestions, feel free to email Linda Dillon at

Bridge Work and Letters to the Editor

The ole commute on the P508 was fine this morning. I think we were at South Station around 8:25 a.m.

Today's The Boston Globe published a short article about a MBCR announcement that was made earlier in the week. Train traffic on the inbound track between Haverhill and Lawrence has been halted so work crews can work on the Merrimack River Bridge. All trains will run on the outbound track. This started Tuesday, so The Globe was a bit late to the game.

Two "Letters to the Editor" were also published in today's Globe. "This is no time to take on more debt" is a letter in opposition to the Silver Line III expansion project. "Transit project is a legal obligation" is in support of the Silver Line III expansion project.

As always, Commute-a-holic and I will keep our eyes and ears open to news regarding the state's budget crisis. Yesterday Governor Deval Patrick announced that $1.4 billion will be trimmed from the state's budgets. It is estimated that 1,000 state jobs will be eliminated and I think that the cuts will be coming from throughout the state. I'm sure you're thinking what I'm thinking "enough with the bad economic news," but I fear that bad news will be the only news for a while.

Now a bit of a shameless plug before I go. The town of Grafton was selected as one of the finalists in this year's WEEI "Friday Night Lights 2008" contest. Ryan Vulter, a GHS football co-capitan and the the brother of Kevin J. Vulter (who passed away after a tragic auto accident in September), wrote the essay to WEEI requesting that Grafton be entered into the contest. I know the competition will be fierce - especially since there are a lot of other towns along both the Worcester and other commuter rail lines - competing to win. If you don't have a connection to one of the other towns, Grafton would certainly appreciate the vote.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Meet the MBCR Managers

Grafton Train Rider attended the "Meet MBCR Managers" event at Back Bay station last night. Grafton Train Rider was kind enough to send along a recap:
I received the impression that the session was well attended by Worcester line riders. Of course everyone seemed to have their own agenda.

I met two people who do a reverse commute from Yawkey to Natick and were complaining about the lack of service. Upon reviewing the schedule, I understand their complaint. The problem at Yawkey is that the stop is essentially one-way and the morning inbound trains comprise most of the stops (although only one express train, P502).

I was advocating for fewer stops on the local trains. Specifically, I met Stuart Trout, Director Quality Engineer & Services and John Rossi, Trainmaster. I also provided Stuart with the following suggestion.

I commend the forthcoming extension of service on the Framingham/Worcester commuter rail line effective 10/27/08. However, riders need faster (non-local) trains rather than slow trains making 16 total stops, Worcester to South Station, inclusive.

For example, why can't some of these trains only stop in Wellesley Square, which offers the largest parking lot, rather than making three total stops in one town? The three Newton stops present the same situation, and folks departing from Newtonville have other options such as the express buses.

Other lines such as Fitchburg skip stops such as Belmont, Waverley, etc. on certain runs. I doubt that your new schedule will be very appealing to potential customers based upon total travel time, especially in light of the forthcoming $2/day parking fare increase.
Grafton Train Rider said that the next "Meet the MBCR" session is Thursday (tomorrow) from 4 to 6 p.m. at South Station. So, if you're in the South Station vicinity, you may want to stop by and meet the MBCR.

Thanks Grafton Train Rider for this recap!

Riled Up About the MBTA Parking Increase

My whole office is up in arms about the parking increase at MBTA stations. We understand that the T is in a budget crisis and that parking has not been increased in many years. But last Friday's announcement is just another example at how out of touch the people who operate the T are.

If Dan Grabauskas or if his management team actually used the T to commute to work, they would know that there really is no easy way to get four $1.00 bills into the slots at many commuter rail stations. Sure, if you park at a T station such as Riverside on the Green Line or Wellington on the Orange Line, you had your money to a parking attendant. But at Grafton and at all the other stations along the commuter rail line, commuters have to slide their bills into these little boxes that can barely accommodate two $1.00 bills, never mind four $1.00.

Hey Dan - did you even know that is how we pay for our parking at exterior stations?

