Wednesday, November 22, 2006

MBTA proposes $334 million just to keep things rolling "as is"

It's finally here! That is, the MBTA's capital spending plan for 2007-2008 as outlined in detail by this Boston Globe article. So here's my reaction:

I don't doubt that any of the proposed spending should in any way be changed or altered, nor am I going to write about how the proposed fare increases aren't going to good causes--in my longest rant to date, I'm going to spend considerable time nitpicking at projects the MBTA has taken on so far that definitely either weren't worth it at all or could've cost millions less, some that I've already ranted about, some that I've barely touched on. So let's dig in.

A. The Silver Line.
Verdict: Over half of the millions spent on it to date has been a complete waste.
Why:
1. Pricey, "modern" looking bus shelters that are about as effective at keeping out the wind, rain and snow as an inverted umbrella... because that's exactly what the "bus shelters" look like.
2. Articulate buses: Surprise surprise after years of fanfare and rhetoric, all the Washington Street Silver Line is is a fancy, updated version of... Route 49! If the 49 could do it with 40' buses then the Silver Line can do it to. Any articulated buses on the Washington Street Silver Line should be redeployed on some of the system's heaviest routes such as the 66 and 111 which currently use nothing but 40'-ers that are regularly brimming with people. Read: nobody likes standing in the bus stepwells all the way from Bellingham Square to North Station or Union Square/Allston to Brigham Circle. The same thing goes for the Seaport/Southie/Logan Airport Silver Lines (SL1-3)--you could run these lines with vans even during weekday rush hour--the only exception being today, it being the heaviest travel day to/from Logran Airport. The dual fossil fuel/catenary buses would work wonders on the 71, 72 and 73--heavy routes that could utilize either, the fossil fuel part especially when detours are in effect or the catenary is down or being repaired.
3. Exact departure/arrival times: If they haven't worked on the Commuter Rail for years, who, in their right mind (or left) thought they would work on the Silver Line?! I mean, sure, you get approximate times sometimes--the rest of the time you're guessing. I think the MBTA's Trip Planning system is good enough. Plus, it's big city public transit: you should be able to go out to your average bus or train stop and wait less than 20 minutes for a bus or train day or night (except between 12:30 and 4:45 am when the T is doing "repairs').
4. Connectivity: Board the SL1, 2 or 3 underground, pay the subway fare. Board it above-ground, pay the subway fare. Only problem: it's not subway. It doesn't really integrate into the subway, merely offering a pay-again transfer at South Station to the Red Line. You might as well be boarding a Commuter Rail train or Amtrak. It could've been built underneath and along Southie/the Seaport District as a light rail line, which transferred to/from bus just before the Ted Williams Tunnel. But no--it's just a ridiculously long, and ridiculously slow, busway. So let's recap: pricey underground tunnels which don't connect with any part of the MBTA Rapid Transit System and should be carrying trains, not buses through them.
But that's only half of it. Add to it the fact that there is no connection between SL1-3 and the Washington Street SL and you begin to wonder who was smoking what when it was hinted at that a ride from Roxbury to Southie and vice-versa could once again be a near-seamless ride like it was back when the Old Orange Line was running. Oh well.

B. New fareboxes
Verdict: I think I've already beat this issue into the ground. Money very ill-spent.
Why: They're monstrous(ly slow). And the T continues to a crap-job of implementing them.
1. Vehicle fareboxes: Just about all the bus routes have them now; the trolleys will have them shortly. That's bad news for the trolleys considering they're already doubling or tripling boarding times, unless the operator uses common sense and just starts waving people with passes on by--the trolleys are slow enough (oh wait--capital spending improvements are coming--we're all going to save a whopping 3-6 minutes with new ties and upgraded signals). A B/O I rode with on the 111 yesterday even joked with passengers to "iron their dollar bills." When the CharlieCard comes out next year, sure, we'll all think it's great to just wave proxy cards at these gigargundous boxes and walk on by. But that still won't stop those who insist on paying by-the-fare. The only upside is, at $1.25, the T will finally be using a nice number that won't make these idiots t feel like you're being ripped off every time you shove $1.00 in a box for the $.90 fare, like putting a second stamp on an envelope because it's one gram over the one-stamp weight limit. We're still going to have to wait for them to fish their money out while they're standing at the farebox, holding up the line.
2. Station fareboxes: Enough can't be said about the "magic gates" which take forever and day to open and then stay open long enough to get the entire family you've invited over for Thanksgiving through. In short, they slow down commuters and they make it easier to go through... unless of course there are no less than two station attendants and two Transit Police officers sucking down doughnuts and sipping coffee, watching everybody go through. Which brings up point C:

C. Transit Police
Verdict: Worth (almost) every penny, but misdeployed and misguided.
Why: Changing the name from "MBTA Police" to "Transit Police" isn't enough to actually get the job done... effectively.
1. In the rapid transit stations: As mentioned in B. 2., with at least one station attendant on duty, that should be enough to deter people from taking advantage of the obvious flaw in the system: unlike turnstiles, aside from an annoying buzzing, they allow unpaid travel once they open for a little over 3 seconds. You don't need one cop; you don't need two; you don't even need more than one station attendant. If a cop wants to be on patrol at the station, that's one thing. But doing the same job the station attendant, or two, is already doing--waste of time and manpower.
2. On the road: "Transit Police" means just that: Transit. Not "let's pull people over on the everything from the MassPike to I-93 to local roads" Police. In Somerville, for example I've seen more people pulled over by the "Transit Police" for traffic violations that Boston Police should be taken care of. Yet, if cars accidentally, or purposely, drive through the Sullivan Square Busway, a $500 fine, they go through--guess what--uninhibited. Somehow the Transit Police seem to have an inferiority complex they feel the need to overcompensate for and have begun pulling people over on every stretch of Eastern Massachusetts except MBTA property. I'll give 'em the fact that they work for the state, but c'mon. Get out of your cars and into the stations and onto the trains and buses where we need you--don't give Mayor "Mumbles" Menino the idea that he doesn't need to close a deficit of over 100 Boston Police officers because the Transit Police are assisting them. That's goes doubly for traffic details, even if they are on MBTA property. It doesn't take a BPD Officer, a Transit Police Officer and a State Trooper to work the same detail--and yes I'm talking to you guys at Charles Circle for the Charles/MGH "Rehab Project." Which brings up point D:

D. "Rehabilitation" Projects
Verdict: Less on aesthetics, more on praticality--could've saved millions!
Why:
1. Charles/MGH Station: Years behind schedule, overbudget to the point that so much money has been spent on the new fancy glass panelling and new stairways and elevators to the replace the old-but-functional ones that there isn't enough money left over to build back the pedestrian bridge taken down for the building to commence. Great. Plus, the station, if and when it is truly complete, will be in sharp contrast to the crumbling Longfellow Bridge the Red Line trains rumble over at a whopping 40 mph, if that. Where's Mitt Romney's with his "Stem-to-Stern" review of that?!
2. Science Park Station: Somehow connecting the Green Line tracks to the now-underground routing towards North Station had something to do with why the pedestrain bridge there has also disappeared--and won't be back because it's not "in the budget." To be fair, proponents of not putting either pedestrian bridge back aren't just MBTA auditors, but also certain pedestrian groups who would rather tie up the already hectic, unsynchronized Boston traffic flow to have people cross the street rather than walk by, more safely, overhead.
3. North Station Rapid Transit Complex: How it should've been built: Outbound Orange Line-- Outbound Green Line--Inbound Green Line--Inbound Orange Line, with the Green Line as it is at Park Street so that you can walk right across the tracks. How it was actually built: The OB Orange Line completely sectioned off on a far platfrom; the IB Green and Orange Lines are connected by a ridiculously wide platform; the Outbound Green Line has an entire level all to itself. I can't say "wasted space" and "inefficient use of space" enough. My version allows seemless connection no matter how matter how you want to trasfer. The actual version: umm, yeah, you walk and walk and might make a transfer from an IB Green Line to an OB Orange Line or an IB Orange Line to an OB Green Line; of course in a "feasability" study these were probably deemed "not very common transfers." Add to all this the fact that the only Green Line trains going to Lechmore right now are E trains--"E" being the stepchild of the Green Line.
4. North Station Commuter Rail Station: What the HECK are they doing--covering the tracks to make more waiting room--who knows (that is it, I'm just ranting)?! It's just that it's taking forever (surprise surprise). And why, for off-peak trains and weekend trains does the MBCR insist on the rule that the last two or three cars be off and everybody walk all the way up the platform to the first two or three?! I'm no "expert," but doesn' the reverse make more sense--and actually allow trains to leave on time with respect to stragglers not having to run all the way up the platform before the train leaves? This project isn't really overbudget, just late (as usual), and really should be it's own rant. But I felt I'd throw it in.

Happy Thanksgiving to all! -TM

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