Thursday, February 26, 2009

All Quiet on the Commute Front

Another day, another on time commute, with the p508 arriving to South Station at 8:21 AM.

Further to my post about the gas tax increase, the Boston Globe made a great point in an editorial published today ... basically, we're going to end up paying for the transportation mess one way or another: "In many different ways, Massachusetts drivers, transit riders and taxpayers are paying the costs of the state's underfunded, debt-burdened, poorly maintained, inequitable, and unreliable transportation system. Our choice is not whether to pay for the transportation system, but how and when. We can continue paying for ever-higher tolls and transit fares, car repairs, time lost to traffic jams and delayed trains, wasted gasoline, emergency repairs, and soaring debt service charges. Or we can increase gasoline taxes and begin to reverse the cycle of denial and neglect that is costing Massachusetts and its residents dearly."

I'd like to give a shout out to Commute-a-holic, who took an unfortunate spill on an icy sidewalks and has to have wrist surgery on Friday to repair two broken bones. Good luck Commute-a-holic!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

On Time Commute

The on time commutes for the p508 continued this week, with an arrival to South Station around 8:20 AM.

I'm not sure if anyone has noticed the walkway under construction at the Grafton lot, but I tripped this morning on the covering and nearly fell flat on my face. Just a word to the wise to be careful, because that covering gaps and you can get caught pretty easily.

According to an article on Wicked Local Westborough, a number of state representatives have banded together to urge CSX to deal with delays along the Worcester/Framingham line. In a letter to CSX, the legislators said while the company that runs the commuter trains (MBCR) is responsible for some delays, CSX also has contributed to the problem by being less responsive to problems on the tracks. A CSX spokesman confirmed that CSX was responsible for 23.8 percent of commuter rail delays in January and 17 percent in December. I think that's great information to have. I wish the MBTA/MBCR would provide this information as well.

I know that CSX maintains an open dialogue with the MBTA/MBCR regarding commuter rail performance. Hopefully, this letter is only the beginning of increase communication and oversight that will help stabilize and improve on time performance across the Worcester/Framingham line.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Lesser of Two Evils?

Ever since Governor Patrick recommended a 19 cent per gallon gas tax increase this past weekend pundits, politicians and citizens alike have been up at arms over the proposal. The gas tax increase is a part of Governor Patrick's overall transportation reform plan, whereby revenue generated from the tax would be used to repair roads and bridges, roll back any Mass Pike toll increases and hopefully stave off any MBTA fare increases.

Hey, I don't want to pay more at the pump any more than the other person. Logically, an increase is going to happen either way. So, we either accept the gas tax increase and let the Senate and Governor Patrick hammer out the best way to reorganize the MBTA and Mass Pike or we wait and wait until we're hit with increased fares (already happening ... parking rate increase anyone?), poor service and the MBTA still mired in their billion dollar debt load.

Since I live in Central Massachusetts, I'm sure I'm going to feel the brunt regardless. For far too long, those of us from west of Route 128 have subsidized the Big Dig and the Mass Pike and it's time that ends. It shouldn't be up to a select portion of the population to fund transportation for the rest of the state, especially the ones north and south of the city that reap the most benefits. And what about the poor folks in Western Massachusetts? They're stuck paying for the Big Dig as well and they have even more to complain about. The reality is ... our transportation infrastructure is a mess. I firmly believe the lesser of two evils is the gas tax increase.

In commuting news, another on time commute to report this morning on the p508. We arrived to South Station at 8:22 AM. Good times.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Frosty Commute

Hello! Did everyone stay up to watch last night's Academy Awards telecast? I actually watched the Oscars with Commute-a-holic. Good times.

Last week was a blur. I was off on Monday for the holiday, was sick, went to work, and the was off on Friday. At least today's commute was good - the P508 rolled into South Station around 8:24 a.m., even though the train was late departing Grafton.

Somehow I missed this story reported by The on Thursday. Shocking . . . the MBTA is over budget and behind delivery on multiple construction projects, WCVB-TV Channel 5's investigative team learned. Of the 19 current projects only 3 are on time/on budget!!