Beyond the fact that we've just seen parking fees double, there is the ongoing concern that the lots will still be managed in a sub-par fashion. What do I mean about this? Well let's see. When it snows in the winter, the lots are sometimes not cleared in a timely fashion. Or, if we get a lot of snow, the snow isn't removed. The snow just gets piled up in parking spaces, making it harder to park. Then we periodically see a fair amount of vandalism towards the cars. Local police departments don't want to handle the calls, as the lots are owned by the MBTA.

When the new fares go into effect, my monthly commuting costs will increase to $330.00 or $16.50 a day. If fares are increased in 2009, might almost make sense to consider driving into Boston.

To top it off, the T's new "be nice" campaign generated front-page coverage on today's The Boston Globe. Honestly - are you trying to kill us? With everything that is going on today, The Globe's editors thought this was "front-page" worthy? Good grief!

Enough about parking for now!

My commute was fine this morning. I was back on the P508 and we arrived to South Station around 8:23 a.m. ran an article yesterday by Daniel Farnkoff about who should be responsible for the Pike's and MBTA's debts. Daniel recommends raising the gas tax, which hasn't been increased since 1990, to help offset some of the fees associated with the Pike and the T. This way, the entire state is helping to fund transportation and not just those who live North and West of the city (for toll roads). This is an interesting argument. I'm not in any way advocating that taxes get increased, but 1990 trumps 2003. Dan Grabauskas' reason for the parking increase ("half a decade is certainly a long time between increases"). The last parking lot increase for the T lots occurred in 2003 - 13 years prior to the last gas tax increase.

Finally, The Boston Globe wrote a nice article about how restoration of South Station's clock.

Manners, Regional Transit and Expansion Plans

Is today Groundhog Day? If it isn't, the news certainly is.

Picking up where Fox 25's Morning Program started off yesterday, today's The Boston Globe ran a story about the MBTA's new "manners" campaign. Making the same reference to Emily Post as Train Stopping made yesterday, The Globe details the courtesy campaign. So how did the T come up with the idea for this campaign? Last year they asked 107 volunteer riders to keep journals about their observations and experiences using the T. While I understand how manners sometimes plays a role, it is amazing that the T didn't decide to create a campaign to try to make all their buses, subways, trains, and commuter boats run on-time. Because I can tell you some stories about less than stellar experiences trying to get from Point A to Point B on the T.

MBTA GM Dan Grabauskas, who would never pass up a fluff media opportunity, of course was interviewed for the article. I can't even believe he made this quote, noting that the "manners" problem can be attributed to more riders using the T. Honestly Dan, nice way to b*tch slap your clientele - you obviously know a lot about how to treat customers:
"We scratched our heads and said maybe there's a funny and lighthearted way we can remind people of those common courtesies that would make everybody's trip better," Grabauskas said.
The commuters quoted for this article gave the campaign a mixed-review. Seriously - how much money did the T invest in this? For a budget-strapped entity, it seems weird that money is used trying to teach manners and provide WiFi. At the end of the day, people want to use the T to get somewhere.

While I agree that people shouldn't use the T as a trash receptacle, respect is a two-way street. Many T riders will say that they aren't respected by T employees. Yes, that doesn't mean that riders should leave their Dunkin' Donuts cups or newspapers behind, maybe people would respect things more if they were riding on clean, well-kept buses and train cars. I always think about Washington, DC's Metro system as a great example of a well-run public transit authority. Metro riders are not permitted to eat on the trains. But I think the respect is a two-way street: Metro stations are very clean and the Metro does a great job of telling you when the next train is approaching.

So, Dan the Man, I hope spending money trying to educate your customers is money well spent. It sure seems to me that this whole big program was a way to get the media outlets to focus on the less desirable elements of the T - including the budget and Dan's leadership. Way to go, Danny, on generating coverage that makes you look "aces." Maybe if you actually used the T to get to where you needed to go once and a while, you would realize that T riders aren't all that bad and you would understand that respect is a two-way street.

This story was also covered by WBZ-TV and WTEN.

