Thursday, December 24, 2009

New Variations & Derailments, Oh My!

Goodness! My last post was back in late October? The ol' blog was starting to collect some dust. Well, I'm back from my little hiatus...and what a time to be back. Where to begin?

Let's start with the Red Line. 1521 had mechanical problems Monday morning, but thankfully I was traveling in the opposite direction. But the Red Line was not going to let me get away that easily. Tuesday afternoon I was heading to Park Street to meet a friend for coffee. She had sent me a text telling me that she was stuck at Ashmont and would be late because "of something going on at Alewife". Hmm, I thought, must be signal trouble or problems with the crossover. But no, the "something going on at Alewife" was a derailment. Despite being informed that service was delayed due to a "disabled train" and shuttle buses would be operating between Harvard and Alewife, I had a gut feeling it was derailment. As a general rule of thumb, rail service is rarely bustitued due to just a disabled train. Service would be delayed, but still running. MBTA doublespeak, don't you just love it? Seeing as the news would eventually reach the media, why not be honest from the start? By the way, my friend and I met up at Park Street 35 minutes after the appointed time.

Shuttle Route 612 (or is it 613 that covers that part of the Red Line, I can't remember) kept things running, somewhat. Watching the coverage on Channel 7 that night I spotted a few NABI's that were drafted for the shuttle; meaning that Route 01 and 66 riders lost a few of their buses during the rush hour. Ouch. I could only imagine the scenes along Mass and Harvard Avenues. Thankfully, no one was hurt on the train and service was (sorta) up and running by the AM rush Wednesday.

But on to happier things...

So what will Plans and Schedules, er, I mean Santa bring us this Christmas? The Winter 2010 Rating enters effect this coming Saturday and with it will come plenty of stocking stuffers, among them:

The holidays came a little early for the residents of John Eliot Square this year. As a partial replacement for the 28, new variations of the 44 and 45 were created to add extra service in the area. It seems the 14 and 41 alone were not working for them. The new service began operation shortly after the Cabot "B" Pick, which made possible a series of improvements to the key bus routes at that garage. Routes 44-3 and 45-3 serve John Eliot Square weeknights after 8pm and all day weekends. The change will officially be announced on the upcoming schedules.

Residents of Granada Highlands will also get a new variant, Route 430-2, which will add two new round trips weeknights when the 411 is not operating. See the schedule card or the MBTA website for details.

But of course, the first package I am going to unwrap is the 111-2.

A new year, a new sign code, a new variation.

The 111 shall see sweeping improvements all across the board. In addition to extra vehicles at crucial times of the day, a new variation has been created. Route 111-2, Haymarket Station-Cary Square, will operate during the PM peak to supplement the regular 111-5 (Woodlawn) service. Headways and trip times have been adjusted to improve coordination between the two routes, so I encourage any of you 111 riders out there to pick up a new schedule card or visit the website. Midday and weekend service will also see some headway improvements, plus runtimes being adjusted to improve reliability. Like the 111-6 (Parkway/McDonald's) supplemental trips during the AM Peak, Route 111-2 (a.k.a. "Route 111C") will focus on the busiest part of the route and better meet the demand.

Visit the T website for more info on these and other changes.

On a final note, No Free Transfer will be changing its format slightly. Don't worry, I won't start writing posts in Nahuatl. Instead I will be writing more article-like posts, sorta like a newspaper column. But I will keep the quirky anecdotes and occasional rants. With that, happy holidays and see you all next year.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Route 751 (The "SL4")

Because we all know that the real SL4 would have been the "stillborn" Silver Line Waterfront branch from South Station to Andrew Station via D Street, I shall hereafter refer to the new SL4 service as either the Silver Line Connector or by its route number, Route 751 .

And speaking of the 751...

For the first time since the days of the Atlantic Avenue Elevated riders once again have a one-seat ride from Dudley Station to South Station. The bus stop is even located near where the old elevated station used to be. While it may take a little longer than it used to, at least there aren't any pesky hairpin turns to worry about. (Rounding the curve from Harrison Avenue to Beach Street, one often felt you would fall right off the elevated structure.) I was able to make it out to the ribbon cutting ceremony on the 13th. Special guests included Mayor Menino, Secretary Aloisi, and several state legislators. See below for some photos I snapped.

While most Silver Line riders are still getting used to the new service, it appears to have been received well. Trunk headways along Washington Street have seen a slight improvement, albeit with bunching during the rush hours, and the four extra buses along the corridor during the peak are surely welcomed. With the buzz still in the air, many riders are asking where does it go, how often does it operate, and what's the transfer policy for passengers going to/from the Connector and Waterfront services. All of your questions can be answered by talking to a Silver Line operator and/or picking up the new Silver Line schedule card (featuring all services).

But what about ridership? Namely, how much will develop? Most longtime Route 749 riders are content (so to speak) with their Dudley Square-Temple Place service. Will any of them be siphoned onto the 751? Some of my personal observations show midday ridership to be rather light, with only 3-10 people boarding at South Station with me during these hours. Perhaps in time a ridership base will grow. If off-peak ridership continues to be light, Southampton will hopefully switch over to the forty-footers during these times.

