Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Zone 1A: Read the Fine Print, Do the Detective Work

By now, after reading a few other's blogs, it seems those chosen few savvy of us, such as myself, who live in the inner-city and inner-suburbs and regularly chose to beat the "rapid" transit bus and subway system by taking the Commuter Rail have come to the realization that, once January hits, the newly minted "Monthly Zone 1A Pass," not a CharlieCard loaded with the "Monthly LinkPass" will be the way to go. This is especially a concern for those of us who get our passes, way a gracious discount, through our prospective employers and have only another week or so to make sure we're getting the right pass for next month. An e-mail I sent to "Team Charlie," teamcharlie@mbta.com, about this concern and that has yet to be answered despite the MBTA's new "Driven by Customer Service" motto, sums up the problem:

"To Whom it May Concern:
I would like to propose and interesting problem for you. I live near Chelsea Station (Newburyport/Rockport Lines), which is Zone 1A and for which I currently use my Monthly Combo Pass. When the CharlieCard comes out, and I get my first CharlieCard next month through my employer, I therefore am going to load it as a Monthly LinkPass. The LinkPass, as the new Subway/Combo/Combo+, will therefore still be good on the Commuter Rail thru Zone 1A. However, until the conductors' scanners come out, how will the conductors know whether my CharlieCard has been loaded as a Monthly LinkPass or as a Monthly Local Bus, which doesn't cover Zone1A, because they look exactly the same? Thanks for your time and consideration."

Yes, I did bold the "exactly the same." Maybe that upset somebody at the T--they did get back to me about the Green Line thing. Anyway, the two-fold answer to my question is that A. the conductors won't know the difference and therefore B. the MBTA has come out with a separate-but-equal pass known as... drum roll please... the Zone 1A. Of course, Train Mon does his Transit Detective Work before he makes irrational decisions and winds up "faring" badly--the question is how come the MBTA doesn't make difference in coverage between the same-priced LinkPass and Zone 1A more explicit on the website? So, for you not-so-savvy-people, I'm going to take you step-by-step through the website just to show you how to sort through the rhetoric and decide that the Zone 1A Pass reigns supreme over the LinkPass:

Step 1: Click on gloating MBTA New/Events link. Cut to picture of MBTA General Manager Dan Grabauskas actually standing in a subway stop (and without bodyguards, is he sure?!) handing out and hooting and hollering about the new CharlieCards. Read article; note how, for the billionth time the T swears "CharlieTickets aren't the same as "CharlieCards." Laugh, because they left out the fine print: unless you're riding the Commuter Rail. Let Train Mon rephrase: a montly Commuter Rail (Zone 1A-8) CharlieTicket is not the same as a pay-per-ride CharlieTicket, but is the same as a CharlieCard, with respect to surcharges (there are none)--the only difference, save for the coverage area, is the proximity effect. Wow.

Step 2: Navigate your way to the 2007 Fare Increase Information Page. Note, that the per-ride and monthly fares for the LinkPass and the Zone 1A Pass are... exactly the same. What the...?! Scratch head, think--hmmm--maybe Zone 1A Pass is better because I can actually do everything I can with the LinkPass and will be able to continue riding the Commuter Rail through Zone 1A for the same cost. So therefore why the heck would I get the LinkPass... oh yeah, because, with the proximity feature it's faster. Sorry, I think I'll take coverage over speed--especially when we're talking about 3/10 second. Which begs Step 3:

Step 3: How the heck to determine which Commuter Rail station is covered by which Zone, especially with the new zoning for inner-city and inner-suburban stations. Let's start with the Commuter rail Fares Page. All this page does is list the current fares. But we are getting somewhere. Note under "Standard Fare" a disorganized list of current Zone 1A and Zone 1B stations, including mine, Chelsea. Great--except I need to know specifically if it's Zone 1A or 1B! And what about the other eight Zones?! The T doesn't even bother listing them here. I mean they could at least insult your intelligence by saying "and here's a laundry list of all the stations in Zones 1-8" and then proceed, in no rhyme or reason of order to list all the out-suburban station. Moving on, I click the Commuter Rail Schedule Page, because perhaps this page can help me find the Zone number. Once, there, good thing I'm young and can read the this clickable, distorted .gif image. Note that "River Works" on the Newburyport/Rockport Line still hasn't been put in. I click on the line and--whoa--go straight to a page specifially for the Newburyport/Rockport Line where there's an outline of just that Line, with almost every stop and it's Zone number--that is, every stop except, again, River Works. To find the Zone for River Works, FYI, find it in the scrolling menu, highlight it, and click for "Station, Parking and Fare Info," which brings up this page. Scroll to the bottom and find out that the "Fare/Zone" for Riverworks is Zone 2. Now, I really don't care too much about a stop that only GE plant employees can get on or off at--I'm making point--if it's a stop, it's a stop and should be on the maps. It's just south of Lynn and should be put in a such. But then again, we're talking about a company which can't make a complete subway map. Furthermore, on a Commuter Rail map near the old Track 1 entrance at North Station, somebody drew in "Rowley" and "Newburyport" as well because the T didn't bother to update (the line used to terminate at Ipswich). The map may have changed since--I'm usually going through there in too much of a hurry either running to a Commuter Rail train or the Orange Line to notice. Getting back off that tangent we've completed Step 2--determining that Chelsea Station is Zone 1B. At least Chelsea gets some recognition.