Lt. Governor Tim Murray is making the op-ed rounds. Today's published an op-ed written by the Lt. Governor about the commuter rail expansion. It is the same exact op-ed published by The Daily News Tribune on Sunday.

Yesterday's WickedLocalAshland published an article about State Senator Karen Spilka's (D-Ashland) involvement in transportation issues.

Finally, two separate articles about regional transportation initiatives between Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Today's Foster's Daily Democrat published an editorial about how mass transit expansion should occur between Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Some are arguing for extending the commuter rail line, while others would like to see greater bus service. The area in question is the Merrimack Valley - that piece of Southern New Hampshire directly above the Massachusetts state line. The Boston Herald ran a similar article on Sunday, noting that a recent report said that a bus lane on I-93 makes the most logistical and economical sense.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

MBCR is Collecting Cell Phones for Soldiers

I received an email this morning about how the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail Company is participating in the Cell Phones for Soldiers program.

MBCR General Manager Rich Davey will be at South Station at 3:30 p.m. today to donate over 700 cell phones collected by MBCR employees to the Cell Phones for Soldiers organization. Cell Phones for Soldiers was started by teenagers Brittany and Robbie Berquist.

Along with GM Davey, uniformed soldiers will be on hand to recognize this accomplishment.

Maybe if the MBCR ever participates in this program again, they can extend an invitation to participate to the commuter rail riders.

The T Desires to Play the Role of Emily Post or Miss Manners

A bit of a change with this morning's commute. I decided to take the P512 train, which departs Grafton at 7:49 a.m. I barely made it to the station on time. There were police officers all over Grafton this morning, so commuters were driving super slow. The commute was fine. We arrived to South Station at 9:05 a.m. or so, a few minutes ahead of schedule.

Commute-a-holic saw our favorite friend, MBTA GM Dan Grabauskas, being interviewed this morning on Fox 25's morning news program. Commute said that Dan provided a better workout, as he was his swarmy self on the interview. For whatever reason, Fox 25 does not provide code so bloggers can post or share video, so here is a link to the video segment with Dan's interview. You may wonder "Why was Danny G. being interviewed by Fox 25 this morning." Well, it is because the T announced a new marketing campaign - aimed at making riders more polite.

Can you believe it? The T, which is basically bankrupt, is spending money to communicate to their passengers that they need to be more polite while using the T. Good grief!! You know, Muni Manners already does this and they probably do it better. So why couldn't they just save the money and link to the Muni Manners blog off of the T's website? I am incredulous that the T is spending money on this campaign. This is utterly absurd.

Here's an idea - maybe if the T ran its services on time and actually had clean trains/buses, people wouldn't be as pent up as they are. I'm not advocating that riders have poor manners, but sometimes tempers flare because commuters are just frustrated.

It is stuff like this that causes people to want to see things like Question 1 go through.

If you don't feel like seeing Danny G. smirk in the video, you can read all about the T's latest marketing campaign in this article from today's Boston Metro.

Moving on. The Boston Globe ran an article today about the proposed Silver Line III project. Funding that project and other transit initiatives is the focus of two separate articles in today's Boston Metro. The Metro articles pick-up on the MASSPIRG report, announced over the weekend. One article is about how "Funding will decide the fate of Mass. transit," while the other focuses on "Shaping the MBTA for the 21st century." We all know that funding for mass transit and other transportation issues in Massachusetts is in dire straits. Here are some data points that the MASSPIRG report noted:
  • 93,000,000 - amount of hours wasted in traffic delays in the greater Boston area during 2005.
  • $4.3 billion - Massachusetts residents spent $4.3 billion more on gas in 2007 compared to 1998.
  • 57% - the increase in vehicle traffic in the Commonwealth from 1980 to 2007. also published an article about the MASSPIRG report.