Well, the 751 certainly beats that $2,000,000,000+ tunnel that would have wormed its way through Chinatown. All that's left to do is lay the track, put up the catenary, and convert it all to light rail!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Comings & Goings

I find it ironic that at one time Boston's transit system won the A. N. Brady Safety Medal so often that it was asked to stop competing in order to give other cities a shot at winning. Now, hardly a week seems to go by without something going wrong.

The Brady Medal was awarded for "the best work done during the year by an electric street railway [subway trains counted too!] in America in accident prevention and industrial hygiene." The way things have been going lately, it looks like the T is out of the running.

The Commuter Rail fender bender was somewhat minor. Thank goodness there were no serious injuries. The Red and Orange Line meltdowns, on the other hand, nearly paralyzed downtown transit. The Red Line was shutdown between Harvard and JFK/UMass as fire crews tackled an electrical fire. I am a bit foggy on the electrical layout, but track-wise there are crossovers at Kendall and Broadway that could have made the isolated area much smaller. Overkill? Maybe. My thanks to anyone in the Power Department for any clarification. At least Orange Line service bounced back relatively quickly.

With all this transit mayhem, who knows what will happen next? Aliens stealing all the NABI's at Arborway? I could only imagine what the T Riders Union would have to say about that.

On a personal front, I've been getting a mixed bag. Monday morning found me on car #01746. There is nothing special about the car - it is just like the other 57 1700-series Red Line cars - except for one thing: it smelled of urine and death. Well, maybe not "death" per se, but the stench could have reasonably led to it. The floors of the car also looked suspiciously wet. #01746 is now on my "Do Not Ride" list.

I was also gleefully entertained by a senile old man on the 08. As he railed against the dangers of smoking and relived his days as a former boxer (he constantly reminded us of that fact), he would take a break and begin yelling at this one woman in the back of the bus. No clear reason, he just wanted to shout obscenities at her. The rest of us found it all to be pretty funny.

Later on I spotted the elusive 275 at JFK/UMass. Here's the picture I snapped:

Now I just need that shot of the 274 at Moon Island.

Well, enough of my ramblings. I'll have more notes from the underground later...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Back On Track

After a much needed vacation I'm back in town. Getting away for a few (very long) weekends has refreshed me. I was actually worried about taking a vacation in late August, as I would miss the MBTA fare increase workshops and hearing. Governor Patrick, however, helped to straighten out my schedule. Thanks, governor! I enjoyed being able to get up to Maine for a bit and need not worry about missing out on the fare increase public discussions. I owe you one.

Well, let's see what happens in November.

You may have read in the paper recently about the MBTA extending the hours that the Student Pass is valid. Young people who work late, have afterschool activities, etc., are now able to use their passes until 11:00pm. I want to congratulate the youth activists that worked hard to accomplish something that many naysayers said was impossible (or impractical, if not downright pointless). Great job! Keep up the fight!

Image Courtesy of Celebrate Boston

Yet not everyone is excited about the news. Many detractors have criticized the decision. had some of the best feedback. Here was my favorite:

"Great, now there are three more hours in a day for me to get stabbed on the MBTA."

Ah, of course! Because every young person's mission is to rob, incite fear in, and terrorize their fellow commuters. Shame to see someone generalize (*cough*stereotype*cough*) like that. There are some young criminals out there, unfortunately, but not every kid wearing a hoodie is out to get you. I admit, some of those goth kids kinda creep me out. Still if you are going to criticize, let it be constructive.

Other than that, I visited the new Ashmont Station busway. Even spotted a New Flyer C40 (#6001) in regular colors. Supposedly, said the inspector, it is now doing Cabot work.

Friday, July 31, 2009

In My Travels...

Over the past week or two I've come across some interesting things in my travels. A recent ride on RTS #0010 revealed that not only has the axle-grinding problem (which produces a foul odor in the rear of the bus) not been fixed, but part of the steering column housing has disappeared as well! The speedometer also did not seem to work; it stated that we were traveling across the Tobin Bridge at zero miles per hour. The sooner that bus is sent to Everett to be scrapped, the better!

It seems that the Silver Line Washington Street extension to South Station is a step closer to becoming a reality. At least four of the Neoplan AN460's (i.e. the buses used on the Route 39 and SL Washington) have been repainted from the general MBTA paint scheme into Silver Line colors. I spotted 1030 broken down at Newton Street several days ago:

Sorry for the terrible photo.

Now with these four buses having been repainted (1018, 1019, and 1020 are the others), it seems only natural that bus assignments out of Southampton Garage would change. There are 44 sixty-foot buses in the MBTA fleet; all assigned to Southampton. With fewer "normal colored" buses available, all Route 32 trips have been dropped from the garage. Arborway will now provide all the equipment for this route. Southampton had formerly offered five articulated buses for rush hour service on the line.

No more 60' buses for rush hour service? Crowding will surely worsen on the high ridership Hyde Park route! To offset this, two or three Arborway buses have been added to the line for increased capacity. The improved rush hour headway is now every 3-4 mins. I plan to take a ride and see how things are going.