I personally love how they started the report by mentioning the Kenmore Station - I curse the T every time I have to drive through Kenmore Square. What a blight!! As a professional project manager, I concur very heartily with this statement:
"There's obviously an issue with project management if they're so far behind like this," said another commuter.
Indeed, I do agree, there is an issue with the T's project managers. Are they even PMP certified?

Of course, the T "stands behind" the delayed projects. Sure - why not - it isn't like T employees have lost their jobs or taken a pay cut due to the inept deliverability cycles. Can you say unnecessary "scope creep"?

I received a nice note from Grafton Train Rider who shared some interesting feedback on Friday. Grafton Train Rider is referencing Thursday, February 19th:
I was feeling ill yesterday and a nice coworker gave me a ride back to the Grafton station last night. We noticed a Transit Police vehicle parked in the rear corner of the lot about 4:45 PM - good to see some police presence after last year's vandalism.

Some not so good news about MBTA police: I watched the I-Team report last night about the MBTA employee's scam to collect for training which he did not attend with his assigned canine dog. Fortunately, the employee resigned and may face criminal charges.

Lastly, I am pleased to report that I have accepted a volunteer position on the MBTA Rider Oversight Committee. Our first meeting is this Monday evening from 5-7 PM so I will keep you informed about developments.
Thanks to everyone for sharing their comments on last Thursday's reimbursement post. I'm glad everyone found the information to be helpful. I also found the comments helpful, so thanks for sharing.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Not On Time, but Not Late Enough for Reimbursement

This morning's p508 commute was about 15-20 minutes behind schedule, arriving at South Station around 8:45 this morning, I was actually dozing most of the trip into Boston, as I've been recovering from a bug, so I'm not quite sure where the delay happened ... I believe it might have been outside of Boston University. Folks, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

So, the delay wasn't enough for reimbursement, but speaking of $$$, I did receive 3 letters in the mail last night for those delayed trains we had to endure in December. I love those form letters, especially where it says "We apologize for the delay due to NONE." Hmmm, maybe I'll try that at work and see how it flies, "Oh, I'm sorry manager, I apologize for not delivering my project on time due to NONE." Yeah, not happening.

In other news, I'm pretty excited for an upcoming change in my commute benefit via work. (I currently get my commuter rail pass via Wage Works). I found out today that the Emergency Economic Recovery Act signed into law by President Obama this week includes a provision which raises the amount of pretax income that employees enrolled in employer-sponsored commuter benefits programs (such as a transit pass purchase program) can use to pay for transit/vanpool expenses from $120 per month to $230 per month.

How the Commuter Benefit Works
  • The commuter benefit will now allow employees to deduct up to $230 per month from their gross income, to pay for their mass transit commutes. This is an increase from the current cap of $120/month. (The only way to take advantage of these tax savings is by enrolling in a commuter benefits program offered by the employer.)
  • Employees whose monthly mass transit fees are less than the $230 cap are allowed to deduct the full amount from their paychecks.
  • Additionally, employees are allowed to deduct up to $230 per month for eligible commuter parking expenses (no increase from current cap).
  • The measure helps employers save money by lowering their payroll taxes.
  • As a result of the increase in employee and employer savings, under the new law, it is also expected that the number of employees who are offered the benefit will increase, as companies not currently offering the benefit will do so.
All I have to say to that is ... sweet. My own pretax exposure to my $250/month T pass should go down ... unless the MBTA raises fares!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I'm Ill but the P508 was On-Time Today

I've caught something that has made me sick. I had the Monday holiday and I was home sick yesterday. Fortunately, the P508 was on-time today.

But it wasn't on-time yesterday. I received the following email from an Anonymous Worcester-Framingham commuter rail rider:
In case you're not here, yup we are late once again. everyone file your on-time service claims!

Over the past weeks, more cars' electrical outlets seem to be failing. 1709 and 1711 have been the east-most car frequently on the 508 and 523 - don't try to use power there though. :-( I've been filing the gripes with regularity, and was promised 1711 would get fixed back on the 6th.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Better Get a Fast Lane

I've had a Fast Lane transponder for so many years, I actually do not know when I originally got it. Since I used to commute to work on the Pike, a transponder made a lot of sense. I don't understand why so many daily Pike commuters don't opt for the transponders.

