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October 8th, 2007


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11:13 am - Rollerskating down Storrow during rush hour would be safer
There are stories that just piss you off the longer you think about them, and one of the latest displays of the MBTA's ineptitude is just such a story. The story involves last Friday, a disastrous day for the T when first a disabled train on the Orange Line near Chinatown caused horrendous commuter delays in the morning, and a trash fire in the afternoon caused the Park Street station to be shut down at the height of afternoon rush. While investigating the fire, MBTA officials cut power to the third rail, stranding all the trains between JFK and Harvard Square.

Now these problems aren't all the express fault of the MBTA -- fires happen, trains can derail -- so that's not what's so annoying and infuriating about the story. The real problem lies in the T's response, or lack thereof, in the afternoon problem. In a situation like this, what does the T do for the passengers on the affected trains? Apparently nothing, because after being stuck for nearly an hour in a hot, crowded to the point of bursting Red Line train with no power, no A/C and a bunch of near-panicked middle school kids running out of air, one passenger reports that the folks stuck inside her train near Kendall actually forced open the doors and let themselves out. Upon reaching fresh air, they noticed another train stuck on the Longfellow Bridge whose passengers were similarly evacuating themselves. There was trouble on the bridge as passengers tried to keep the cars on the bridge at bay so the passengers could get off safely, too.

But where was the T? Were any announcements made? Was there any attempt made to reassure the passengers in the stuck trains? Did the drivers go from train to train telling folks it'd be all right, letting them know what happened, reassuring them that things were going to be fixed in due time? Did they even attempt to explain what was wrong, and when they might expect to be going?

Well? Did they?

Or did they just figure well, we'll just let the passengers sit in a darkened train for as long as it takes, they'll be fine, no need to tell them anything?

I don't know either way. Nobody blogging on the bloggity blog world said anything about hearing any announcements or instructions from MBTA officials, and all I could find on an official T response was a Globe article where Joey "The Mouthpiece" Pesaturo explained that an MBTA official was on the scene and that the evacuation was "unauthorized." Oh so there was at least an official on the scene. Did that official do anything official to help, or did they just sniff dismissively and make chiding "this was unauthorized!" prattling?

Take a look at the pictures on the page with the first-person account of the evacuations. Notice how people are helping their fellow passengers out. Notice how they're making sure everybody negotiates the way-too-high step off, using a fencepost for a foothold, notice how people are holding hands and providing assistance and, eventually, staving off the cars on the bridge who didn't seem to want to stop with a sudden influx of pedestrians on the road.

People were helping each other, making sure the people on their train first A. didn't panic in the hot and cramped compartments and B. made it off the train safely so they did not have to suffer any longer for, as far as they knew, was a wait for an indefinite amount of time.

What was the T doing? Judging from the pictures and the lack of any T employees involved in the evacs, not a whole damn lot.

This is just further evidence that the T treats its passengers as cargo -- freight cargo -- and not people. Freight doesn't care if it gets stuck in a boxcar for an hour or two. It doesn't complain or worry about lack of air or wonder what the hell's going on. Freight doesn't need to be told what's going on. All freight needs to do is sit there and eventually it'll start moving again, and it doesn't care either way, really.

People, on the other hand, well, people are sentient. People need to know what's going on -- even if it's "We're not sure what's happened" -- and they need to know that they're going to be okay. That's because they have brains that can rationalize and make cognitive brain thingies.

I can't say the same for the T.

Frankly I find it absolutely deplorable that the T ignored its stuck passengers to the point where the passengers felt like they had to evacuate the trains themselves. That is terrible customer service -- hell, it's not even service at all -- and staying in the trains could have posed a serious health problem if someone had panicked, or if someone had passed out, or otherwise required serious medical attention while stranded on the tracks, especially in the Kendall tunnel if there was no cellphone reception or any way to call for help.

So the next time Danny Boy Graubaskas pipes in on the station intercoms with his pre-recorded "it's your job to keep us safe from the terrists" announcement and begins his inane speech with the useless platitude "Safety is our number one concern at the T", if you hear someone in the station loudly coughing "BULLSHIT!" that person will probably be me. Because it's clearly obvious that's not the case. I wholeheartedly encourage you to join in on the coughing whenever you hear that.

(41 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:neddiheht
Date:October 8th, 2007 03:39 pm (UTC)
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I would send this in as a letter to the editor to a newspaper in the boston area you trust. I know you have a big friends list, but frankly more people should read this. The T needs to be held accountable - they are still selling a service.
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From:spwebdesign
Date:October 8th, 2007 03:49 pm (UTC)
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What can one do about it? That isn't meant as a cynical rhetorical question. I agree with you completely. Here in the UK folks could always boycott the Tube and take the buses, as they aren't the same company, but that's not the case in Boston. People need to get where they're going, so boycotting the T is not an option. What can one do?
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From:derspatchel
Date:October 8th, 2007 04:01 pm (UTC)
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Ride bike, walk, hitchhike, carpool, learn how to apparate (non-Muggles only.) I can't call a boycott. All I can do is point out to other people the serious problems that are plaguing the T, show how completely terrible this state-funded institution handles customer service, and wish it will rain beer.

I've come to expect shoddy service, delays galore and unresponsive officials from the MBTA. It's all we've got, and you have to learn how to work yourself around their piss-poor management.

But I was completely aghast to learn just exactly how they mistreated stranded passengers in the middle of a Friday rush hour, ignoring them to the point where the passengers needed to get off the train in the interests of their own safety -- and then declaring such a thing "unauthorized."

That's also rather insulting.