At least the Forest Hills inspector will no longer have to deal with this:

Occasionally, Southampton would send out one of their 40' New Flyer C40s instead of a sixty-footer. Very helpful!

The MBTA fare increase/service cuts workshops are coming up next week (August 10th-27th). I have yet to see tangible booklets detailing the particulars being distributed, but at least a few people managed to get their hands on them:

Found on the floor of an Orange Line train laid up at Oak Grove

I plan on attending several workshops and the final hearing at the State Transportation Building. Visit the MBTA website for workshop dates and locations. Ten points if you can find where to click on the homepage in five minutes or less.

As a final note, I snapped these two pics:

Notice anything unusual?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The 112 Can't Find Its Way Home

The other day an elderly friend of mine related the story of her recent ride on the 112. It was her first time taking the route, so she asked the operator if the bus travels past the newly renovated Market Basket in Chelsea. He said it did and my friend boarded. The operator then dropped her off at Spruce Street and Everett Avenue, near the Market Basket, and informed her that "the next bus will take you into the mall [where Market Basket is located]." For those of you who do not know, there is an actual MBTA bus stop located at Market Basket several feet from the main entrance. Route 112 buses (along with Route 114-1 buses in the midday) serve this stop on all trips; save for a few early morning trips. Why this operator dropped her off near the market rather than at it is an interesting question. On many of the trips I've taken on the 112 recently, when we arrive at Market Basket there is a small group of people asking where the bus in the opposite direction is. "The guy just passed me," the operator states, "Didn't you see him?" Apparently, a few operators are either accidentally or intentionally skipping this stop.

Since the new supermarket opened the 112 has been having a bit of trouble adjusting. A few of the operators at Charlestown have been debating what is the "true" route of the 112 in the Admiral's Hill/Mystic Mall area. Do you serve the market first, then Admiral's Hill? Or vice versa? Some operators have their own interpretation of the new route description.

In addition, I have heard several stories about operators (as one veteran pointed out, mostly rookies) getting lost in the new expanded parking lot. How exactly this happens, I have no idea. It does not seem that difficult to navigate through.

Hopefully things will get ironed out soon.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Rare Beastie

Spotted this downtown recently:

One of the more unique vehicles in the MBTA fleet.

6019 is the closest thing the MBTA has to a minibus. I have only spotted it in revenue service once; at Ashmont Station assigned to Route 798 (Mattapan Trolley Shuttle via Eliot Street). It does not have a farebox (last time I checked), so who knows how the passengers paid back then. Its primary function is to serve as a shuttle for transit officials on excursions around the system.

Wouldn't it be interesting if the T had a small fleet of these?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ed Dana Would Be In Tears...

Pick your poison: 19.5% fare increase or draconian service cuts. As the MBTA booklet I received yesterday points out, it's "your service, your choice". The MBTA is proposing an overall fare increase to generate added revenue ($69,000,000) to "maintain the same level of service to its customers for the next two years." So what does a 19.5% fare increase look like exactly? Below is a sampling of some of the proposed new fares and pass prices:

Local Bus $1.50 (w/CharlieCard) - $2.00 (cash or CharlieTicket)
Monthly Local Bus Pass $47.00
Monthly Inner Express Bus Pass $102.00
Monthly Outer Express Bus Pass $150.00

Rapid Transit $2.00 (w/CharlieCard) - $2.50 (cash or CharlieTicket)
Monthly Link Pass $69.00

Commuter Rail Zone 1 - $5.00
Commuter Rail Zone 2 - $5.50
Commuter Rail Zone 3 - $6.00
Commuter Rail Zone 4 - $6.75
Commuter Rail Zone 5 - $7.25
Commuter Rail Zone 6 - $7.75
Commuter Rail Zone 7 - $8.25
Commuter Rail Zone 8 - $8.75

Monthly Commuter Rail passes would range from $69.00 (Zone 1A) to $280.00 (Zone 8)

For those of you who want fares to stay exactly as they are now, the MBTA would have to make drastic cutbacks in service to compensate. Even then, it would only save $55,000,000 and (in the eyes of the MBTA) be a bigger blow to commuters.

The following bus routes would be discontinued entirely:

Route 04 North Station - Boston Marine Industrial Park
Route 05 City Point - McCormack Housing Development
Route 08 Kenmore Station - Harbor Point
Route 17 Andrew Station - Fields Corner Station
Route 18 Andrew Station - Ashmont Station
Route 25 Ruggles Station - Franklin Park via Warren Street
Route 29 Mattapan Station - Jackson Square Station
Route 33 Mattapan Station - River & Milton Streets
Route 34E Forest Hills Station - Walpole
Route 48 Jamaica Plain Loop
Route 52 Watertown Yard - Charles River Loop OR Dedham Mall
Route 55 Park Street Station - Queensbury
Route 59 Watertown Square - Needham Junction
Route 60 Kenmore Station - Chestnut Hill
Route 62 Alewife Station - Bedford VA Hospital
Route 72 Harvard Subway - Huron Avenue
Route 76 Alewife Station - Hanscom Air Base/Lincoln Labs
Route 78 Harvard Station - Arlmont
Route 79 Alewife Station - Arlington Heights
Route 83 Central Square, Cambridge - Rindge Avenue
Route 85 Kendall Station - Spring Hill
Route 90 Wellington Station - Davis Station
Route 121 Maverick Station - Eagle Square OR Wood Island Station
Route 136 Malden Center Station - Reading
Route 137 Malden Center Station - Reading
Route 170 Dudley Station - Waltham Industrial Parks
Route 201 Fields Corner Station - Neponset Belt Line
Route 202 Fields Corner Station - Neponest Belt Line
Route 217 Ashmont Station - Quincy Center Station via Wollaston
Route 230 Quincy Center Station - Montello
Route 236 Quincy Center Station - South Shore Plaza
Route 238 Quincy Center Station - Crawford Square
Route 240 Ashmont Station - Crawford Square OR Avon Square
Route 245 Quincy Center Station - Mattapan Station
Route 274 Long Island - Moon Island
Route 275 Long Island - Downtown Boston OR Albany Street Garage
Route 276 Long Island - Boston Medical Center
Route 277 Shattuck Shelter - Park Street Station
Route 325 Haymarket Station - Elm Street via I-93
Route 350 Alewife Station - North Burlington
Route 351 Alewife Station - Oak Park
Route 352 Haymarket Station - Burlington via I-93
Route 354 Haymarket Station - Woburn via I-93
Route 355 Haymarket Station - Mishawum via I-93
Route 431 Central Square, Lynn - Neptune Towers
Route 434 Haymarket Station - Peabody Square
Route 435 Central Square, Lynn - Liberty Tree Mall OR Danvers Square
Route 436 Central Square, Lynn - Liberty Tree Mall
Route 439 Central Square, Lynn - Nahant
Route 448 Marblehead - Downtown Crossing via Paradise Road
Route 449 Marblehead - Downtown Crossing via Humphrey Street
Route 451 Salem Depot - North Beverly
Route 459 Salem Depot - Downtown Crossing
Route 465 Salem Depot - Danvers Square
Route 468 Salem Depot - Danvers Square via Margin Street
Route 500 Downtown Boston - Riverside Station via MassPike
Route 501 Downtown Boston - Brighton Center via MassPike
Route 502 Copley Square - Watertown Yard via MassPike
Route 503 Copley Square - Brighton Center via MassPike
Route 504 Downtown Boston - Watertown Yard via MassPike
Route 505 Downtown Boston - Waltham via MassPike
Route 555 Downtown Boston - Riverside Station via Copley Square
Route 558 Riverside Station - Newton Corner OR Downtown Boston
Route 701 Central Square, Cambridge - Boston Medical Center (Route CT1)

The following MBTA bus routes would lose all weekend service:

Route 132 Malden Center Station - Stoneham
Route 553 Newton Corner - Roberts
Route 554 Newton Corner - Waverly

The following MBTA bus routes would have their schedules "altered":

Route 07 Downtown - City Point via Summer Street
Route 09 City Point - Copley Square via Broadway
Route 14 Roslindale Square - Heath Street
Route 16 Andrew Station - Forest Hills Station
Route 31 Mattapan Station - Forest Hills Station via Morton Street
Route 64 Central Square, Cambridge - Oak Square
Route 68 Harvard Square - Kendall Station
Route 71 Harvard Subway - Watertown Square
Route 73 Harvard Subway - Waverly Square
Route 74 Harvard Station - Belmont Center
Route 92 Sullivan Station - Downtown via Main Street
Route 93 Sullivan Station - Downtown via Bunker Hill
Route 95 Sullivan Station - West Medford
Route 99 Wellington Station - Boston Regional Medical Center
Route 112 Wellington Station - Wood Island Station
Route 114 Maverick Station - Bellingham Square OR Mystic Mall
Route 120 Maverick Station - Orient Heights
Route 214 Quincy Center Station - Germantown
Route 215 Quincy Center Station - Ashmont Station via East Milton Square
Route 216 Quincy Center Station - Hough's Neck
Route 220 Quincy Center Station - Hingham
Route 326 Haymarket Station - West Medford via I-93
Route 441 Marblehead - Haymarket via Paradise Road
Route 442 Marblehead - Haymarket via Humphrey Street
Route 450 Salem Depot - Haymarket via Western Avenue
Route 455 Salem Depot - Haymarket via Loring Avenue

The MBTA supplemental bus service (i.e. the "Supplementals" and "school trips") would be scaled back; if not reduced entirely.

All remaining bus service would have service evenings and weekends cut in half.

Quincy & Lynn Garages would be closed nights and weekends.
All other routes at these garages would lose service at these times.

The following Green Line stations would close:

BU East (B Branch)
BU West (B Branch)
Pleasant Street (B Branch)
Brandon Hall (C Branch)
Saint Paul Street (C Branch)
Hawes Street (C Branch)

The E Branch of the Green Line would be cutback from Heath Street to Brigham Circle.
E Line service would also be eliminated on weekends.

Subway service overall would be reduced by 50% during the midday, nights, and on weekends.