If the reports from this morning actually materialize into reality, I can see many regular commuters signing up for a Fast Lane transponder. A new proposal is circulating that Fast Lane account holders can avoid Mass Pike toll hikes if/when the toll hikes happen. Check out the news on the and The Boston Herald.

An editorial from today's The Boston Globe floats a dual idea for fixing the budget woes plaguing the Mass Pike, MBTA, etc. The Globe's editorial staff think that a gas hike is the fairest way to generate revenue for Massachusetts transportation entities. This way everyone across the state would contribute. However, The Globe doesn't think the money should just be raised without fixing the transportation system in the Commonwealth.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Unpleasant News for Friday the 13th

For months, we've known that transportation related initiatives in Massachusetts were in a tail spin. The MBTA, in particular, has been in a fiscal crunch.

Reports are out today that Transportation Secretary James A. Aloisi Jr. has said that the T will need make a number of drastic measures to stay afloat. These measures may include fare increases of up to 25%, a cut back in services or employee layoffs. Aloisi told the T's Board that, if they don't make some decisions by June, the state will step in and make the decisions for them.

This message comes on ahead of next week's anticipated announcement of Governor Deval Patrick's transportation plan.

Essentially, Aloisi is asking the T to either do what is right for T riders or to see if the T is going to continue their coddling of employees. T employees have the right to a full pension after 23 years of service. No doubt the pension payouts have contributed to their $5.2 billion debt (this includes interest).

My personal T "perk" pet peeve is the fact that so many T employees have use of a vehicle. The state made most departments turn in state cars on January 1, 2009. The T was not included in this return, as they are a quasi-private entity and can do their own thing.

You can read all about this in the following articles:
I do enjoy reading the comments that are posted to some articles. Here is one that was posted to The Globe's article published today:
What makes this all the more infuriating is that the T continues to avoid making the right, ethical decisions regarding its notorious retiree gravy train. These are tough times for all, and present T-retirees should be required to sacrifice as much as present employees and, indeed, the rest of us outside the T's bastion of utlra-entitled hackery.

First things first: make current retirees pay more for their health care, eliminate their ridiculous choices in the matter, and start taking a hard look at those who've gotten away with "gaming the system" in their pensions. We shouldn't be demanding sacrifice only from active working people; those now sitting pretty with ludicrous retirement packages should make sacrifices too.

Of course there are the T unions to deal with. In crisis there is opportunity, and this seems to be an excellent opening to take the corrupt public unions down a few pegs.

Just a thought...or two.
WickedLocal Mansfield published a letter from a MBTA/MBCR commuter rail rider who has been ticketed for not paying the $4.00 parking fee even though it was paid.

Today's Globe also published an article about how the T will be leasing space at the Riverside MBTA Green Line station in Newton.

Finally, due to business in my personal and professional life (sorry!), I've been behind some news updates. The Boston Globe's local news sections recently wrote an article about Needham line commuter rail passengers. It was published earlier in the week on February 10th. The article was published on part of a new news feed for Needham, Newton and Waltham. The purpose of the local sections is to try to "identify readers and their needs." The Globe is particularly interested in regular updates and news about the Needham line. So if you are a Needham line rider and if you would like to provide commuter rail updates to The Globe, feel free to contact Regional Editor David Dahl at dahl AT

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Some Excitement ... But Not Really the "Good" Type

The commute on the P508 was exciting this morning ... as a passenger decided to try to jump on the moving train as it was leaving the Southborough stop. We slammed to a halt immediately (you can always tell when the emergency brake is engaged) and sat there for a few minutes. My understanding is that the passenger refused medical attention and went home. I'm glad that the accident wasn't more serious. I understand that people might not want to wait 30 minutes for another train, but I'm not sure it's worth your personal safety to either jump on or off a moving train.

We did arrive to South Station at around 8:27 AM, so just a few minutes off schedule, but pretty good considering the delay outside of Southborough.

