Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pre-Thanksgiving Day Commute

Short weeks are the best. This was my last commute into work for this week. The P508 train was 5 minutes late in arriving to Grafton this morning. But we made up our time and arrived into South Station at 8:24 a.m.

Delays have been plaguing the Providence line over the past few days. I heard about delays this a.m. on the news and Annonymous posted a comment here.

Wicked Local Easton published yet another take on the South Coast line extension yesterday, while Wicked Local Roslindale wrote a column about why toll hikes are bad.

If you need to drive somewhere to get to your Thanksgiving celebration, you might find this article posted today on MSN titled "Highways to Hell" - the top 10 worst highways in the US. Though no roadways in Massachusetts made this list (I know, I was shocked), two New England roads did: Maine Highway 1 and the I-95/I-195 interchange in Providence, RI.

Here's an interesting fact: Maine rural highways have the highest fatality rate of any rural road in the US (81%).

Safe travels to wherever it is you are going this holiday weekend. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

OJ and the Silver Line

It is super rainy this morning, huh? At least it isn't freezing cold. The temperatures feel warmer than the past few days.

I was back riding the P508 this morning. The train was fine. We arrived at South Station around 8:25 a.m.

The real adventure of this morning's commute, for me, took place at South Station. While I was waiting for the Silver Line, another commuter dropped their orange juice all over me and some guy. The person was walking down the stairs and the OJ fell over. It actually spilled on my head. So my hair is all crusty now. I guess today was just meant to be a bad hair day. The rain is tough enough on its own, but throw some OJ into the mix and it is just a hair disaster.

Commuters who come in on trains that travel between Route 128 and Canton have had some tough commutes lately. Last night, according to WHDH-TV Channel 7, delays with an Amtrak train caused a ripple effect. Commuters had to be bused from the 128 Station to Canton Station in order to resume their commute. That could not have been fun for anyone.

This is a big week for Amtrak. I'm glad I won't be anywhere near an Amtrak train heading out of Boston either today or tomorrow. It will be packed to the gills with college students and other travelers trying to make it to wherever they need to get to for Thanksgiving. Of course, I anticipate tomorrow night's commute home to be pretty crowded for the same reason.

An interesting op-ed from today's Boston Herald about a number of Massachusetts public entities need to be bailed out. The MBTA is frequently mentioned.

Yesterday WickedLocal Easton reported on the South Coast rail project. One proposed route, linking Attelboro to Norton, may be canned as it would be a construction nightmare causing a lot of disruption and costing a lot of money.

The Salem News published two different commuter rail-related stories today. One is about a commuter rail crossing in Ipswich. The other is about the quest for more parking at the Salem MBTA station.

A post from today's Green Blog asks the question: are you driving more now that gas is below $2 for the first time in nearly four years? The question emanated from an article from today's Boston Globe.

Finally, it looks like MBTA commuters aren't the only ones who are paying more to park. The MART garages in Fitchburgh and North Leominster may increase parking fees from $2 to $3 per day and $35 to $50 per month in 2009, according to an article in the 11/21 issue of the Fitchburg Pride. In case you didn't know, MART stands for Montachusett Regional Transit Authority. I would still rather pay $50 a month than the $80 a month I'm now paying to park.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Monday Morning Commute on the P512

It was frosty this morning, huh? I guess winter has finally arrived.

I took the P512 into Boston this morning. We arrived at South Station right on time at 9:08 a.m.

Today's Providence Business Journal featured this article about the proposed Seacoast commuter rail extension that would link New Bedford-Fall River to Boston via the train.

The "Eyes on the Road" column in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) discusses why it isn't a rosy transportation picture when Americans drive less.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Seemingly Speedy P508

My commute on the P508 was good. It seemed speedy. The train wasn't very crowded at all. We arrived to South Station at 8:20 a.m.

The big news this morning was the suspension of two T trolley crew members who were involved in separate accidents. You can read all about it in this article from today's The Boston Herald.

On the subject of accidents, WCVB-TV Channel 5 aired a report last night on how MBTA policy puts riders at risk. They even have the video running with the article.

The Salem News published a story yesterday about a petition circulating in Salem to ask the state to build a new parking garage at the MBTA station.

Today's Boston Globe ran this article about some concerns Massport's CEO Tom Kinton has over the Port Authority running the airport tunnels. If that doesn't cause your head to explode from information, this will. DiMasi wants a gas tax, the Governor wants a Pike toll increase and Murray wants a strategic plan. Three different leaders, three different ideas.

Finally, for MetroWest commuters seeking options to the commuter rail, My Southborough reports that the Southborough to Boston bus has not been cancelled. If you didn't know about this option and you are a Southborough-area commuter, you might want to go and check it out.

Happy Blogiversary Train Stopping!!

Today marks the one year anniversary of the launch of Train Stopping. As you may recall, at this time last year, performance was abysmal not only on the Worcester-Framingham line, but across the commuter rail system due to a silent working strike by the conductors. I started the blog to raise awareness of the issues we were facing and to open a dialogue about public transportation issues. Since the launch, I’ve been fortunate to be interviewed by Fox 25 TV, The Boston Globe, The Worcester T&G and numerous blogs about my commuting experience. Plus, Train Stopping has benefited from being mentioned by other blogs or actually being featured in the blogrolls on other blogs, which has been nice.

What has really changed in the last year after 473 posts? Well, let’s put it to a pro/con list:

  1. The increased knowledge of transportation issues across Massachusetts. I never used to think much about the trains or Mass Pike tolls. But as these agencies fight their way out of seemingly insurmountable debt AT THE EXPENSE OF TAXPAYERS, I am motivated to inform and get involved.
  2. I’m glad I have the option to take the train. Is it perfect? No, but it is a safe, somewhat consistent and reliable alternative to driving. This was abundantly clear when gas hit $4.25 a gallon.
  3. The impact on the environment that I have by taking public transportation and not driving 42 miles each way on a daily basis
  4. T ridership was up over 23% this year . . . although I expect to see it come down now that gas prices have fallen under $2.00/gallon. And with Governor Patrick putting a gas tax increase on hold and Senate President Murray considering legislation to put the toll increase on the back burner, I think people might go back to driving.
  5. Knowing that I’m not alone in my daily commuting adversities … it’s nice getting validation from other riders not only on the Worcester-Framingham line, but on lines across the commuter rail system.
  1. Problems with On Time Performance were never really addressed; all the MBTA did was increase the schedule to reflect that they never met their performance times to begin with. Schedules were adjusted by adding upwards of 15 minutes to "better reflect" travel times. The media bought this hook, line and sinker. Elected officials got to pat themselves on the back for "doing something." Yet riders, especially those of us on the Worcester- Framingham line really didn't get to benefit.
  2. We're paying more to commute than we were at this time last year.
  3. Speaking of On Time Performance, good luck finding the statistics about train performance. If you happen to be in South Station in the ticket line, the times are posted there, but I think they should be posted publicly on the MBCR and MBTA websites.
  4. More trains were added to the Worcester-Framingham line, but from an express train option, my options remain the same (see point #1). It really seems like it was a political game . . . months of hemming and hawing about CSX and liability and then when apparently that is resolved, 5 “new” trains are added, but really, only one is “new” and the rest are local trains. (By the way, my local train trip from Boston to Grafton is 1 1/2 hours if the train is actually on time. This doesn't account for my drive to Grafton and getting to my office once I'm in Boston).
  5. Fare collection is still inconsistent, curious considering the MBTA needs every little bit of revenue they can get.
  6. Trains are more crowded due to the rising cost of gasoline. T ridership was up over 23% this year . . . although I expect to see it come down now that gas prices have fallen under $2.00/gallon. And with Governor Patrick putting a gas tax increase on hold and Senate President Murray considering legislation to put the toll increase on the back burner, I think people might go back to driving.
I want to thank all of the commuters who have read and contributed to the blog, especially AJ, Kidney Stones, Richard, Grafton Train Rider, Fitchburg Train Rider, and all of the Anonymous posters who add their valuable insight.