Finally, Rep. Tom Sannicandro (D - 7th Middlesex District) wrote a guest op-ed piece for today's The MetroWest Daily News. Rep. Sannicandro details the pending purchase of the CSX tracks. His article states that this purchase will "will lower commute times and vastly improve the overall effectiveness of the Commonwealth's commuter rail program. The most dramatic and immediate changes of the plan will be enacted on Oct. 27 when the number of daily trains leaving Worcester will increase from 10 to 13, and the number of daily trains leaving from Boston to Worcester will increase from 10 to 12."

Yes, when we first heard the news that more trains were being added to the Worcester line, we were initially excited about this. But then when we saw the schedule, we noticed that essentially trains just got moved around.

From what I want and from what I've gathered from other commuters on the Worcester line, riders would like to see the following:
  • More express trains from Worcester: Frankly, it would be great if trains could run express from Ashland to Boston.
  • More express trains from Framingham: Commuters who live in Framingham and points East do not want to have to rely on the regular trains for their commutes into Boston.
  • More train options for off-peak commutes: This includes riders who commuter from Boston and points west and more afternoon trains leaving Boston for Worcester-Framingham riders who may need to leave the office early.
I am hopeful that these changes will happen. However, I do not want to see our elected officials just rest on their laurels because they were able to purchase the tracks from CSX. Acquiring the tracks is one thing. Implementing a more vibrant train schedule is another.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Bicycle Commuter Act

There was a post in the Green Inc. blog published by The New York Times about the bailout bill. Sec. 211 of the bailout bill provides a fringe benefit to commuters who bicycle. Of course, as the blog article notes, it may be quite difficult to prove and it is only a $20 benefit, if employers actually make an effort to let their employees bike to work.

Columbus Day Commute

Happy Columbus Day to everyone who has the holiday on this gorgeous Monday. I, alas, do not have today off. Which is a shame because it is so nice outside.

Today's commute was fine. The MBCR commuter rail runs on a regular schedule today, not a holiday schedule. Commute-a-holic, who only rode the commuter rails for a brief amount of time, had some questions about the holiday schedule, which I will touch-upon.

The P508 arrived at South Station at around 8:20 a.m. Then we had to wait almost 15 minutes for a Silver Line bus.

Commute-a-holic sent me an email earlier today with "have fun riding on your holiday schedule." The email was prompted by an announcement on WCVB-TV Channel 5's morning news program, which stated that the T would be running on a holiday schedule.

The MBTA and MBCR have different holiday schedules.

For the MBCR, which runs the commuter rail, the holiday schedule (also known as weekend services) runs on New Year's Day, President's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. All other holidays run on a regular schedule.

The MBTA has a different holiday schedule for buses and subway trains.

Buses run on a Saturday schedule on Martin Luther King Day, President's Day, Patriot's Day, and Columbus Day (hence my 15 minute wait for the Silver Line). A Sunday schedule is in place for New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas.

The subway holiday schedule is as follows: Saturday service on Martin Luther King Day, President's Day, and Columbus Day. Sunday service on New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Labor day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Special schedules for Independence Day and New Year's Eve.

Obviously, I would like to see media outlets use the correct terminology when discussing changes to the schedule. So this morning, Commute-a-holic should have heard "the MBCR is running commuter rails on their regular schedules, while MBTA buses and subways are following a Saturday schedule."

Betting on Train Cars

A front-page story on this Columbus Day in today's The Boston Globe is all about how the T has selected a South Korean company which has never built a passenger rail car for an American transit system as the vendor for the 75 new double-decker commuter rail cars. This is either going to be seen as a brilliant or it will become yet another chapter in T follies.

Hyundai Rotem was awarded the $109 million contract, yet the train maker doesn't even have a US assembly plant (a requirement of federal law). Also, while Rotem has built cars for European and Asian systems, the US is a different ballgame as we have much stricter safety standards than in other parts of the world.

The T claims that Rotem made the best offer - both technically and financially and that the four pilot cars will arrive on schedule in October 2010. The delivery of the rest of the fleet is due August 2011.