The following Commuter Rail stations would close:

Hastings, Silver Hill, Waverly, Plimptonville, Readville (Franklin Line only), Wyoming Hill, Ballardvale, Greenwood, Plymouth, Mishawum, Rowley, West Gloucester,
Beverly Farms, and Prides Crossing

ALL Commuter Rail service would be eliminated after 7PM weeknights, and all day weekends

ALL Ferry service would be eliminated, along with the Suburban Transportation Program subsidies and the Private Carrier Program subsidies.

The RIDE service area would be extensively redefined.

Again, these things would only happen if there is NO FARE INCREASE.

Whew. So how many cities and towns would lose local MBTA service? I lost count at ten.

Pay more? Or lose service? After all, it's "your choice"!

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Ray of Sunshine

Today I opened the Metro and found on page two an article about the T. To my surprise is was neither about the impending fare hikes and service cuts, nor about the T's financial woes. It was a piece about the A Line! It was good to see something, frankly, positive about the T. Perhaps someone will do a write up about the City Point Line (now Route 09) or the Egleston/Lenox Street Line (now Routes 22 and 43).

I also took the Blue Line shuttle over the weekend (the line was closed for work at Maverick). It was a real family affair: Cabot, Charlestown, and Lynn all had equipment running on the shuttle, creating a nice mix of NABIs (2219, 2223, et alia), New Flyers, and even the occasional RTS (0240, 0322). Blue Line service was back up by Sunday night, slightly ahead of schedule. I'm sure Ed Dana would be proud.

Monday, June 8, 2009

"Left In The Dark"

This fall we shall be paying up to 20% more to ride the T. Service across the system would also be scaled back to an extent not seen in decades. More for less; a cheery prospect.

I read an article in the Metro about commuters being "left in the dark" about the proposed service cuts and fare increases coming this fall. To be honest, I am rather disappointed that the MBTA has been so quiet and seemingly reluctant to release any real details. True, any proposals put forward by the T would depend on actions taken by the legislature (really, more inaction by them), but the information made public thus far is quite vague and general. It is no surprise that people are upset. Saying that 30 "high net-cost" bus routes will be eliminated is one thing. To say that the North Shore is at risk of loosing a chunk of its local bus service is another. With so little information available to them, commuters are left in an atmosphere of suspense, wondering: "Will my route be eliminated? Is my bus one of these 'high net-cost' routes?" The typical rider has no idea how much their route costs to operate, much less what the net-cost actually means in terms of their bus being there or not. People need facts that are more concrete, not nebulous. At the very least, the T should give an actual worse-case scenario. That is, something that takes the abstract and relates it to people's lives on a more intimate level. Otherwise, to some you may as well be talking about PCC gear aspect ratios. The lack of true transparency could end up hurting the T more in the long run. If the T expects rich feedback from its "accelerated public hearings process", it must give people the information in a time frame that allows them to thoroughly digest it and to have more informed opinions. Thrusting the details at or just before the hearings will result in more public outcry than meaningful discussion.

Combing through an appendix to the 2008 Service Plan (publicly available on the MBTA website), I have compiled a list of the 25 highest net-cost bus routes that would likely be eliminated as part of the service cuts. They are listed in order from most expensive to least expensive in terms of cost per rider:

1. Route 355 Downtown Boston - Woburn Industrial Parks
2. Route 170 Dudley Station - Waltham Industrial Parks
3. Route 439 Central Square, Lynn - Nahant
4. Route 468 Salem Depot - Danvers Square
5. Route 351 Alewife Station - Oak Park Industrial Park
6. Route 48 Jamaica Plain Loop
7. Route 465 Salem Depot - Danvers Square via Malls
8. Route 76 Alewife Station - Lincoln Labs/Hanscom Field
9. Route 500 Downtown Boston - Riverside
10. Route 217 Ashmont Station - Quincy Center via Wollaston
11. Route 325 Elm Street, Medford - Haymarket Station
12. Route 435 Central Square, Lynn - Liberty Tree Mall via Peabody Square
13. Route 245 Quincy Center - Mattapan Station
14. Route 52 Watertown Yard - Charles River Loop/Dedham Mall
15. Route 436 Central Square, Lynn - Liberty Tree Mall via Happy Valley
16. Route 558 Riverside - Newton Corner/Downtown Boston
17. Route 448 Downtown Crossing - Marblehead
18. Route 78 Harvard Station - Arlmont
19. Route 451 Salem Depot - North Beverly
20. Route 431 Central Square, Lynn - Neptune Towers
21. Route 25 Ruggles Station - Franklin Park via Warren Street
22. Route 350 Alewife Station - North Burlington
23. Route 60 Kenmore Station - Chestnut Hill
24. Route 04 North Station - Boston Marine Industrial Park
25. Route 449 Downtown Crossing - Marblehead

As you can see, the North Shore and the Route 128 business corridor would be among the hardest hit areas. Perhaps the MBTA has a different list of routes marked for death, who knows? I guess we will find out in the next few weeks...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Needs More Trolley Bell

Wishful thinking? A "green" Silver Line map installed at Mattapan Station

Tonight a community meeting will be held at the Mattapan Branch Library to discuss improvements for the Route 28 corridor. The conversion of the heavily traveled route into an extension of the Silver Line will be on the table for public review. Nice to let the public get involved.