And finally, I’d like to thank my partner in crime, Commute-a-holic, who keeps this blog humming when I can’t. Thanks everyone!!

We'll be back later with a news round-up.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

One Question, Different Answers

Westborough Train Rider shared with Train Stopping this comment/email trail sent to the MBTA regarding the newly instituted parking fees.

Last Wednesday (11/12/2008), Westborough Train Rider sent an email to mbta AT asking who to make out a personal check to for parking payment. This is a pretty logical question - here's the email:
Who do I make out a check to when paying for parking? With the pay increase I am not going to attempt to cram $4 in cash/coins into the drop box. Not to mention I need a receipt and the drop box/cash method doesn''t provide that.

The MBTA got back to Westborough Train Rider pretty quickly. The answer: "Sorry payments are cash only."

Since the trail led to a dead end, Westborough Train Rider immediately filed this complaint with the MBTA's Customer Feedback, requesting a response back:
I find it wholly unacceptable that the parking lot of Westborough only accepts cash and doesn't provide receipts. With the DOUBLING of the parking rate, trying to jam $4 (cash and coins) into the archaic machine at the Westborough parking lot is going to be problematic.

Here is my correspondence with the folks at mbta AT who are listed as the folks that manage the lot. I think the MBTA needs to take responsibility if they want to increase the parking rate. Not having the ability to get a receipt for an item I pay for is bad business. I have also written to the Better Business Bureau.
A few days later, the MBTA sent Westborough Train Ride this reply:
The MBTA is indeed considering changes to improve upon the current payment systems. Currently the MBTA is exploring cashless payment alternatives to the honor boxes for our commuter rail customers and is hopeful such technologies will be introduced in the very near future.

These technology will provide a proof of payment and online account management. Similarly, the MBTA is exploring with MassPike an expansion of the FastLane system, currently offered at the Route 128 Garage, to other MBTA parking garages. The MBTA's longer range goal is to extend the same conveniences and assurances afforded bus, subway and light rail customers by the CharlieCard to our parking lots and garages, the commuter rail, and commuter ferry. We are committed to offering our customers the option of using credit cards or smart cards (or a similar automated form) to pay parking fees.

Be assured checks are in fact accepted and should made out to MBTA Parking and inserted as you would cash into the honor box. You may also wish to include the station name and space number on your check as well.

Many customers today pay their parking fees this way.

Thank you for writing.

MBTA Parking Services
So mbta AT says "no checks."

The MBTA says "sure, you can pay by check."

Westborough Train Rider wasn't through. This reply was sent back to the MBTA:
Thank you for the reply. Should I ignore the response I got from mbta AT that said they only accept cash payments at their parking lots?
The MBTA was kind enough to respond with:
Yes, please do. I have clarified with Central Parking. Their concern was that their staff might confuse checks with the blank scraps of paper some customers insert into the honor box rather than a pay.

Sorry for the confusion and thank you for your continued patronage.
At this point, the story should be over, right? Wrong. Here's what happens next.

The new parking rates went into effect on 11/15/2008. Westborough Train Rider uses a personal check to pay the $4.00 to park. Is the personal check accepted - heck no. So Westborough Train Rider shot this off to the MBTA:
Yesterday I paid with a check and got a notice saying that I had not paid and would be expected to pay the $4. There is also an additional charge of $0.75 and then some fuzzy math that brings the total to $5. Can you please follow up with the parking folks to determine why they are not accepting a check as a form of payment? I would also hope that I will not be expected to pay the $0.75 service charge. Could you please follow up on the status of the check I submitted? Having received this notice I am not sure if my check was taken and will be cashed or if perhaps I should submit another check for $4 in this late payment envelope.

Let's hope that Westborough Train Rider keeps us posted on this parking payment saga. Why can't things just be easy?

Thanks Westborough Train Rider for sharing this experience with us.

On The Greater Grafton Blog, Jenn has a great photo of the parking sign at the Grafton station.

Worcester Bloggers and More Debate About Parking

I would like to give a big shout-out to Neil of the 4-Rilla is Real blog and Linnea of Real Worcester for last night's meet-up at the Worcester Shark's game. Commute-a-holic and I both participated. It was nice to meet other Worcester-area bloggers and blog readers and it was great to get out and support the Worcester Sharks. The Sharks beat the Norfolk Admirals 4 to 3.

This was a fun and an inexpensive event. What more can you ask for in such trying days? In case you're either a hockey fan or you're looking to do something fun and inexpensive, the Sharks have a program where you can purchase tickets to Wednesday night games for $5.00 a ticket for groups of 10 or more. You can't even go out and see a movie for that. So if you're looking for something to do, consider checking out a Sharks game on a Wednesday night this winter. The DCU Center is a safe and welcoming environment which has been renovated to remove any sign of the old "Centrum" orange seats.

I even took the P527 train all the way to Worcester and walked to the DCU. Commute-a-holic was kind enough to return me to the Grafton station after the game.

Now on to commuting news!

The P508 was on time. We arrived into South Station at 8:21 a.m. The parking lots still look like they're only 1/2 way filled in Grafton, Westborough, Southborough, and Ashland.

Though I haven't seen published MBCR/MBTA on-time performance stats in months, I did notice a sign in the far corners of South Station. For the month of October 2008, the Worcester-Framingham line had an on-time performance of 90.55% and a year-to-date performance of 87.67%. I, for one, think these stats are suspicious. But there doesn't seem to be any accountability for publishing the stats by an outside authority, so I guess we have to go with what they are telling us.

People are still fired up about the parking rates. We appreciate all comments made to the blog - even if we don't agree with them. Commute-a-holic and I love how the blogsphere generates dialogue, which is what we are trying to do.

If you're a commuter rail rider and you're looking to connect with other riders, feel free to use Train Stopping to make those connections. A comment by Raghu Saranathan for West Natick commuters yesterday made me realize that others may be looking to connect. Let's all try to work together.

I will say, I do get annoyed when I see references to people "cutting out lattes to pay for parking." I've actually made a lot of reductions in my life over the past 2 years. I'm single and I work in financial services, so there is a very strong probability I could lose my job if the market continues its downward slant (spiral). I'm glad I started to become a lot more environmentally aware over the past few years, because it has helped me cut down on my consumption. That being said, I'm still irritated when I see utter mismanagement of public funds and I am still incredibly upset about this parking increase. But we will work through this.

On to the news. Yesterday's contained a scathing commentary on what happens when we don't pay to ride buses or trains. It is really well written and I agree with the sentiments. It may not solve all the debt issues, but I have got to believe that these funds help the bottom line. If not, then why even bother with fares?

Today's The Boston Globe focuses on how Massachusetts House Speaker Sal DiMasi is now pushing for the gas tax to offset transportation costs. Also, there is an op-ed by Senate President Therese Murray and Senator Steven Baddour. The focus is about reforming the transportation system in the state. The state is certainly in for a long haul, so to speak.