The MBTA's head man, General Manager Daniel Grabauskas declined to be interviewed for this article. He did reply with the following written statement:
"While the procurement process is only in its infancy, the MBTA is more than satisfied with the contractor's level of responsiveness and diligence to this point," Grabauskas said.
The T also claims the selection of Rotem was not in any way influenced by former T official John K. Leary. Leary's son Richard is now head of operations for the T and John Leary has worked as a consultant for Rotem.

This is starting out like a typical bad Massachusetts-state fairy tale, huh? It gets better.

The only bidder for this project was Japan's Kawasaki, which has built rail cars for the T in the past. Kawasaki's bid was $30 million higher than Rotem's. Rotem is already behind on delivery for two other American commuter rail coach orders - one for Southern California's Metrolink and the other for Philadelphia's SEPTA system. Both lines say they expect deliver of their cars six-months later than first promised because Rotem ran into production issues sourcing the steel that is needed to make US train coaches.

In other news, today's issue of the Worcester Business Journal contains an article about the recent announcement surrounding the state's attempts to purchase the CSX tracks. It is a critical article about the announcement, which initially excited a lot of commuter rail passengers from the Worcester area but then disappointed everyone. The WBJ notes:
But we fear the entire transaction is at grave risk because the single sticking point between the state and CSX for as long as the state has been trying to get more commuter trains between Worcester and Boston still exists: The no-fault liability insurance policy the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority has had to accept since 1994 in order to operate passenger trains on CSX’s tracks is still in place and was not resolved as part of the state’s purchase agreement with CSX.

Murray has come dangerously close to weakening the state’s position by announcing the purchase and allowing the additional trains to run immediately. In exchange for some election season warm fuzzies (U.S. Sen. John Kerry rode the train from Worcester to Boston as part of the announcement) not hammering out a liability agreement could put the state over a barrel in the future.

Yesterday's The Daily News Tribune contains an op-ed written by Lt. Governor Tim Murray about the commuter rail deal.

Today's The Sun Chronicle features a brief article about the increase in parking at MBTA stations.

The Eagle-Tribune outlines how the commute into Boston will be for passengers of the Haverhill line between Haverhill and Lawrence. Due to replacement rail work, the MBCR will be busing commuters between the Haverhill and Lawrence stations on midday and peak-evening rush hour trains starting tomorrow through late November. The busing will not affect morning trains.

Finally, yesterday's Globe also contained an article about the MBTA's Green Line extension.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Connecting the Commonwealth and the T's Expansion

From today's Sunday Boston Globe two different takes on mass transportation in Massachusetts.

In the weekly Starts & Stops column, the newest report from MASSPIRG is cited. MASSPIRG just published "Connecting the Commonwealth: Key Public Transportation Projects and Their Benefits for Massachusetts." The 53-page MASSPIRG report focuses on why more and better mass transit is needed in the Commonwealth in the 21st century. Transit enthusiasts will embrace this report, which also details how Massachusetts can expand its infrastructure to include New England metro-areas outside the state. Of course, the larger question is how to fund the recommended initiatives, especially in the current fiscal situation the state is currently facing. Not to mention the economic issues plaguing our federal government.

On a different note, the "Starts & Stops" column lead story, about emergency services on the Pike, should be read by all Pike users.

Moving on - the second T-focused piece in today's Globe was an op-ed article authored by Charles Chieppo, who was a member of the MBTA's Blue Ribbon Committee on Forward Funding. Mr. Chieppo makes the case that the state needs to ensure better oversight of the T and the Authority's expansion projects.

The bulk of the editorial focuses on the proprosed Silver Line III expansion, connecting the Silver Line that runs between downtown and Dudley Station with the portion running between South Station and Logan Airport. This project is estimated to cost $1.8 billion. The project is in place because of environmental mitigation surrounding the Big Dig, specifically the additional vehicle traffic as a result of the road improvements. The reason the Silver Line III project is so expensive is because the T would need to tunnel under densely populated urban areas. If completed, the Silver Line III will only attract 15,000 new riders a day - mainly people who are probably already just walking around the city.

Mr. Chieppo is not arguing against funding mass transit projects. Rather, he has attempted to make the case to ensure that these projects are properly funded and properly managed.