Route 28 riders in the not-to-distant future will see their service upgraded to Bus Rapid Transit standards, certainly a step up from the current service provided. The boost promises to bring a better and faster commute to Mattapan, Dorchester, and Roxbury residents. It shall feature priority signaling, HOV lanes, improved bus stop amenities, sixty-foot vehicles, among other delightful BRT elements. It even has a cool name: The "28X"! What more could a transit-dependent community ask for!?

Perhaps real rapid transit, you know, the kind with tracks and a grade separated right-of-way?

For a community that has not seen a trolley since the days of the Type 5's (that would be circa 1955), would replacing a bus with a shinier and larger bus actually provide adequate transit? South End and Roxbury residents still have the sour tastes in their mouths from the Route 49 conversion to the Silver Line. Or as they call it, the "Silver Lie". Will the "28X" really be immune to the problems that the Silver Line Washington Street faces almost daily? Like the Route 49 and ex-Washington Street Elevated riders, are these residents going to be given the short end of the straw when it comes to "real" rapid transit?

It is great to see the MBTA and the Executive Office of Transportation investing so much money in public transit (take that, automobile lobby!). Any improvement to the Route 28 corridor is a great one, but I still have my doubts and some questions. Namely, what happened to that proposed Orange Line branch to Mattapan?

More to come later...

Monday, May 4, 2009

Today marks the 22nd anniversary of the opening of the Southwest Corridor on the Orange Line! 22 years ago last Thursday (April 30th), the Washington Street Elevated ceased service after 86 years. With its demise, Boston lost its last major el (save for the short bit in front of the Boston Garden on the Green Line). Many bus routes that terminated at Dudley Station were extended to the new Ruggles Station. Route 43 was also cutback from Egleston Square to Ruggles, while Route 22 was rerouted from Warren Street to Seaver Street and Columbus Avenue. Route 28 entered service at about this time as well. Oddly enough, Route 29 would still provide the bulk of service in the Blue Hill Avenue corridor for a few more years. Very different from the service patterns operated today! The 49 also stepped into the spotlight, no longer a back and forth line from the South End to Chinatown, but now the service from Dudley to Downtown.

Thank goodness the rapid transit extension was built instead of the highway.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Muses Ride The T

Being a writer and a poet, I often find inspiration in a variety of places. I was riding the bus recently when this came to me:

Ode to a TransitMaster

TransitMaster! TransitMaster!
How late are we today?
Five minutes? Fifteen minutes?
Who can really say?

TransitMaster! TransitMaster!
Tracking me on their screen
Crossing timepoint crossings
And the places in between

TransitMaster! TransitMaster!
Ticking away the hours
There's not enough recovery time
To even smell the flowers

Monday, April 13, 2009

Wake Me When It's Over

So the word is out: the Globe has published a list of proposed service cuts that the MBTA is mulling over to close its $160,000,000 budget gap. I had hoped that the cuts would not be as bad as the 1981 service reductions (which seem to have faded from our collective memory), but in fact, they would be much worse. The good thing is that nothing is official...yet. To add insult to injury, many riders feel that the MBTA is just bluffing. Some people said the same thing back in 1981, then they woke up one Sunday to find that the Blue Line did not go to Wonderland anymore.

Let us take a look at some of the 2009 proposals "under consideration" and compare them with the cutbacks made in 1981; just to get an idea what we're in for.

2009 Proposal: "Eliminate service at Quincy & Lynn bus garages after 9 p.m. weekdays and all day on weekends"

1981 Equivalent: Eagle Street Garage (nee Carhouse) was closed on April 4, 1981. Its routes (110-121) were divided up between Charlestown Garage (110-112) and Lynn Garage (116-117, 119-121). Having been active since the days of streetcars, the garage was closed to cut costs. The site is now a (somewhat rundown) parking lot near Eagle Square in East Boston.

This proposal is terribly vague. Will service on the routes based at these garages be eliminated nights and weekends, or will they (like Fellsway and Albany) be covered by other garages? Lynn Garage is home to Routes 116 and 117, and I have a feeling chaos would ensue if service did not operate weeknights or over the weekend. I'm sure South Shore residents would be equally unhappy not have any service during these periods as well. And if another garage does cover them, you would have to train and familiarize the drivers with routes from another division. I know a few seasoned veterans at Charlestown who started out at Lynn...but that was fifteen to twenty years ago. Some might think that the 433 or 458 are still running.

2009 Proposal: "Eliminate customer service agents [CSA's] in subway stations"

1981 Equivalent: Some unstaffed token booths, a few station closings.

Several friends and I joked about personally staffing major downtown stations during our lunch breaks to give tourists and other riders directions, and to help with any CharlieCard issues. A volunteer CSA corps, if you will. But, alas! We could only do some much in an hour. So if you need help adding money to your card, or purchasing a ticket, I suppose you'll just have to watch someone else do it. Or visit youtube. Commuters will also lose touch with the "human side" of the T. Sure, you can call the information line or visit the website, but to have someone you can actually talk to in person; that can brighten up someone's day.

This photo happens to be from the final Route 195 trip.
TransitMaster had changed the sign before
I could get a photo of the bus displaying "195 DOWNTOWN".

