MBTA (the Boston T) technological failure

Posted on August 14, 2007. Filed under: 495, Alewife, ATM, B Line, Beacon Hill, Boston, Cambridge, Charlie Card, Davis Square, DVR, Green Line, Harvard, iPhone, Mac, MBTA, Park Street Station, Red Line, Red Sox, Somerville, The T |

MBTA The T

I love new technology. I have a DVR and an HD TV. I have a high end Mac and an iPhone. I love when others adopt new technology to make things easier and cheaper.

What I hate is when technology fails. What I hate more is when there is no backup plan.

I had an interesting trip today on the T. I work in Somerville’s Davis Square. This is a suburb NW of Boston, part of Greater Boston I believe, just next to Cambridge. Davis Square is primarily known as a yuppy hangout after 6, prior to this populated with mentally unbalanced and often homeless people. Fun area.

Today I took the T into work. I ride the horribly slow B (Green) Live from Brighton to Park St Station under the Boston Common, then hop the Red Line under Beacon Hill, through Cambridge, Harvard Square and on to Davis Square. In all about an hour trip. This lets me catch up on some new music, reading, etc. I also planned to take the same route in reverse to get home. However, having used up some of the cash on my Charlie Card by going to client meetings this week, I found my Card a bit short on funds for the return trip.

Now, a Charlie Card takes a couple of forms. Their is the temporary, non-reusable version made of paper that litter most T stops and trains or the more permenant plastic version that can be refilled. Since I don’t often take the T (driving my Benz is much more fun) I only use the temporary one.

The MBTA smartly filled their stops, at least the official, underground ones, not the street stops, with machines allowing recharging plastic and purchasing paper Charlie Cards. I counted 6 at the Davis Square stop, I may be wrong though. When I arrived and put my card through the reader I found that I had insufficient funds. When using my pass to go to work that morning I found I had only $1 on it. Odd, a one-way trip is $2, you can’t recharge a paper card as far as I could tell. That means The T gets my dollar because the ticket is useless.

Well, I thought, I’ll just buy a new card. I stood in line at on of the ticket vending machines to find it wasn’t accepting credit cards. I got in line at another one, same thing. I went to the machine near entrance gates, didn’t work either. “Then someone said, the machines aren’t taking credit cards.” I didn’t believe him at first, remember what I said about the day time inhabitants of Davis Square? He fit the bill perfectly: grubby jeans, overweight, red t-shirt, scruffy, unshaven face. Not exactly who I picture being an MBTA official. I expect them to be wearing a uniform.

I don’t usually travel with alot of cash. I live in the city, plastic is cheaper. I didn’t have any cash on me that day except a few quarters. So, here I was, 2 cities and a couple dozen subway stops from home and the city’s transit system wasn’t accepting credit cards. It would have been nice if there’d been a sign posted at the entrance. The machines are two levels down and about a block’s worth of walking from the front door to the stop. Luckily all I had to do was walk back to the stairs, climb 2 long flights, and walk another block to find an ATM to get out cash to get a new card, walk all the way back.

So, to my usual 60 minute subway ride, I added about 20 minutes. Add that to the fact that the Red Sox were in town for a game, which meant every tourist inside the 495 belt parked at Alewife and took the train in, and you get a pretty good picture of my ride.

Suggestions:
Leave a magic marker and paper for T employees to notify passengers that the system isn’t working.
Make T employees wear a uniform and bathe.
Open the turnstiles for free access to those you can’t accomodate when your system breaks down.

UPDATE:
This morning the credit card purchase ability of the MBTA at Davis Square Station was still down. Still no signs of warning until you’re 2 levels down:

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7 Responses to “MBTA (the Boston T) technological failure”

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The plastic card is called a CharlieCard. The paper one is called a CharlieTicket. You can refill either one — if you have a paper ticket worth $1, put it in the machine and press the “Add Value” button.

But you pay more for every ride if you use paper tickets, so you really should get the plastic card.

Ron,
Thanks for the info. I’ve only used the paper ticket because I’m only temporarily taking the T. However, twice I’ve had drivers take my ticket when there was a dollar left, from the machine and throw it on the floor stating I had no more rides on it. Also, it’s still tough to add rides to the paper or plastic ticket when there is no cash in my wallet and none of the machines takes plastic. It’s an additional pain in the ass when they don’t post any signs to that effect.

dude use the plastic card. Tris are 1.70 rather than 2 bucks with it.

PS:

Just hop the damn thing by closely following someone next time. The MBTA should have to pay for your inconvenience, not you.

Will,
Part of the issue was that you couldn’t get the plastic card at the time. In Davis Sq. you have to find a convenience store that carries them, because the T stop doesn’t.
Plus, I’m not going to take a chance on getting arrested for sneaking in the T. How embarrassing would that be?!

You sound like a spoiled, naif. So you got a little exercise walking to an ATM. You should have carried some minimal cash and avoided the issue altogether. If not then tried the turnstile trick.

I visited Boston as a tourist and avoided these issues without knowledge of the T. My advice, don’t ever come to NYC.

I take the T 2-4 times a day, every day and have for 10 years. If you had a clue about the neighborhood I was working at the time, you’d know that ATM machines are practically non-existent. The banks in that neighborhood lock the ATM doors after 5. Why should I prepare for every conceivable possibility for a transit system that has tripled in price over he last few years, where drivers constantly crash while texting their girlfriends, whose technology MY tax money is paying for? I’m in NYC regularly, I’m extremely impressed with the system there. If you think I’m a spoiled naif, let me know the next time you’re in Boston, or I’ll let you know when I’m next in NYC. I’d love to meet up with you to chat.


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