Finally, the MBCR and MBTA have entered into a partnership with the Samaritans to increase awareness about suicide prevention and support services. The partnership will also provide support to transportation workers who may have been impacted by a suicide. The partnership includes:
  • Creation and implementation of a public awareness campaign about suicide prevention services, including advertisement for the Samaritans’ Statewide Toll Free Helpline 877-870-HOPE (4673) that will be promoted in posters placed in T and Commuter Rail stations.
  • Creation of a Samaritans education and information program that will be available to provide emotional support services to transportation employees who witness or handle suicides.
  • Creation and implementation of an awareness campaign regarding Samaritans’ need for volunteers to increase their capacity to assist persons in need and families of those who have died by suicide.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My First Day Paying $4 to Park

I'm back in the office today. It cracks me up when I travel out-of-town. I'm usually home earlier than I would be if I went into the office. My flight landed at Logan around 6:00 p.m. last night. Since traffic was light on the Pike, I was home by 7:15 p.m. That's usually when the P529 pulls into Grafton.

Today was my first day paying to park at the new $4 fee. Thus, I have a few commuter rail update/observations:
  1. Capacity in the parking lot has definitely increased . . . there were many more open spaces. I would say the lot was less than half full this morning (in time for the P508 departing at 7:09 a.m. train). I saw less cars parked and the line for drop offs was three times as long as usual. I think people are saying enough is enough with the MBTA and aren't going to pay the increased rate.
  2. It is impossible to fit four folded or rolled dollars into the slot. You have to fold two dollars together and then insert them twice. So, now it takes twice as long to pay.
  3. The dollar coins do NOT fit in the slots. So, if you want to use coins, you have to feed 16 quarters into the slots.

The whole thing is just ridiculous. You would think the MBTA would have come up with an easier way for commuters to pay their fee. It's so shortsighted on the MBTA's part and it shows they just don't understand their customers or the system they operate. Sure they need to raise money to pay for the back wages, but why not get rid of the WiFi that doesn't always work? Or how about making sure if you raise the parking fee, people can actually park? No, just inconvenience the customer instead.

Well, I think it's going to backfire. People are going to start driving again, especially since gas is near or below $2 a gallon now.

On a bright note, the P508 was 2 minutes early this morning, we rolled into South Station at 8:21 a.m.

This article from The Boston Herald, first published as an update late yesterday afternoon and then republished this morning, is interesting. With all the hi jinks over the past few weeks in Massachusetts' transportation, lawmakers are pushing for a 6-cent gas tax increase to help offset the assorted costs and deficits. Legislation has also been past to try to freeze toll increases until a comprehensive transportation plan has been unveiled. Rep. David Linsky (D-Natick) had this to say:

“This proposal would cost the average Massachusetts motorist approximately 85
or 90 cents per week, and save commuters on the Massachusetts Turnpike and those who commute from the North Shore nearly $2,000 per year,” Linsky stated in an e-mail to colleagues.

Right on. I'm glad someone is looking out for those of us who live West and North of the city.

A front-page story from today's The Boston Globe focuses on how the toll increases could negatively impact the East Boston community. I've got to think that the new toll increases would also really impact Revere and Winthrop too. Overall, this isn't a good solution. Businesses and residents are impacted in a multitude of ways.

Columnist Yvonne Abraham wrote this fantastic commentary about the toll increase, also in today's Globe. She also feels the gas tax should be increased and she makes a solid case for why Massachusetts isn't "Taxachusetts" anymore. We rank 35th in the US for taxes in proportion to income, far behind neighboring Connecticut and New York.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Another Day, More to Pay

Train Rider is still away on business, so we do not have a Worcester commuter rail update this morning.

Based on comments received by Train Stopping yesterday, it looks like the first day of the new parking fees caused fewer people to part at the MBTA stations. It will be interesting to see if people find ways to avoid parking or if they just stop taking the trains all together.

Yesterday blogger Jeff Korzenik wrote about how the parking increase could cause people to not use the T in his blog (in)efficient frontiers. Jeff made some great observations and some excellent points on how consumers behave rationally.
This morning offered a good lesson on the rationality of consumers of energy and transportation. Today was the first business day that parking rates increased at MBTA (Boston’s regional transit authority) train station parking lots. My small station has a limited number of spots (about 150). As fuel prices rose earlier this year, drivers chose mass transit over driving in to Boston, and the lot filled earlier and earlier. When gas prices were at their peak, the lot generally filled by about 6:45 a.m. As gas prices have declined, the lot generally didn’t fill until about 7:00 a.m. Starting today, the higher parking fees will raise the annual train commute cost by $500. At 7:00 a.m. this morning, the lot was a third empty. As the relative cost of fuel-efficient mass transit increased, and the cost of driving has decreased, consumers have acted rationally and switched back to driving.

CommonWealth magazines CW blog used the recent issues plaguing transportation entities in Massachusetts as a reason to provide links to a number of current and past articles about transportation.

Over the weekend, the By any media necessary blog published an excellent letter written to Governor Deval Patrick, calling for the resignation of MBTA GM Daniel Grabauskas. The author Cara Lisa Powers, commutes from Worcester to Dorchester via the Worcester-Framingham commuter rail line and the Red Line. That's a super long commute, huh? She cited a number of reasons why she chose to commute via commuter rail, including the "new" Worcester line schedule and the T's highly touted free Wi-Fi. She points out that, if you rely on the Worcester line, there really isn't a good schedule if you do work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and she even shared Customer Service's feedback:
I made this decision with two key MBTA advertisements in mind: (1) That the trains on the Worcester/Framingham line now have wireless and (2) that the Worcester/ Framingham line was adding four new trains to the schedule just days before my November 1 move. Since the beginning of my commute, just 2 weeks ago, I have been increasingly stressed, irritable and astounded at the MBTA’s blatant lack of regard for the needs of its riders. First, I found that the trains added to the schedule were at the beginning, middle and end of the day, and not at peak travel times like extending the 5:15 train from South Station to Framingham or the 8:00am train that runs from Framingham to Boston to run at approximately 7:19 from Worcester. Given that there seemed to be no practical commuter schedule for someone working a regular 9 to 5 schedule in Boston, I called Customer Service to complain. I was told by the Customer Service representative that they obviously could not cater to everyone’s schedule, he was not sure what I would like for him to do. After citing my 9-5 schedule, I recommended that the additional trains be revisited. I was given no way to follow up and see how my complaint was recorded or would be acted on.

Cara is singing Train Rider's song. A lot of us have thought the same thing and have voiced similar complaints.

However, unlike many commuters, Cara is fortunate to work for an employer who will create a flexible schedule for her. Even with her commitment to ride the rails, Cara noted:

With constant price hikes, little accountability, and continuously deteriorating service, I have to seriously consider driving to work. It would save me at least 2 hours a day, which in my line of work as a community organizer is precious. There are very few days that I am able to leave work on time, and on those days I want the dependability to know that I can get home when I plan to. Three times this week, a late train, either on the Commuter Rail or the Red Line which takes me from JFK/ UMASS to South Station has caused me to get home later than anticipated, today by a full hour because of a late train on the red line. This is incredibly frustrating when I already have a 12 hour day and little time to even eat dinner and shower before having to go to bed to get up for an early train.

She moves on to say that, in her opinion, the MBTA has forgotten it serves the people of Massachusetts. Cara continues to make some excellent points and I encourage everyone to read her full post.

Finally, a Live Journal post by Christopher Parker contains his post made to the Boston Metro's Q&A with Dan Grabauskas. Christopher is a bus rider who also had some interesting observations.

Monday, November 17, 2008

New Day, New Parking Fees at MBTA Lots

Good morning. Train Rider is out of town on a business trip, so I do not have any commuter rail updates. As both WHDH-TV Channel 7 and The Daily News reported this morning, the new parking fees are a reality at MBTA station lots.