In other news, it's been reported that the MBTA may be one of the beneficiaries of Governor Patrick's proposed gas tax hike, receiving about 11 cents of the 27 cent proposed increase. Yeah, we know that the MBTA is saddled with debt and poor revenues and we basically pay for poor service. I'm hoping that if this gas tax does go through, that there is some type of clause in it for improving service and maintaining the fleet of trains and buses. I just don't want a debt bail out (for all intents and purposes) and then have the MBTA continue to underperform. We riders deserve better.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Looming Gas Tax Hikes?

This morning's p508 commute was fairly on time, we arrived to South Station at 8:24 AM, one minute past the scheduled arrival time of 8:23AM.

I've previously posted about the Senate proposal to combine multiple independent state transportation agencies in order to contain costs. This new agency is projected to save over $2.5 billion in the next twenty years. As we all know, both the MBTA and Mass Pike are saddled under enormous debt loads and the new House Speaker Robert DeLeo seems to think the idea of an increase to the state gas tax is a good way to increase revenues to help Massachusetts transportation overall, especially in light of the vehement protests to proposed Mass Pike toll increases and MBTA parking lot fare increases. There has not been a formal announcement either way, but expect this volatile issue to dominate transportation related headlines over the coming months. Additional details can be found here.

In other news, a link to commuter rail service from TF Green Airport in Warwick, RI is well underway. First proposed in 1992, construction has been recently ramped up and is expected ti be completed by fall 2010. The project is called the Warwick Intermodal Facility and will be one of a handful of airports in the nation with direct access to a commuter rail station. The MBTA will be providing access, with an initial schedule of 8 round trips per day. The new train platform will be 1,570 feet from the terminal and passengers will be able reach it on a so-called people mover commonly seen in many big terminals. More information can be found online at the Providence Journal website.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Chilly Thursday Commute

It's pretty cold out there this AM ... not as bad as a few weeks ago when it was -4, but close enough. Luckily, the train was on time and quite warm this morning. The p508 arrived at South Station at 8:22. It's been a good week so far for the morning commute. (Knock on wood!)

A few posts ago, I commented on the increased ridership stats for 2008, attributable to rising gas prices last year. While ridership may have increased, not everyone's experience is always good and it seems that we commuter rail riders bear the brunt of poor service and delays. I've been saying this for months, it's a good week when only one train is late. Today's Boston Globe expounds on the commuter rail experience in the article: "Late commuter trains threaten ridership gains."

According to the article, over the past six months, during a time when the MBTA was trying to show new riders the wonders of mass transportation, one in five commuter trains arrived at least five minutes late, and many were much later. In December and January, the problem worsened - in part due to weather, maintenance problems, and track construction - with nearly a quarter of the trains failing to arrive within the five-minute window.

I find it interesting that the Globe can post MBTA on time statistics online, but the MBTA themselves cannot do it. There is a great graph linked from the Globe article about on time performance, you can find it here. Interesting to note, only the Greenbush line has met on time performance statistics for the year, with their on time average being 95.1%. The worst performing line is Fitchburg with 71.7%. The Worcester/Framingham line stats are 88%.

The system itself is broken and needs major overhaul; but given the current economic situation, I'm not holding my breath that anything will change soon.

Being Punctual Matters to MBTA/MBCR Commuter Rail Riders

Hello Train Riders! Both Train Rider and I have had a busy week this week. But we do not have any complaints about being busy - we're both happy to be employed. Plus, keeping busy means you can stay warm. It is brisk out there, huh? It was 5F while I was driving to the gym this morning and a balmy 8F on my way to work.

WBZ's "Conversation Nation" started a thread this morning about commuter rail punctuality. This thread was started based on an article in today's The Boston Globe about how late arriving trains could actually cause a decrease in ridership.

This is a topic, unfortunately, that Train Stopping is all too familiar with.