Step 4: But if Chelsea is Zone 1B, why isn't there a Zone 1B Pass being created? Ah, the fine print. We go back to the 2007 Fare Info Page. It's not here, but the link is--FAQ's. Here's what we're looking for--Chelsea and all the rest of the Zone 1B stations are lumped in Zone 1A. So a few dozen clicks later I've gotten all the info we need to make an educated decision as towhich pass to get through my employer next month.

The End Result: Combining the 4 steps, we've determined that Chelsea, being a Zone 1A stop next month, will use the Zone 1A Pass only, although, by default, it should be good on the LinkPass since they have the same coverage. So... get the Zone 1A Pass, everyone! You get all the benefits of the entire Rapid Transit system, plus all the Zone 1A and former Zone 1B stops that are now Zone 1A... and all your sacrifice, at least until the summer when the Commuter Rail conductors get scanners and start allowing the CharlieCard, is no proximity feature. If it sounds like my steps were more than childish, consider that I was doing it for the benefit of, again, those less savvy who are getting tripped up by all the changeover of passes and might, one day, decide to use the Commuter Rail instead of "Rapid" Transit only to learn that the LinkPass is currently useless on it. Let's not even talk about visitors...

Speaking of the "Rapid" Transit system and new passes, let's talk about another anomaly: since the entire "Rapid" Transit system is now covered by the LinkPass, and the Zone 1A and the LinkPass are now equivalent... why isn't Braintree Commuter Rail Stop included in Zone 1A, as opposed to its former Zone 1 since you will be able to get to Braintree and back on the LinkPass? The answer, although it's not really an answer but an excuse, is that Braintree Commuter Rail Stop was never even a "Combo +" stop--it was always "Zone 1," irrespective of the fact that it shares the exact same station complex with the Red Line. Let me rephrase that: the exact same station on the Red Line as it is on the Commuter Rail requires a higher fare--because it has a higher Zone number--than the Red Line. So, the new LinkPass combines Subway through Combo+ Passes... Braintree included, Braintree Commuter Rail Stop not included. Stupid. Enough said.


At 12/05/2006 10:56:00 PM, Blogger Kris said...

hmmm.... if i have a link pass, will I be able to get a free zone 1A ticket from the north or south station ticket window?

it is absurd that one should have to sacrifice either the convenience of a charlie card or coverage of commuter rail. Can't there be two design schemes of Charlie Card? How about a sticker that you can put on it?

Is there a stated date that commuter rail will be up and running by? I would guess that it won't be for a lonnnnng time, probably until the new line is finished

At 12/06/2006 08:53:00 AM, Blogger Train Mon! said...

Kris, thanks for reading. Honestly, I think all of us who use the Commuter Rail would like the immediate convenience of the CharlieCard and to simply put a sticker on it denoting the Zone that it is "loaded" for. Alas, we're talking about a level of sophistication--a special sticker--that, as well all know and love to T not not have, won't be happening. The Zone 1A card was created for the expressed purpose of the T realizing that it did not have an across-the-board implementation of the CharlieCard, i.e. leaving out the entire Commuter Rail network and therefore will be offering Zone 1A Passes to commuters such as you and I who wish to continue riding the Commuter Rail through Zone 1A. Long-story-short, anyone and everyone who rides the Commuter Rail is just going to have to wait and continue to buy monthly "CharlieTickets" with Zone designations. Until when... I'm only taking from what the media has been rumoring--that the conductors *should* have scanners to read CharlieCards by the Summer of next year. Given the no-rhyme-or-reason implementation of the new "magic" gates at stations--which as yet to be completed at all stations that currently have turnstiles--and implementation of the gargantuan fareboxes on the buses and trolleys, we may be in for the same with implementation of the scanners on the Commuter Rail, especially given the fact that the Commuter Rail is run through Mass. Bay Commuter Rail (MBCR), which has proven itself to, at times, not be perfectly in-step with the ideals and philosophies of the main MBTA.
As far as your other question, it's not out of the question, but in my opinion--if you value it--I doubt you'd be able to buy a single CharlieTicket using your CharlieCard because that would require the ticket grunts to have scanners which could read your CharlieCard and determine that it's a LinkPass/Zone 1A--again we're talking about a level of sophistication not out of reach, but also not that the T, and MBCR, will probably want to take on. The tradeoff: once the Commuter Rail is proud "up to speed" with the CharlieCard, those Zone 1A Passes will be limited-edition keepsakes--all the other Zone/Interzone Passes have already existed, whereas the Zone 1A's will exist specifically and only during this transition period.

At 6/20/2011 03:47:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is now 4 1/2 years post Charlie Card and the commuter rail shows NO sign of being ready to implement card readers on the trains. None!

MBTA site says "...currently at the planning stage..." Ha! Good one.

Someone should start an over/under on the implementation date for that. I'll put my money on 2014.


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