Did you see yesterday's Boston Sunday Globe front page article? It was all about how the Big Dig enhancement's have only pushed traffic bottlenecks farther outside of downtown Boston. As many of us unscientifically expected, the $15 billion spent on the Big Dig didn't eliminate traffic jams. Sure, while there may not be a lot of traffic jams in the downtown core, getting to and from Boston is just as difficult as ever. And it can take a lot longer.

The Big Dig is at the core of the funding problems plaguing mass transit in Massachusetts. In an editorial from today's Telegram & Gazette the different views of eliminating the Pike are presented. The Pike was also the focus of yesterday's "Starts & Stops" in the Globe. I encourage anyone who commutes on the commuter rail to read yesterday's "Starts & Stops." It really details the issues at hand that commuters face and it contains some fantastic comments.

In other news, according to this article from Saturday's Boston Globe, the Federal Transit Authority shot down the T's request to purchase commuter rail locomotives from a European company.

Finally, some Boston residents are trying to get the No. 39 and No. 55 bus stops on Boylston Street at Ring Road restored.

Friday, November 14, 2008

MetroWest and North of City Fund Mass Pike

In case you haven't seen the updates flying out from The Boston Globe/ and The Boston Herald: Massachusetts. The Mass Pike Board has voted. And MetroWest and North of Boston drivers who commute using the Pike or the tunnels, you get to pay off the Mass Pike's debt.

If you drive from North of Boston on I-93 or if you live on the South Shore and don't drive to Logan everyday, thank the good people of MetroWest and North of Boston because we're covering your debt. Not our debt - your debt. You benefit the most from the Big Dig, but we get to pay for it.

In a 4 to 1 vote, the Mass Pike Board approved plans to up tolls. The toll increases will go into effect in either February or March 2009, after some public hearings and a final vote. If you are upset about this, we urge you to contact your local state rep and your local state senator and voice your concerns.

The toll increases will be as follows:
  • Tolls at Weston and Allston-Brighton increase from $1.25 to $2.00. If you have a Fast Lane transponder, your toll will only be $1.50.
  • The Airport tunnels increase from $3.50 to $7.00. For Fast Lane users, the toll will be $6.00.
For those who pay cash at the tolls (which I really just don't get - go out and get a Fast Lane or EZ-Pass transponder), your tolls increase $.75 at Allston-Brighton and Weston and $3.50 for the airport tunnels.

People are enraged. Check out the comments on the article.

I do live in MetroWest. To get technical, I live in the Blackstone Valley. I moved back to the Valley because it is my home. Also, for the most part, I've worked outside of the city. I did commute into Boston on the commuter rail, but I've also commuted to Waltham (on 128) and to Providence. Not everyone has a job in the city, so I'm sick and tired of listening to people say "you should move closer to the city." If I lived in Boston, I would have an extremely long and expensive reverse commute to MetroWest.

From a commuting standpoint, those of us who live West of the city really do get hosed. We either have to deal with an insane amount of traffic getting to jobs along 495 or 128 or we have to deal with unending train delays. There is no perfect system, but it would be nice to see transportation costs evenly distributed across the Commonwealth - at least to those communities North and South of Boston.

I think a gas tax makes sense, but I could see why it would be argued down. A lot of people live in Western Mass - is it really fair to ask them to pay for the Big Dig? The Big Dig directly benefited downtown Boston and surrounding towns.

I'm at the point right now where I think Fred Salvucci, the matermind behind the Big Dig, should be brought up on charges for deceiving a Commonwealth. This project was gross negligence. It artificially boosted our state's economy by causing an enormous amount of revenue from the project to come into the Commonwealth. Think about all the people the project employed, the cost of materials, etc.

The irony is - even with the Dig, traffic isn't any better. We spent all this money, got to see some cool engineering feats, and driving in and around Boston is still a cluster.

Why can't a gas tax on gas sold within the geographic area of the Big Dig come into play? Why aren't we seeing other solutions to this revenue problem?

South Shore residents and those North of the city who commute on I-93 are the big winners, along with New Hampshire and Rhode Island residents. For everyone else, I guess we know where we stand in this Commonwealth.

A November Miracle!

HALLELUJAH! The p508 was on time today for the first time in weeks! We rolled on into South Station at 8:22 AM, one minute prior to the scheduled arrival time.

When I boarded in Grafton, I thought for sure we were going to be late because we were short a car and all of the doors weren't open on the cars we did have, meaning that it would take longer to board passengers at each stop.

I did notice at one point that we were absolutely motoring through Newton and along the Pike, so perhaps it did take longer to board but our awesome engineer made up the time (like pilots do in the air).

Last night's commute on the p523 was a cluster. Again, the train was at least one car short and the cars were absolutely packed. I think this is the first time in over five years that I've had to stand. I'll hand it to the conductor, she came through and collected everyone's pass ... usually they don't even bother when the train is full like that.

So, today was my last $2 parking fee day. Looks like I'll miss out contributing to the T debt on Monday and Tuesday as I'll be heading to NYC for a business trip ... but instead I'll get to pay whatever new outrageous toll for the Pike and Airport that they come up with.

And props to AJ, he has succinctly stated what a lot of us feel. Why should we, the taxpayer, continue to bail out entities, agencies or companies who have mismanaged their finances? Do you think someone is waiting in the wings to bail me out? Nope. No wonder why we're all so disenfranchised.

Yes We Can and Yes We Will

AJ's comment to yesterday's P508 late post inspired this morning's headline. Yes - we the commuters of Massachusetts will be paying for the inept management at the MBTA and the Mass Pike. Sure, the Mass Pike will ultimately be dissolved (which impacts a lot of people who depend on the Pike for employment). Dan Grabauskas appears to have an iron-clad contract, so he'll be running the T, smirking at us for the free lunches and MBTA cars until his contract expires. These are the worst cases of management, but we seem to be at a point where so many areas in the business world aren't run very well anymore.

Here's AJ's comment in its entirety:
You know, I was watching Fox News this morning, and I just had to post. I couldn't even wait and do my usual routine, commute, read about the mornings commute and comment. This was just too good to wait!

I for one, want to step forward and just say I'm honored to be one of the fine residents of the state who have been entrusted with helping to rescue the MBTA and the Pike! I don't think people have been reading this whole scenario properly. These officials have been put in place to run these agencies. Their sole jobs are to make sure the MBTA and Mass Turnpike pay for themselves, and possibly even run in the black. Yes, they're debts are in the billions. Yes, they can seem to cut internal "fat". Yes, they continue to threaten to cut lower level jobs, instead of the upper levels who make more, and are responsible for the important decisions who put us in this situation. Yes, they're still taking catered lunches. Yes, they drive agency funded vehicles in case of commuting emergencies. Yes, they've make shady-at-best investments that should find them behind bars let alone behind their cushy, seemingly untouchable desk.

But you know what? They've proven they can't do it on their own, and they've turned to us. It gives me such pride to know that my new $4 parking fee will personally help repay 8.some-odd million annually in debt. That my new $2.25 Alston-Brighton toll will help recoup something like 125 million annually, nevermind the $100 toll (approximately) I'll spend each time I use the Ted Williams Tunnel. I only wish there was more I could do to help. I'm thinking of helping collecting fares on trains that seem understaffed, like the 413 train to Worcester yesterday. The fact is, these government agencies have reached out to say, "Hey Commonwealth! We need your help! We just can't seem to figure this out, and you guys are always here to accept something you have no choice in or control over." and we should embrace that!