The Big Dig initially appeared to have the funding, but look at where the mismanagement got us. The State is reeling from this project, designed to "improve" traffic flow in Boston. We need to urge our state leaders to look at the larger picture and put in mass transit and transportation infrastructure projects that benefit everyone.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Dan G says, "It's About Time for A Parking Increase"

As if the hardships currently gripping the economy aren't bad enough, I just came across this article in the Globe about an increase in parking at all MBTA lots and garages which will go into effect on Nov. 15th.

For us commuter rail riders, parking is going to increase from $2 to $4 a day. For garage parkers (like Alewife), parking is going to increase from $5 to $7. According to my friend Dan Grabauskas: "even without the fiscal crisis it was time to increase the charge for parking. Half a decade is certainly a long time between increases."

Furthermore, this is really a reaction to the MBTA's finanical situation and the fact that they owe the union back pay for two years. If anyone remembers the silent strike last year, the union threatened to do the same thign this year (i.e. by "impacting service") if the MBTA board did not take some steps to address the back pay issue. So, as a result, the commuters get to bear the brunt of it.

Can't say I'm happy about this at all.

How Long is Your Commute to Work?

The current poll on the Worcester Business Journal's homepage is all about commuting.

I just took the poll around 3:30 p.m. on 10/10/2008. So here is a snapshot of the most current responses:

The WBJ's readership is primarily Central Mass./MetroWest residents and businesses.

I did find it interesting that 67% of the poll's participants commute less than 25 miles to work, while only 3.9% take public transportation.

Interesting poll. Perhaps only a Commute-a-holic finds this interesting!

Can I See Where I Am Now?

Isn't this a lovely Friday? The week, temperature wise, started out brisk and now it is warm. Plus it looks like it will be a lovely Columbus Day Weekend, weather wise. Alas, I do not have Monday off.

My commute this morning was fine. I actually had to drive to the Westborough station this morning because, timing wise, I would not have made the P508 train in Grafton. We were at South Station for 8:20 a.m.

Schedule wise, this was a great commute even with my station change. I did have one issue, which became really apparent on such a beautiful morning. It was my understanding that all of the windows were supposed to be replaced on the commuter rail trains. I don't think that has happened or maybe they haven't finished the project. The car I was riding on had horrible windows. You could hardly see outside. I hate not knowing where I am, which is the effect when riding on the cars with the old, scratched windows. It was a shame to not be able to look out and enjoy the fall landscapes on a sunny morning.

For Sale: $350 million in Bonds Owned by the MBTA

Today's The Boston Globe reports that next week the MBTA is going to try to sell $350 million in bonds to help pay off short-term debt and fund its capital program. If the T can sell the bonds on the credit market, they plan to allocate the money as follows:
  • $202 million would fund the MBTA's capital program.
  • $100 million would let the T pay off their short-term paper debts.
  • $37 million would be deposited into the account the T uses to pay down its debt.
  • Anything left over would cover the cost of issuing the the bonds.
Overall, the T has $8 billion in debt.

Yesterday's Boston Metro reported that state and national transportation officials met in Boston on Wednesday to discuss the challenges facing federally funded transportation programs. A six-year federal transportation bill is up for re-authorization in 2009, but US Rep Michael Capuano said the House and Senate may not even get to this next year.

The T's Green Line extension and Urban Ring projects are both slated to receive federal funding.

Overall, the state's current transportation structure could cost $19 billion to maintain, which doesn't account for any new projects.

Even though the T has incurred a great deal of debt, today's Boston Metro reports that the transit authority is planning on building out the pilot WiFi program throughout the commuter rail line. Today, the T's Board of Directors will be asked to authorize $1.39 million to equip 258 train coaches with WiFI. This would include upgrading equipment on 50 Worcester line cars. If approved, this project will begin in December and the plan is to upgrade 30 coaches a month.