The Globe's article includes this stunning chart that compares on-time averages across all the commuter rail lines in 2007 versus 2008. Think about this:
  • January 2007 - 93.0% on time
  • January 2008 - 77.4% on time
  • January 2009 - 76.7%
Those are not numbers that help commuters. Many of the people interviewed in The Globe's article indicated that they would prefer to ride the train for both financial, personal and environmental reasons, but they can't rely on it and need to drive themselves to work.
Over the past six months, during a time when the MBTA was trying to show new riders the wonders of mass transportation, one in five commuter trains arrived at least five minutes late, and many were much later. In December and January, the problem worsened - in part due to weather, maintenance problems, and track construction - with nearly a quarter of the trains failing to arrive within the five-minute window.
One in five trains are at least five minutes late!!

MBTA GM Dan Grabauskas, in his great fashion, of course places the blame for the on-time performance on factors ranging from the weather to the MBCR. This is Dan's way, huh?

The MBCR notes that the old equipment is owned by the MBTA and that the MBCR is considering purchasing their own used locomotives because the T hasn't bought any new ones.

The article also acknowledges that some lines are worse than other lines.

The Eagle-Tribune also wrote an article about this winter's train woes. This article focuses on the Haverhill line and the ungodly commutes that people have endured.

Well, maybe if the T managed their budget better, they would have some more resources to run the trains properly. Yesterday's Globe ran a front-page article on how different state agencies, including the MBTA, hire outside lobbyists. The T spent $48,000 on lobbyists last year alone. Governor Patrick has said that state agencies can no longer use lobbyists.

Finally, more on the Green Line extension.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Sorry for the delay in posting, it's been a hectic day work wise.

This morning's p508 commute was slightly delayed, we arrived to South Station at 8:30AM, 7 minutes after the scheduled arrival time. I believe that any train that is more than 5 minutes late doesn't count towards on time performance ... so we're 1 for 2 so far ... two days into February.

Interesting articles in today's Herald and Globe regarding the salary increases for MBTA employees. I love the Herald, they always tell it like it is with the heading "T Workers Ride the Money Train." The Globe also puts it succinctly "MBTA's payroll jumps as agency struggles." Both articles cite a 14% increase in salaries over the last year, mostly due to the arbitration awards for the union (for which we also have to thank for the increased parking rates).

Given the current economic climate, you would think a cash strapped agency like the MBTA would try cutting costs. I know that across industries, people are taking salary cuts or foregoing overtime pay in order to keep their jobs. Apparently not at the MBTA. Funny enough, General Manager Dan Grabausaks announced a $160 million deficit for the MBTA and says he hopes that we don't have to suffer reduced service or fare hikes like NYC's transit system.

You know what really grinds my gears? This is the second or third time that Dan Grabauskas has trotted out the "Oh, be glad we're not New York city," excuse; as if by threatening us, we'll be less likely to grumble or complain when they allow 14% payroll increases or waste money on WiFi that doesn't even work. We commuters just want reliable, on time service.

Given all of the snow that's been falling all day, I'm hoping that our evening commutes happen without a hitch. I did just check the MBTA website and there are no service delays to report ... yet. Get home safely everyone!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Post Super Bowl Commute

I was quite bleary eyed this morning as I was in Rhode Island at a Super Bowl party last night and didn't get home until quite late. What an exciting game though!

My commute was right on time this morning, the p508 actually arrived to South Station at 8:22 AM (so a minute ahead of schedule). So, we're one for one with on time commutes so far in February.

In MBTA news, commuter rail trains will be getting AED (automated external defibrillators) devices and staff will be trained in how to use them. I'm not sure if you recall that in 2002, a passenger from Wellesley died of a heart attack on the Worcester/Framingham line as he was unable to get medical attention.

Also, the Boston Globe reports that MBTA set a record for ridership in 2008. Spurned on mostly by gas prices above $4 a gallon, ridership across the subway, buses, commuter rail and boats rose 4.3% last year, averaging approximately 1.3 million riders per day. The article did say that ridership declined slightly in December, but MBTA general manager Dan Grabauskas attributed the decline to the economy, unemployment and lower gas prices. He also mentioned that 2009 would be a year to concentrate on improving the overall service provided by the MBTA. Let me tell you, I look forward to that! You can read the full article here.