Picking up on my sarcasm?

The big stories today - the looming parking lot increase and the Mass Pike.

West edition of The Boston Globe started this thread yesterday about rising suburban commuter costs. Sure, gas has decreased but everything else is going up. On a side note - I saw gas priced at $1.99 a gallon last night on Route 146, but I digress.

Editorials from today's Boston Herald ("Pike plan takes toll"), Boston Globe ("A $15 billion hot potato) and The Enterprise ("Opinion: Turnpike Authority may finally disappear").

This article from today's Herald also points out some of the difficulties that arise if the tolls are removed from exits west of Weston. This is a very complex project that the state can't just run into. In trying to save money, we could end up spending more money.

What a mess.

Now on to parking. I'm including a link to this article from today's Eagle-Tribune because of the quotes from commuters. Yes, we're upset. Yes, people will pay. We just wish the T would show riders some dignity and respect by providing a better answer to the reason that they're increasing the lot fees. We all know the money isn't going to be used to maintain the lots, it is covering the T's deficit. Don't even get me started on where some pennies could be cut from the T's budget.

Finally, though this is a few week's late, here is the latest update on Helen of The Importance of Dessert's quest for information regarding the Yawkey Way stop on the Worcester-Framingham commuter rail line. She backed up her letter to Grabauskas with data obtained through a survey of MathWorks employees. Very interesting.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The P508 Was Late Again Today

What an exciting morning. I was thrilled to be quoted in the "Grumbles greet hike in T lot fee" article from today's Boston Globe. But my favorite quote in the article was one from the lips of MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo:
He added that the state's recent move to acquire the CSX Corp.'s train tracks between Worcester and Framingham, among other sections of the state, will lead to improved track and signal maintenance and better on-time performance for commuter-rail service.
Um, Joe, guess what? Since the "new" Worcester-Framingham schedule was put into place a few weeks ago, the trains haven't been running on time. I know this is where the MBTA gets to blame either the MBCR or CSX for the service delays, but riders are tired of the delays. We've received a lot of comments over the past few weeks regarding delays. Some commuters feel that the on-time performance of the Worcester line is now a non-issue, as the schedule has been "increased" and the negotiations with CSX are almost completed. Guess what - we depend on the train and this isn't a non-issue for us. So many commuters work at companies that either have had layoffs or are planning layoffs. Job performance - including showing up to work on time - is a huge issue.

My commute on the P508 was OK this morning. We arrived to South Station at 8:28 a.m., 5 minutes after the scheduled arrival time of 8:23 a.m. I can't recall when we've been on time in the last few weeks.

I hope something can be done about the T. We need reliability above all else. I think that's why people are so up at arms. Just run on time for heck's sake.

The Universal Hub post from Tuesday about why Channel 4 made a big to-do about the catered lunches at MBTA Board meetings had a lot of "so what?" comments. One comment by WBZ reporter David Wade really hit home with me:
I certainly understand that this free lunch can be viewed as small potatoes. (Pun anyone?) But here's my take. Thanks.
He wrote a longer post on the WBZ blog Conversation Nation.

Frankly, I'm happy that WBZ's I-Team took the time to investigate this issue. I'm sick and tired of hearing "the T wants to be treated like a private business." Guess what - they don't act like a private business and they're not funded like a private business.

First - private businesses (at least the good, successful ones) actually care about their customers. I went to college in Western New York. There is a wonderful supermarket chain based in Rochester that is renowned in upstate New York called Wegman's. Wegman's provides great customer service and their customers are passionate about shopping there. In fact, Wegman's is lowering their prices due to the current financial climate. They see how their customers are impacted, they are listening to their customers and they make some changes.

Second, when private business don't have money, they cut their fringe benefits. I have a lot of friends who used to be able to get a free lunch at work or a free cup of coffee. When the revenue dried up, so did these perks. Such is life.

Third, the only thing the T seems to do is provide excuses. "We don't have enough money." "We have an old system." "We have to deal with unions." Excuses, excuses, excuses. But there are no solutions.

"We have no money," yet we have 60-odd employees who commute to work using a T-owned vehicle. They're deemed "essential." You know - a doctor is essential. A police officer or a firefighter is essential. I doubt that a PR flack or an attorney or an accountant or any other of the 60-odd employees driving to and from work using a T car (with T gas) is essential.

"We have no money" yet we're catering our board members lunches. Guess what - the T isn't the only state entity managed by a board of directors. Lots of state divisions have operating boards. Board members serve without pay or benefits and they don't get a free lunch. I don't negate the efficiencies of working lunches, but why should my tax dollars and commuting fees be used to pay for these lunches? What about having a lunch and paying out of pocket for it? That way - you're not putting the caterers out of business and you're effectively managing your budget.

I can't stand the fact that Dan Grabauskas was quoted on air as saying "we never thought to eliminate this lunch." Are you kidding me? Do you even try to see what you can cut out of your budget or is this all a joke? Are you just taking the enormous salary you are paid and running with it to the bank, smirking at how dumb commuters and citizens of the Commonwealth are?

Look at how irate Americans got when they learned that AIG kept their sales meeting at that California spa after our tax dollars bailed them out.

Maybe if the T ditched the cars they would have a little bit more money to maintain their equipment.

I understand that running a transit system is complex and it can be expensive. But I get so frustrated when I visit other cities and I see that their transit systems are bigger and more efficient. Maybe it is because they actually collect their fares (i.e., you can't ride for free on a NYC subway). I love Boston. I think this is a great city. We deserve the best run transit system in the nation. This is the home to the first subway system in America.

Unfortunately frustrated riders do not just take the commuter rail. They take the entire system. Check out Beth Adelson's comments on her "Shooting (Myself) blog."

Commuters Still Upset Over Increased Parking Fees

We've known that the new parking fees will be going into effect this Saturday. That doesn't mean this is a dead story. Regional editions of The Boston Globe printed three separate stories today about the increased parking fees. Heck, even this blog got a mention in one of the articles!

"Grumbles greet hike in T lot fee" focused on commuters using the Worcester-Framingham commuter rail line. Commuters are frustrated that the parking costs are rising, especially since some lots do not have enough spaces and other lots leave a lot to be desired from a maintenance perspective. On top of that, the service and experience riding the commuter rail trains leaves a lot to be desired.

Towns along the commuter rail line are fielding calls from citizens who are frustrated at yet another increase to the cost of their daily life. For commuters who take the train from Framingham, consider using the town owned parking garage near the commuter rail station. You can purchase monthly passes that are less expensive than the daily MBTA parking rates.

The T answers with their same canned response. Frankly, I just do not think they get it. If they got it, they would say "no perks for us - no cars, no lunches, nothing outside of our salaries and our operating budgets." But I think the T works in Fantasy Land and the rest of us are stuck working in Reality World.
Spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in an e-mail that commuter-rail parking rates have been unchanged for six years, that the median cost of parking in downtown Boston is $33, and that the agency had to find a way to cover part of the money it owes workers who were recently awarded $53 million in back pay, among other funding needs. Already shackled by $8 billion in debt, Pesaturo said, the transit agency can't borrow its way out of the situation, and has to raise the money from other sources.

"The decision to ask customers to pay more for parking was very difficult," Pesaturo stated. "The MBTA . . . has been left with the unenviable choice of seeking fee increases or reducing services."