2009 Proposals: "Eliminate highest net-cost-per-passenger bus routes" and "Eliminate routes due to network redundancy"

1981 Equivalent: Over 20 routes were eliminated and several pairs of routes combined (i.e. Routes 25 and 26 were merged to become the current Route 26).

Highest net-cost-per-passenger bus routes? What is "net-cost-per-passenger"? Basically, you take the total amount of money needed to operate the service, then subtract the revenue from fares ("farebox recovery"), then divide that by the total number of riders. The final value is the per-passenger subsidy the MBTA pays to keep service running. I went to and pulled up a copy of the Final 2008 Service Plan. At the very end of the document is a table summarizing ridership, total cost of service, net-cost-per-passenger, service hours, etc.; all sorted by bus route. Doing a bit of digging I found some possible "high net-cost" candidates:

Route 48 Jamaica Plain Loop
Route 78 Harvard Station - Arlmont Village
Route 170 Dudley Station - Waltham Industrial Parks
Route 355 Haymarket - Woburn Industrial Parks
Route 435 Lynn - Liberty Tree Mall/Danvers Square
Route 436 Lynn - Liberty Tree Mall via Happy Valley
Route 465 Salem Depot - Danvers Square

Just to name a few...

The system wide average for a bus subsidy is about $1.50. These routes average over three times that amount! The "exotic routes" (i.e. Route 170 and 355) we may be able to live without. But what about the others? As for "network redundancies" (jargon, anyone?), please do away with Route 25 (Ruggles - Franklin Park via Dudley)! This route operates only during the AM Peak, with a fifteen minute headway, and carries about 203 people per day. Often when extra equipment is needed, the 25 is first to "donate" its buses. We could press on without the 25; Cabot would love to have the extra three buses available during the AM rush hour. Perhaps, however, some of the other "redundancies" would be more greatly missed.

2009 Proposal: "Eliminate E Branch on weekends, extend C Line to Lechmere; eliminate E Line service beyond Brigham Circle; eliminate Mattapan trolley after 8PM weekdays and all day weekends"; cut several Green Line surface stops.

In 1981: On Sundays shuttle buses replaced train service to Ashmont, Shawmut, Fields Corner, Savin Hill, Malden Center, Oak Grove, Suffolk Downs, Beachmont, Revere Beach, and Wonderland. The span of subway service was also reduced on Sundays; last trains were scheduled around 10PM or 10:30. Two stations were also closed completely.

What did the Mattapan High Speed Line do to deserve such a fate? After carrying passengers (daily!) since 1929, must it now become no more than a rush hour and midday only shuttle? The night and weekend alternative is Route 24.3 (a.k.a "Route 24/27"). Service on this route operates every 60 minutes weeknights and Sundays, and every 40-60 minutes Saturdays. If this proposal becomes reality, I strongly encourage Arborway to borrow some 60-footers from Southampton, otherwise you are going to have some packed (Routes 28 and 111 packed) NABIs traveling along River Street. As for the Green Line cutbacks, no more E service on weekends? Do we really want all of those extra riders on the 39? And will cutting back service from Heath Street to Brigham Circle really save any money? The cantenary to Heath Street would still have electricity flowing through it (so no energy cost savings), the stops eliminated, save for Heath, are just segments of sidewalk with a "Green Line Stop" sign above them. Well, Fenwood Road does have a tall "T" sign, but you get the idea. Frankly, B Line stops are too close together, so cutting a few may not be the end of the world. The announcements sometimes stumble over each other, the stops are so close together: "Next stop Boston University West. Entering Boston University West." And doesn't BU have its own shuttle bus system? Well, enough of my ranting about Boston University.

More to come later...

Monday, March 30, 2009

Hidden Treasure

I recently came across this relic in East Boston:

There are only a few of these old bus stop signs still standing. Route 121 evening and Saturday service last operated in 1981, so this sign probably dates back to the late 1970s. Also note the stop number (5907) in the lower left corner; a very useful piece of information not found on modern bus stop signs!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Travels About Town

Having recovered from a rather severe bout of pneumonia, I ventured out onto the system.

This past Sunday, I accidentally boarded a Bowdoin train (along with four French tourists and two other people) at Government Center. The train had been signed up "WONDERLAND", and being in a hurry, I ran on board. As we pulled into Bowdoin (although closed for the weekend, the lights were all on) I realized that I grabbed the wrong train. I did get to ride, however, around the loop and see the old tail tracks leading to the long abandoned West End Portal.

When the East Boston Tunnel opened in 1904, there was a portal at South Russell Street in the West End that allowed trolleys from Cambridge to enter the tunnel and travel to East Boston. After the rapid transit conversion in 1924, subway cars in need of repairs were towed to the Eliot Shops (formerly near Harvard Square). After the the Revere Extension opened in 1952, the Blue Line got its very own yard and shops, and the West End portal was sealed and abandoned.

But I digress.

I've also spotted several more NABIs at Cabot that now have security cameras installed. 2285 is the lowest numbered bus that I have seen with them so far. The usual suspects, 2298, 2295, et alia, I seen around town as well.