Call me crazy, but if the T is running out of money shouldn't the use whatever money they have to improve the on-time performance of their trains? Does the T ever listen to commuter feedback? Train Stopping has received a lot of comments this week from Worcester line riders who are frustrated with the "new" schedules. For commuters who's trips originates in Worcester through Ashland, they would like to see more express trains. For commuters who ride in from Framingham and points East, they would like to see express trains remain that originate in Framigham. And riders who do the "reverse" commute would like to see other options. Sure, some more trains were added, but in the scheme of things the schedule was just shuffled around. The Worcester-Framingham riders continue to be frustrated by their how much longer their trips take today compared to 2 or 3 years ago.

Finally, WickedLocal Hingham reports that the T's plans to cut the commuter boat service are currently on hold.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Super Commute

My commute on the P508 was just super this morning. We arrived to South Station at 8:20 a.m. I thought the train was a bit more crowded than usual this morning. Which I thought was strange, as today is Yom Kippur. I heard traffic on the roads was lighter this morning, so I don't know why the train was so crowded. ran an article about the Lakeville MBTA station.

Where Do You Park?

In today's The Boston Globe there is an article about how the increased ridership on the MBTA/MBCR commuter rail trains can cause parking to be at a premium at some stations. This article focused mainly on the Fitchburg line, but the limited availability of parking spots seems to be a theme across much of the commuter rail system.

Acton Board of Selectman Chairperson Lauren Rosenzweig was quoted as saying that the town of Acton has heard complaints from commuters that the parking spots in Acton are filled by 7:18 a.m. Approximately 900 commuters board the trains from Acton alone.

Commuters are dealing with the parking issues in a number of different ways. Some get dropped off at stations, others walk to the station. People are parking wherever they can find a space - meaning that businesses in towns along the commuter rail line are complaining that commuters are taking up parking spots meant for customers.

The MBTA does have a $150 million rehabilitation of the Fitchburg line scheduled. The first part of the project will focus on railroad operations. Future phases of the project may focus on commuter rail parking issues.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Tuesday's P519 Trip Wasn't A Good One

Thanks go out to Stratamarr for sharing this first-hand account of yesterday afternoon's P519 trip:
You probably didn't hear about this, but there was a huge problem on the 519 out of South Station today. We stopped right outside of West Newton station (on the north side track since it was an express). About 5 minutes goes by and one of the conductors came on the intercom and said they were being held by CSX, no explanation given. So we wait. 10 minutes later, same story on the intercom. The local 521 goes by on the other track. 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes. Same non-explanation to the now-agitated riders. Now we are waiting on "paperwork." What is paperwork?

The express 523 screams by. One hour passes and we are just sitting there. Then someone notices people getting off the train, since the West Newton platform is across the tracks, diagonally behind us. The 527 is due in 10 minutes to West Newton. About 20 people get off, illegally (including me), walking across the gravel and onto the platform. The 527 arrives, the refugees get on, and we finally make some progress. Right after Auburndale stop, the 519 comes up along side us and passes us. So getting off the train was not a great idea. But I did get to hear some interesting tidbits. One of the conductors on the 527 was telling some of the refugees (and I was overhearing) the real reason the 519 stopped suddenly: the engineer ran a red flag, which is a no-no anytime but especially recently, with the scandals that have been plaguing train systems, here to California, with distracted engineers at the controls.
I'm glad I wasn't a passenger on that train, but many of us have had similar experiences.

Speaking of experiences, if you have any you want to share, you may want to attend this. I received a noticed today from the MBCR Rail Mail:

Meet members of the Commuter Rail

Management team and talk with us!

Do you…

have comments or questions about your Commuter Rail service?

Do you…

have opinions or ideas you would like to share?

A team of Managers from MBCR will be at the following stations

Between 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. to listen to what you have to say.

Back Bay Tuesday October 14th, 2008

South Station Thursday October 16th, 2008

North Station Tuesday October 21st, 2008

We look forward to seeing you there!

The Pike is Busy

Yup. It is nearly 3:00 p.m. and I'm just getting around to posting today. Both Commute-a-holic and I have been pretty busy at work. Hectic days can be good - at least they're good for us at our respective jobs.