The "Commuters balk at T parking rate increases" spoke to commuters along the Fitchburg, Haverhill and Lowell lines. In this article, Joe Pesaturo said the T is "facing its most daunting challenge" in 9 years. Hey Joe - why do you still cater your board meeting lunches? Why aren't fares collected? Why does the T just list excuse after excuse after excuse. Be honest - parking rates aren't going to help the lots be maintained, this is extra money to cover your losses.

I think we're all angry. Over the past 2 months we've seen a lot of institutions ask for bailouts. T riders are now bailing out the MBTA by handing over more money to park. A 100% increase is drastic.

Finally, "Maine balks at the cost of bridge repair" takes the Northern New England point of view on the parking rate increase.

Even Suffolk University's The Suffolk Journal wrote an article about how the increase in parking fees will affect students, faculty and staff.

In an Op-Ed piece also from today's Globe, the Governor outlines how he'll change mass transit and transportation here in the Commonwealth. Governor Patrick cuts right to heart of one of the issues that plagues both the T and the Mass Pike: patronage. These authorities were notorious bastions of places where politicians could get jobs for their supporters. Perhaps that wasn't the best way to run two very important state agencies. The Governor also said our transportation system is "broken" from an infrastructure standpoint. He is proposing some drastic steps to realign transportation in Massachusetts:

  1. Consolidation of agencies.
  2. System-wide planning and financing of transportation needs.
The first step will be the elimination of the Mass Pike. Within two years tolls on the Pike west of Route 128 will be removed. Massachusetts will explore advanced toll collection technologies. The Big Dig Debt will be restructured.

In a counter-point article, The Boston Herald's editorial staff doesn't think the Governor's proposal will work.

For customer service news, Fox 25 ran this report on Monday about how people are really unhappy riding the MBTA/MBCR commuter rail. "Late trains, unresponsive customer service, bad signage, poor infrastructure, and increased fees" are just a few of the things people don't like about relying on the commuter rail. They even showed the fare boxes that people use to pay for their parking. Fox 25 report Jim Armstrong has a blog where you can read the transcript of Monday's report and see viewer's comments.

Finally, blogger innismir wrote a post that captured just how dysfunctional the T really is. At innismir's parking lot, the T actually had two different signs explaining the parking rate increase. innisimr took some photos, so you can see for yourself. This made my blood boil. I've worked in corporate communications. You are supposed to proof things before you send them to the printer. In this economy, the T doesn't have any more money to waste. Dan and Joe - how much did the misprinted signs cost us?

Good grief!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Take Your Bike to the Train

Everyone who commutes on the MBTA/MBCR commuter rail trains is riled up about this coming Saturday's parking lot increase. This includes our own Grafton Train Rider.

This is how Grafton Train Rider will be dealing with the parking lot increase:
Dear Train Rider,

I only live 2.5 miles from the Grafton station, but I don't want to leave a bike locked there. I noticed that the bicycle rack is woefully inadequate anyway. So, I kept checking Craiglist for folding bikes and ended up purchasing a nearly new version of this model

I plan on riding most days (weather permitting), bringing the bike on the train and riding over to my workplace in Cambridge as well. I don't mind being a bit chilly to save $4/day, and my car will be safely locked in my garage rather than worrying about potential vandalism at the station.

Feel free to post.

Grafton Train Rider
Grafton Train Rider found a great way to accomplish a few really wonderful things:
  1. Avoid giving the MBTA more hard earned money.
  2. Work in some exercise and commute at the same time.
  3. Lower a carbon foot print by not using a car and saving some gas money to boot.
I wish I lived closer to the Grafton train station. I'm too far to bike to it and I live way too far away to walk. But I do encourage anyone who can walk, bike or carpool to their respective train station to do it. This is not the way for the MBTA to build their budget.

As Grafton Train Rider pointed out, if the MBTA is in such dire financial straits, why do they still serve catered lunches at their board meetings? This isn't private industry. Heck - most private or publicly traded companies that used to serve food have either cut down or stopped that perk. And these are companies that do not have the deficit that the T has.

In fact, thanks to Grafton Train Rider's sharp eyes, the WBZ I-Team report on the MBTA's Board lunches was filmed on the same day that they voted in the parking lot increase. I could say some words that would be like #&$% @&$&. Well, you know what I mean.

Seeing the deficit the state is in and noting the Governor's mandate, you think Dan Grabauskas would have the backbone as the HEAD of the MBTA to tell the board "no free lunch." Or is it that Dan is scared to do the right thing, make an unpopular decision because the board ultimately decides if he gets to keep his job? Dan - your no leader - a leader would be willing to stick their neck out on the line. It really does seem that you do a fantastic job managing your budget. If you're in such a deficit, doesn't every budget cut help?

Cell Phones for Soliders and Other News

Hello Train Stopping readers! I know I haven't posted anything over the past few days. Unfortunately, my uncle passed away so I've been honoring his life.

Since my uncle was a veteran, he would be 100% behind the Cell Phones for Soldiers program. The MBCR and the Boston Fire Department will be collecting cell phones in South Station today and tomorrow in honor of Veteran's Day.

Cell phones will be collected today (November 12th) and tomorrow (November 13th) from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Commuter Rail Platform at South Station. The founders of this program, teenagers Brittany and Robbie Bergquist, will be at South station today from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.

This is a great, nonprofit founded by the siblings from Norwell. The collected cell phones are recycled and the reimbursed funds are used to purchase calling cards for Massachusetts soldiers overseas. Each phone provides about an hour of talk time, totaling 700+ hours. This 501(c)3 nonprofit has raised over $1 million in donations and distributed more than 400,000 prepaid calling to American soldiers serving overseas.

If you have an old cell phone lying around at home or in your office, consider dropping it off at the drive in South Station.

There is so much news, where to begin, where to begin? I'll start with the train news first and then segue into the Mass Pike.

WBZ-TV Channel 4 ran a follow-up to their I-Team investigation about elaborate catered lunches at MBTA board meetings (which aired on November 10th). The T spends a small amount of money on its lunches, but in the scheme of budget issues, every penny counts. Lawmakers would like to see the T cut out the free lunches, as the lunches do represent those things that make people cringe the most when it comes to government. This also makes lawmakers call for more oversight of the T. As David Tuereck of the Beacon Hill Institute said:
"The fact that they hang onto these perks, even when they are suffering huge embarrassments about financial losses such as the T is experiencing, is an indication of how far a road we need to travel in order to start cutting costs in this state."
The "Starts & Stops" column in this past Sunday Boston Globe focused on different tactics commuters are taking in regards to this coming Saturday's parking rate increase. Michael Quinn is one rider activist who is trying to take some action. He asks that interested commuters contact him at derail.quinn AT

Parking wasn't the only topic discussed in "Starts & Stops." Some insight into the T's board and last week's fatality in Salem was also provided. I'm sure the T read this column and thought "ouch, ouch and ouch."

A touching article about commuters who ride the Downeaster from Maine to Boston ran in Saturday's Boston Globe. Operated by Amtrak, ridership on this train increased 36.7% in the operational year that ended on September 30, 2008. A one-way trip from Portland to Boston takes 2 1/2 hours and costs $24. However, discounts are available for advanced purchases and monthly pass holders. Earlier this month, The Boston Herald reported that fares on this train will be increasing.