Spring Is In The Air!

Spring is in the air! And with springtime that means new schedules are on the way. The spring schedule changes enter effect tomorrow, so keep an eye out for the magenta colored schedule cards.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Now I'm Getting Scared

Last week it was announced that MBTA riders may face a "hefty" fare increase and substantial service cuts if the T's troubled finances are not dealt with soon. With about $444,000,000 of the FY2008 budget being spent on debt payments, one must ask: Debt relief, anyone?

This news is eerily similar to the MBTA 1981 budget crisis. A subsequent reduction in service (plus a fare increase) went into effect, with Sunday service being hit especially hard. Several subway stations were closed entirely on Sundays (with shuttle bus replacement) and the span of service was cut back (Subway service ended at 10PM, buses at 7). Things now are not looking that bad...yet. Hopefully, the state will take a new approach to financing transportation in Massachusetts.

The MBTA is only the latest incarnation of a perennial problem affecting Boston's transit systems. Every transit system in the Greater Boston area has been through a similar cycle of increasing financial woes and debt; the West End Street Railway in the 1880s and 1890s, the Boston Elevated Railway Company in the late 1940s (ridership and revenues were also down before the war), the MTA picking up the tab on the BERy Co. debt, and now the T. Each time, the subsequent agency rose from the ashes of the previous one. If MassTrans is ever created, will it only collapse after 40 or 50 years?

Let's hope history does not repeat itself.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I Spy

It appears Big Brother rides the Orange Line:

Camera On Car 1246.

I have heard that 1214 also has them installed. In addition, several more NABI's also now have cameras.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Heat Wave

Heat lamps!

Lately, I have noticed that a few Wall USA shelters have had these installed. Well done, MBTA! Also, my rides on the Silver Line have been much more comfortable thanks to bus 1017 (now my most favorite bus at Southampton). I have gotten this bus twice this week and the heat is perfect.

Car 1296, however, was an icebox. On one of the coldest days of the year the AC was on. The passengers could actually see their breath!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Oh No You Didn't

Double parking along the Silver Line is one thing, but to do so on the wrong side of the street...

Of course, passengers had to board the bus in the street. Any idea where the Transit Police were?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Route 111.6

Route 111.6 Haymarket Station - Washington Avenue @ Revere Beach Parkway

This route variation only operates inbound trips to Haymarket during the morning rush hour. Outbound trips are rarely (if ever) operated. To keep two buses from bunching near Woodlawn, the official had this bus turn back at Revere Beach Parkway.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Final Ride

On December 26, I rode the final trip of Route 195. The route certainly went out in style, with record high ridership. The driver was a bit "camera shy", so I was only able to take one photo at the very end. But I'll make it up to you all with some Route 277 action shots.

I have decided to present my account as an "annotated load profile"...

Lemuel Shattuck Shelter: + 11 Passengers

I had arrived at the Shattuck Shelter at about 7:50AM. The clocks at Forest Hills were running ten minutes fast, and worried that I would miss the bus, I ran as fast I could to the Shattuck. Outside the shelter were a few people waiting for the 195. One man told me that when the first bus arrived (the Route 277 trip), the shelter staff told everyone that this would be the only bus today. Naturally, everyone grabbed their belongings and rushed out to catch it. A few minutes after I arrived, NABI #2069 pulled up to the stop and signed up "195 DOWNTOWN EXPRESS".
I informed the driver, much to his surprise, that he would be the last driver to ever operate the 195. Then we were off!

Blue Hill Avenue @ Ellington Street: + 1 Passenger

We actually stopped to pick up someone! And she used her LinkPass in the farebox! Often the farebox is shut off on the 195, as the only riders (aside from an occasional railfan) are homeless and would not have the money to pay the fare. The 195 also does not usually stop to pick up people on the street, as it runs express (via local streets) to Park Street Station.

Roxbury Crossing: - 1 Passenger

The passenger we picked up at Ellington Street went on her way.

Tremont Street @ Massachusetts Avenue: - 3 Passengers, + 2 Passengers

Several of the shelter patrons had appointments at the Boston Medical Center and changed here for the 1. We also picked up two people who found the 43 to be a little slow that morning.

Tremont Street @ West Concord Street: + 1 Passenger
Tremont Street @ West Brookline Street: + 1 Passenger
Tremont Street @ West Dedham Street: + 1 Passenger, - 1 Passenger

More Route 43 riders...

Tremont Street @ Arlington Street: + 1 Passenger, - 1 Passenger
Eliot Norton Park: - 1 Passenger
Park Plaza: + 1 Passenger, - 1 Passenger
State House: - 3 Passengers

Same as above...

Park Street Station: - 7 Passengers

The final stop, quite literally. We pulled up by the Park Street headhouses and everyone got off the bus. Citing the historical significance of this trip, I convinced the driver to let me take one picture. After this, he was off to Ashmont for some mid-morning 26's. And, alas, the 195 joined the other discontinued routes of ages past...

That last part was a bit dramatic, I know.

Total Passengers (Myself not included): 19 Passengers - An all time high!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

One Year Later...

No Free Transfer is now a year old! Here's for another year of exciting transit news!