I drove to work today because I need to run some errands on my way home from work. The traffic on the Pike was horrible this morning. I'm not sure why they're hurting for money (other than the whole Big Dig issue), since the Pike is always packed when I take it. And why did they decide to take away one of the Fast Lane tollbooth from the inbound East lanes to give people coming from Weston an extra tollbooth? In my opinion this seems stupid because it causes more of a backup for those of driving in on the Pike from the Western exits. I just don't get it. It would be helpful to understand why lanes come and go.

The Pike is in a financial mess. The state is in a financial mess. Things are messy right now.

Moving on. WickedLocal Marshfield published a story yesterday about the Greater Attleboro Taunton Regional Authority (GATRA). GATRA is now running one-way trips from Kingston through Duxbury into Marshfield and Pembroke.

Finally, from a news perspective, Ars Technica ran yet another story about the MIT student hackers today.

I think it may be safe to say that there are a lot of Worcester-Framingham commuter rail riders unhappy with the "new" schedule. We need more express trains from Worcester to Boston and we need to make sure that trips aren't disrupted whether they originate in Worcester or originate elsewhere on the line. Thanks to FRAMINGHAMINATOR for your comments!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Train Stopping Gets a Mention

Thanks to The Greater Grafton Blog for giving us the heads-up on this one. Yesterday's The MetroWest Daily News contained an article about local blogs including Train Stopping. There is a great list of blogs with a MetroWest perspective. We're thrilled to be included!

By the way, I also miss the Abdow's Big Boy that used to be in Westborough (sort of wear the Ruby Tuesday's and the former Boston Market restaurants are). I also miss the Abdow's Big Boy that used to be in Webster Square in Worcester (I think it is a Moe's now) and the one on Route 12 in Auburn (which was a Bickford's but is now a seafood restaurant). As a kid, I loved the salad bars and I loved their burgers.

Post ALDS Smooth Ride

I'm thrilled the Sox won last night's ALDS game against the Angels. I was also happy last night's game was quicker than Sunday night's game. Lester was efficient as opposed to Beckett Sunday night.

The train was fine this morning. It was a smooth ride on the P508 all the way into South Station. We arrived at 8:23 a.m.

I received a MBCR Rail Mail email this morning about the "new" Worcester line schedule. Here are the details, effective Monday October 27th.

Monday through Friday
  • Train P500, the 5:40am train from Framingham to Boston, will now depart Worcester at 4:45am arriving at South Station at 6:31am and making all intermediate station stops approximately 5 minutes earlier.
  • Train P504, the 6:50am train from Framingham to Boston, will now depart Worcester at 6:05am, making all intermediate stops to Boston
  • Train P526, the 3:53pm train from Framingham to Boston, will now depart Worcester at 4:30pm, arriving in Boston at 6:05pm.
Monday through Friday
  • Train P501, the 5:30am train from South Station to Framingham, will now depart South Station at 4:00am and will extend to Worcester, arriving at 5:14am.
  • Train P517, the 2:45pm train from South Station, will now depart South Station 2:40pm and will be extended all the way to Worcester, arriving at 4:13pm.

Printable PDF format copies of schedules are available at

Commuter rail service information, including updated commuter rail advisories/alerts is available on the MBTA website at, or by calling the MBTA Customer Support Services Center at 617-222-3200.

The MetroWest Daily News ran an article yesterday about how the Cape Cod Central Railroad plans to submit a proposal to the Executive Office of Transportation calling for the restoration of rail service from the Cape to Boston. The Cape Cod Central Railroad claims that they can get trains running to Boston in a year at a fraction of the cost of the state's proposal to restore service to the South Coast by 2016.

Yesterday CNet published an article about security flaws in the Mifare Wireless smart card used by transit systems including the MBTA. This is a follow-up to the paper the three MIT students wrote earlier in the summer.

Finally, Mashable! (a site about new things on the Web) printed an article yesterday about resources available to navigate mass transit. While the MBTA's website was mentioned, alas Train Stopping nor BusRyda were mentioned, but it is a great read nonetheless.