Without a doubt, the biggest transportation story this week in Massachusetts is the Governor's request to dismantle the Mass Pike. Tolls would remain at the New York border in Stockbridge, at the I-84 exit in Sturbridge, and the Weston tolls. The Route 16 tollboth would be restored and tolls would be increased. I'm not clear if tolls would be increased just at Weston or at the Weston-128 exit. I wonder if this means if James Taylor would have to rewrite "Sweet Baby James"?
Now the first of december was covered with snow
And so was the turnpike from stockbridge to boston
Lord, the berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frosting
With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go
The Mass Highway Department would become responsible for the Pike from 128 West, with everything from East of 128 operated by Massport. An article from today's Boston Globe focuses on some of the issues that Massport faces.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Honoring My Father on Veteran's Day

I dropped a Veteran's Day card in the mail to my father over the weekend. It was a small way for me to honor him and a way to thank him for his service and the sacrifices he made as a soldier in the Vietnam war.

I cannot even begin to fathom what my dad had to go through on a daily basis while he was in Vietnam, but I do know what he has had to go through on a daily basis forty years later. He is still affected by Vietnam, it's always there under the surface, carefully protected during the day, but less so at night. I grieve for what he had to endure then and what he has to endure now, wishing there was some way I could make it better.

I know it has not been an easy road for him, but as I sit here today and think about his sacrifice, that of my uncles who also served in the war, my grandfather who served in Korea, my great uncle who was an Army Chaplain and served in Korea and Vietnam and all of the countless soldiers who have willingly protected this country, both in the past and especially today in Iraq and Afghanistan ... I am deeply grateful for my freedom, for this country and for the selfless sacrifice each soldier has made.

Thank you Dad. I love you.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Decisions, Decisions

I was running late this morning (what else is new? I'm so not a morning person) and debated whether to drive or to take the train. The train won out, but it got me to thinking about costs and what I'm saving or whether I am actually saving anything. So, I decided to do a Pro/Con list between driving and the train.

Commuting on the Train - Time
I leave my house at 6:45 AM to get to the train station by 7:00 to take the p508 which leaves Grafton at 7:09 AM. I get to South Station by 8:25 ... on a good day. Then, it takes me about 15-20 minutes to either walk or take the Silver Line to my office in the Seaport District and I'm at my desk between 8:40 and 8:45. So, we're talking a two hour commute door to door. Ugh.

At night, it's not much better. I cannot make the 5:00 train on a daily basis, so that leaves me with the 5:35, which is a local train making all stops from Boston to Grafton and gets me to Grafton at around 7:00 ; or the 6:15 train which is an express and gets me to Grafton at 7:19. So, I get home between 7:15-7:40.

Driving - Time
I live in central Massachusetts, approximately 40 miles one way into Boston. Without traffic, I can make it one way in about 65 minutes. With traffic, it takes about 90 minutes. The thing is, I can leave later in the morning and still make it to work at the same time and this includes a 10 minute coffee stop. The other benefit is being on my own schedule and not a slave to the train schedule, which is especially helpful at night. When I drive, I am usually home by 6:30 PM.

Advantage: DRIVING

Commuting on the Train - Cost
My monthly pass costs $250. I can use this on the commuter rail and any subway or bus, which works out well because I take the Silver Line a lot.

Parking used to be $10/week, but next week it will go up to $20/week. So, my monthly commuting costs on the train are $330/month.

Driving - Cost
When my office moved to the Seaport area earlier this year, we received a subsidy for parking. If I elect to park, my monthly parking costs would be $135.

Tolls are $5.80 round trip on the Pike. As for gas, I would envision needing at least two fill ups per week, at an estimated cost of $60. Thank goodness gas prices have come down over the last few months, or this wouldn't even be an option.

So, anticipated monthly costs of driving are about $490. I didn't factor in wear & tear on my car though, I'm sure there's a fancy formula way to do this.

Frankly, I think MBTA costs are only going to go up in the future.

Advantage: TRAIN

Commuting on the Train - Sanity
First and foremost, one of the main reasons I take the commuter rail is to reduce my carbon footprint. I don't want to drive if I can get away with taking the train. I also like taking the train when it's snowing out ... I avoid driving in snow as much as possible.

I will say that I am able to get things accomplished on the train that I couldn't do while driving, like take a nap or finish a book. When the train runs on time, the commute is a piece of cake. It's on the days when the train is late, breaks down, goes slowly for no reason or when my pass isn't collected that I question my own sanity.

One day I do not have to question my sanity is the day before Thanksgiving. The train is usually packed and I watch the Mass Pike from my seat to see all of the people sitting in traffic, feeling sorry for the drive ahead of them. I've been there, one time it took me almost three hours to get to Worcester from Boston ... not fun at all.

Driving - Sanity
It is convenient to have a car handy, especially when there are after work functions or I just want to get home at a halfway decent time. I'm not saying that traffic isn't frustrating, believe me, driving in Boston isn't a picnic and it's not always so convenient.

Advantage: TRAIN, only because of the beneficial environmental impact

So, what have we learned from this exercise? Public transportation should be a convenient, inexpensive and efficient means of transportation. On a daily basis, I would say convenient and efficient is covered, but as the cost of everything increases, so will the cost to take the train. I'm going to have to decide what trade-offs I'm willing to make and to decide whether to continue taking the train.

P.S. today's commute was three minutes behind schedule, the p508 arrived at South Station at 8:26 AM.

P.P.S. Don't even get me started on the cluster that was the Silver Line this AM.

Railing Against the Parking Rate Hike

As you may know, parking lot rates will increase by $2 this coming Saturday. At the Grafton lot where I park (and it most suburban commuter lots), this will make the cost of parking $4 per day, as opposed to $2 per day.

The Boston Metro wrote extensively about the rate increase and commuter impact in today's edition. Especially in light of current economic conditions, even an extra $2 per day impacts riders.

Per the article, from the MBTA's perspective the economy is partially the reason rates are going up, T officials say. I wish they would just come out and say that they have to pay the union's back wages and this is the only way they can do it. All of us riders know that is the case, I'm not sure why the MBTA is hemming and hawing on that fact.

I thought this was telling as well (and hints at a possible fare increase), "Though ridership went up this year due to high gas prices, the T’s fuel costs have outpaced the extra revenue, and the agency said its financial woes “cannot be offset simply through internal cost cutting and existing revenues.”

I guess the one silver lining is that the MBTA is "looking into" cash alternatives for the fare boxes at suburban lots.

Some of the alternatives:
  • The T is looking to expand the use of FAST LANE transponders, which can now only be used at the Route 128 garage.
  • Implementing automated fare collection technology throughout the system so that all modes of transportation — as well as parking fees — can be paid with by a CharlieCard. The T hopes that plan option will be in place by 2011.

So, only three more years of stuffing dollar bills into the slots. Awesome.

Sadly, I guess it doesn't really matter how much we complain, the hike is going into effect.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Drive to Work Friday

Due to an after-work event, I drove into the office today. I was totally rocking out to the AC/DC station I found on my XM Satellite radio. Good times.

My commute on the Mass Pike was zippy. I noticed the P508 passing me when I was on the Newton stretch of the Pike, around 8:06 a.m. So I'm going to say it was fairly on schedule this morning.

When I read this article from today's The Boston Globe I thought about the MBTA "be nice" campaign launched a few weeks ago. Still pondering why just riders are being asked to "be nice." Shouldn't everyone be nice? Yes, I understand drivers and other T employees have difficult jobs. They're transporting us and they have to deal with the public. Yet, I also understand why remaining professional is essential. Public needs to be courtesy, drivers, etc. need to be courtesy.

Somehow I think we missed this story from Wednesday on The T started selling bonds as soon as they knew that Question 1 failed. The T also named a new transit police chief.

In other news, the Marshfield to Braintree bus service ends on November 18th. The Sierra Club thinks that the Silver Line Phase III is a bad idea.

Finally, WickedLocal Salem published an article about how accidents impact train workers.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Cold November Rain

Guns N'Roses had it right ... rain in November is raw and cold!

