Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Train Mon! Welcomes the Competition: A Fresh Face in the Age-Old Bus Debate

After months of trying to break my hiatus from blogging that coincidentally started around the same time that BadTransit started its indefinite "siesta" and the Charlie on the MBTA blog scandal started, I've finally done it! After letting months of good material slip by, from the shipment delays of the new Blue Line cars to the again-shutdown of the surface portions of the D Line to the MBTA Rider's Union Annual Report to my favorite Mayor's insane idea to move Boston City Hall to the public transit-ghost town known as the Seaport District, I finally got inspiration to start--and finish--my latest rant: an article sent to me by a friend and a recent experience I'll simply call "1019 and 1044"--yes, you can weather the suspense of the latter.

Let's start with said article in the Boston Herald, West Roxbury Teen Gets to Route of T Troubles. The implication, at least as my friend got across to me, was that I have "competition": while I sit here, a lifelong public transit advocate and industry insider, currently employed in the training & safety aspect of the field , I have been "one-upped" by a kid ten years my younger who has more knowledge of MBTA bus routes than I'll ever care to know and already has MBTA General Manager Dan Grabauskas's ear-- and eyes--after a professional presentation at a reach-out-the-public meeting, so much so that Mr. GM has his top managers listening to his ideas... and actually taking notes.

Bring it on, Stuart Spina.

Personally I'm happy for the Westie protagonist. Without trying to sound my usual sarcastic, I applaud his ability to stay above the cynicism, tirades, and, yes, sarcasm, that myself and dozens of other bloggers big and small have reduced ourselves to towards the MBTA and other perspective-to-their-areas ill-run transit agencies across the nation. However, I don't agree with his seemingly strictly bus-approach to a system that, contrary to Grabauskas who's lately been putting almost all his chips in the the bus half of things, does have a potentially great rail half. But that's another story; let me finally end the suspense of the second half of the story for this rant, "1019 and 1044."

1019 and 1044 are my short answer to the reason why approximately MBTA Riders' Union Annual Report that approximately 75% of Greater Bostonians are fed up with the MBTA bus system; how I spotted them in the first place places me in that 75%: I was driving over to my parents' this past Sunday evening. Why was I driving--because the weakest link in a transit trip across town is the 93--a bus that boasts one of the highest frequencies in the system: 4-10 minutes, during weekdays, and 20-30 minutes on weekend days, but drops off daily to every 40-60 minutes after hours. 40-60 minutes is unacceptable, and so is the 12-minute walk in the blistering heat to and from Sullivan Square Station, thus I drive it. As I approached Brigham Circle on Huntington Avenue, I noticed 1019 and 1044 both leaving the stop. 1019 and 1044, if you haven't looked them up yet or deduced by now, are two "articulateds" on Route 39. You see, seeing two back-to-back 60' buses brought back years of living in Mission Hill and riding that route and the E Line and wondering why buses, and trolleys, always run in pairs. Now, I've been in the industry too long to not know the myriad of factors that go into why buses, and trains, get backed up to the point where they're tailing one another when they're supposed to be anywhere from 2-20 minutes apart, but the question remains why?

Why in a system that has spend millions of dollars in improvements, including everything from GPS to brand new equipment to more, and better, training of inspectors to monitoring route traffic, do two buses run tandem... on a Sunday? Does it really take Spina's best-pressed clothes and formal report--and uncanny knowledge route knowledge--to get Grabauskas's attention and make him realize that "maybe something's wrong"? Or is Spina just the latest spin, if you will, on the same argument that years-long residents of the City of Boston, like my parents and neighbors, have been saying for years: if the T really cared about the community, if the people who ran the company actually used the system, the system would be better? Years ago, while waiting for a 39 bus back to Mission Hill from Back Bay on a nondescript weekend day with my mother and sister (after they let me do some train watching in the station, of course), I distinctly remember my mother asking a inspector standing in the horseshoe area both why the buses were bunching up at the station and going out of service (about four had pulled in, none had left in about 20 minutes) and how often he or the other bus operators actually rode the system. In a brief, but amiable conversation, the inspector admitted that neither he nor most of the other inspectors or B/O's rode the system often, if at all, and that therefore, it did play a factor in level of care towards the passengers as far as making sure that service leaves on-time--probably the most honest answer I've ever heard out of an MBTA employee.

So, Coca-Cola make good product because employees actually drink it and Nike makes good product because employees actually wear it... and the MBTA will be good once employees actually use the system?! What a concept! Unfortunately, we're going to be waiting a while for Spina to run things. In the meantime...

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