The p508 commute was slightly late today ... we rolled into South Station at 8:26 AM, about 3 minutes behind schedule. In addition, it seems we were a car short, I think we had 7 double deckers, as opposed to 8 cars, so it seemed more crowded than usual.

I thought for sure that ridership would decrease a bit now that gas prices have come down almost $1.75 a gallon; but it seems that folks are still flocking to the MBTA in droves, which is a great benefit to the environment. The Boston Globe reported on the increased ridership in September as well, in this article.

Of course, gas prices really didn't start dropping dramatically until October, so I would be interested to see what the ridership stats are next month. And, I wonder if this will change when the uptick in parking fees happen on November 15th? I'm sure this will impact commuter rail ridership stats more so that the subway or bus.

In other news, The Patriot Ledger reports that commuters who rely on bus transportation from Marshfield to the Braintree T station will have to find another way to get there, as the bus has been eliminated due to a loss of the state subsidy.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

North Station "Swings" to the Sounds of Sultry Jazz

So what if the trains don't always arrive on time. If you depart out of North Station, you can hang around and listen to some jazz with the MBCR's new First Friday's jazz concerts. This concerts will begin this Friday, November 7th from 4:00 - 6:30 p.m. featuring musicians from Berklee College of Music.

To kick off the new concert series, jazz and Latin pianist Mihoko Abe will be performing with the "Mihoko Trio." Ms. Abe is originally from Sapporo, Japan and she has studied at Berklee.

According to the press release, the "Mihoko Trio has an excellent well-blended sound and features not only jazz standards but, many of her own compositions. You can hear & feel what her soul is saying through her original works. Mihoko’s CD is currently in progress and she plans to release it in the spring of 2009."

If you're in North Station, start your weekend off with some sweet jazz sounds. For the time being (and the foreseeable future), the concert series is only being offered in North Station for logistical and acoustic reasons.

This is a new customer service initiative offered by the MBCR.

Super, Super Late P508 Train

Happy November 5th! I'm still on an election high from last night. I know not everyone is as happy as I am - I overheard some comments this morning about people upset with the outcome of our national election. I do hope that our country comes together and works together now that the campaigns are over. Two years of campaigning is exhausting.

So I got to work at 9:30 a.m. this morning. The P508 was an hour late getting to South Station. We arrived at 9:21 a.m.

It was a quadruple whammy of a commute:
  1. A cancelled train (the p506 - due to mechanical issues I think), resulting in a 25-30 minute initial delay for the p508.
  2. No passes were collected.
  3. Oh and we became a local, so we made all stops into Boston.
  4. Oh yeah . . . and there were no announcements about it at all. Awesome. NOT.
Well, at least I was able to sleep on the train to make up for staying up to watch President-elect Obama's victory speech.

In addition to some comments I heard from people, there was a conversation happening on the train. Someone said "Commute number one under Obama, not going very well," with someone else retorting "Well, look at all of the stellar commutes we had under Bush." Political fun for trapped commuter rail passengers.

While there wasn't any train news today, there was some news about MBTA buses. Specifically, the MBTA's Board of Directors is scheduled to vote tomorrow on overhauling 30% of its bus fleet. According to The Boston Globe, if approved, the T would spend $27.5 million to refurbish 123 compressed natural gas buses purchased between 2003 and 2004. Another 176 buses bought during the same period would also be overhauled. The project is estimated to take three years to complete. MBTA buses transport 400,000 people each weekday.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

My Election Day Commute

I voted this morning and hope everyone who can vote does vote. Truth be told, I'm so giddy after voting this morning . . . . go candidates and stuff I voted for. My polling station is literally around the corner from my house, but there was a line of voters waiting to cast their ballots at 7 a.m. The line moved quickly - in about 10 minutes I had my ballot and selected my candidates / ballot question answers.

There was a ton of traffic on the way to the Grafton commuter rail station. I had to take back roads to make it to the station on time. Due to voting, I took the P512 train in this morning. We had a smooth commute and arrived at South Station around 9:08 a.m., exactly on time.

I heard from Commute-a-holic, who also voted before work. The lines at Commute's voting precinct were orderly and moved fast. It is good to hear that, at least in the Blackstone Valley, thus far today's vote is processing smoothly.

In terms of MBTA/MBCR news, things were pretty quiet today. However, a Peabody man was killed after driving into a commuter rail train in Salem.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Sluggish P508

This morning was my first commute for November. Can you believe it is actually November 3rd and tomorrow is election day? Who is going to be happy that all the election ads will be going away. I actually will be thrilled - especially because the NH Senate race ads have been pretty much all that has been airing in the Boston market and those ads have been brutal.

The P508 was sluggish this morning. We got to South Station at 8:36 a.m. I'm not sure what the problem was, though, as there were no announcements about the delays. Maybe there were leaves on the tracks or perhaps the train was just slow because it didn't get any extra Halloween candy. Who knows, but it was a poky ride.

The big news this morning isn't even about train news. The new Mass Pike toll both configuration went live at the Rt. 128 exit. Thanks to a kind reader, an Anonymous comment was submitted to Train Stopping this morning:
So the new tolls at 128 were in place today, there wasn't much traffic once you got past the idiots blocking three lanes to get onto 128 so i can't say how the new configuration will work out.

I can say that from my years of driving on the pike, that instead of just shifting the FLs(two fast lanes on the left with three cash in the middle and another FL on the far right), they need to ADD MORE. it's always the three cash lanes that have no lines - b/c everyone has fast lane.

they need to add one more fast lane and take away a cash - but that would make sense so i don't see it happening.

I do agree that they need to have more Fast Lane lines. I don't understand the Mass Pike - it is probably just a Massachusetts systematic issue. Other states seem to have way more E-Z Pass lines than the Mass Pike has Fast Lane lines. I'll be curious how this new configuration improves my commute into the city the next time I have to drive.

In yesterday's Sunday Boston Globe (South Shore edition) there was yet another article about the increase in parking fees for the MBTA lots. The Globe obtained some feedback from administrators in South Shore towns, who basically reiterated what we have all been saying: the increase is too much and it is counterproductive for encouraging more ridership. For some cities and towns, such as Quincy, the increase means a direct local impact. People try to park in the streets and avoid paying at the lots.

Kingston Selectman Mark Beaton made the best comments:

Kingston, which has the largest lot on the line at 1,039 spots, does not face a parking problem, but Selectman Mark Beaton said the fee hike works against his community's energy-saving goals.

"This is not the time to be whacking the commuter," Beaton said. "We've been trying to take steps to improve the environment. You take a couple of steps forward and then something pushes you back one."

As for the honor boxes, Beaton said the time it takes to roll up four dollar bills small enough to squeeze them into the box with your parking space's number on it might reduce his use of trains. "I'm going to miss the train," he said. "I can't get the dollar bills into those little tiny holes."

Each dollar folds to a fat sixteenth or eighth of an inch, said Brennan. "Try to stick that through on a cold, snowy day and you will hear bad words," he said.

Right on, Mark. What did the T have to say to Mark's comments about the payment slots:

Pesaturo said that honor boxes have been in use for 20 years and have no trouble accepting multiple bills. However, he added, "Eventually, customers will be able to use smart cards (or a similar automated form) to pay parking fees."

Has Joe Pesaturo parked in a T lot anytime over the past 20 years OR is Joe one of the 60 or so T employees who gets to drive a MBTA-owned (state owned) vehicle to work? Honest to God - does the T respect their riders and our state's taxpayers at all?