For the sake of corroboration and not just making men out of straw only to throw them underneath steel wheels, I'm trying to find any kind of reaction the T had towards these people stuck in the trains. I'd like to think they addressed the passengers and their problems somehow, but from the accounts found, I have found nothing that mentions anything the T did. And that's even more upsetting.
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From:gwynethfar
Date:October 8th, 2007 03:55 pm (UTC)
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I'm not at all surprised. I wasn't real impressed with the T. The trains never seemed to be on time and at North Station the line we were supposed to be getting on magically switched location about seven times. My husband said, "You know, if the guy who puts the information on the monitors doesn't have his [expletive deleted] together, how can we trust the guy who runs the trains?"
From:sarcasticah
Date:October 8th, 2007 03:57 pm (UTC)
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They weren't making any announcements at the stations either -- I can attest to that because I was at Alewife, waiting for Jeff, for an hour and a half. No announcements, no nothing. I was frantic by the time he finally got there, because I had no idea where he was, or if something had happened to him, and of course his cell phone had no signal under ground.
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From:derspatchel
Date:October 8th, 2007 05:09 pm (UTC)
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I used to work with a fellow who had this odd concept of not being able to think about others when it came to communication. The assumption was that if he'd heard about something, everybody else had. Naturally this led to a whole lotta communication problems.

I see the T thinking in a similar fashion ("We know about it, so everybody else must by this point too") though they must realize that they're the source of the information. It's so illogical, it hurts the mind.

Mind hurty!
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From:slit
Date:October 8th, 2007 04:19 pm (UTC)

me me me

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I tried to get on at Central at 6:00. It was already closed down by then. There were no shuttles, and all the buses were full. So were the cabs. ALL the cabs. People were lined up on the sidewalks trying to hail them. I managed to get a bus to Harvard around 7:00, and then waited there for another half hour, until the trains started running again. The last time I got stuck in something like this it was on the Green Line, near downtown, and they sent a bunch of shuttles. This time I didn't see any back-up service, and there were no announcements about anything. I'm just glad I wasn't one of the people stuck ON the train.
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From:bostonista
Date:October 8th, 2007 04:29 pm (UTC)
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Send this in the form of a letter to the Globe and the Herald. Figure out which reporters at either publication would be interested in raising a stink, and cc them as well. Go to the next public MBTA meeting and ask what the hell is going on.

By the way, did you know that there isn't a modern communications system on the T? There is no way to broadcast messages to all trains at once, for example. The command center (such as it is) can contact one train at a time. It's nuts.
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From:londo
Date:October 8th, 2007 11:53 pm (UTC)
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Even this bad, there's no need to go interacting with the Herald.

That stuff will get on you with its ickiness.
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From:ron_newman
Date:October 8th, 2007 04:39 pm (UTC)
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I think it was a trash fire on the tracks, not a fire in a trash can (which presumably wouldn't have required cutting electric power to the third rail).
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From:derspatchel
Date:October 8th, 2007 04:46 pm (UTC)
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Def. was a trash fire. Don't know where the 'can' came from there.
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From:ron_newman
Date:October 8th, 2007 06:58 pm (UTC)
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Lolita Parker Jr. was on one of those trains and took these photos. (Thanks, Bostonist.)
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From:derspatchel
Date:October 8th, 2007 07:13 pm (UTC)
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You mean the photos I linked to and mentioned in the post itself? ;)
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From:pushupstairs
Date:October 8th, 2007 07:07 pm (UTC)
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I had to deal with the Orange Line problems in the morning on friday. I got to Sullivan, a train arrived about 2 minutes later, everyone boarded.... and then it sat there for 10 minutes or so. Exactly once, one of the "conductors" (read: door openers) announced the train would be standing by. No reason given. The train got moving, gets to Community College.... sat for I honestly don't know how long. It had to be a minimum of 25 minutes, and quite possibly more. Three times a door-opener announced the train was standing by. Only by the time of the third announcement did I actually hear "due to a disabled train" after "this train will be standing by". She actually did go on to mention methods to get to various transfer points during this announcement, which was nice, as well as point out the shuttle bus service to replace the Orange Line from North Station to Back Bay.

When I got to North Station 99% of the people attempted to get on one Green Line train. 6 cars trying to squeeze into 2. I decided to walk, because the idea of trying to take a bus, on the street, at 8:30am from North Station to downtown seemed like the stupidest thing I had ever considered. I walked outside towards the southern end of the station in the direction of Haymarket. As I got outside, I noticed out of the corner of my eye, mostly hidden behind a building, a bus that said "BACK BAY" over near the new Greenway and the North End. No one was on the bus. In addition, not a single MBTA staffer was making any attempt to instruct people as to where the shuttle bus was, nor were they indeed even visible or present. I then walked to downtown. The shuttle bus went by as I got to Haymarket, with not a single passenger.

What strikes me again and again about the MBTA is how horribly they respond to less than absolutely perfect conditions. In the comments on that Universal Hub post about the problems, someone noted that the equipment that broke down and caused the problem did so at about 5:15. When I got to Sullivan Square at 7:50 or so, no announcement of any kind was made, nor was any made until I had already been standing in a car for at least 45 minutes and could barely feel my feet anymore.

As much as I heavily favor mass transit for everyone to use all the time, the MBTA makes me feel like I need to drive everywhere. I would drive to work if it wouldn't cost $30/day to park.


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From:citabria
Date:October 8th, 2007 11:20 pm (UTC)
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That's truly amazing.

Keep in mind, I say this as someone who handles cases for the NYCTA. I can tell you, without question, this would have been handled differently there. There would have been conductors making announcements, at the very least, and most likely helping people evacuate the trains.

Trash fires are a bitch, and can cause holy hell -- especially at rush hour. Having multiple trains stranded as a result isn't all that unusual either (I've handled cases arising from those situations, and have seen the incident reports). But not having a conductor (or train operator, if you only have one person on the train) make announcements to tell the passengers what's up? Even if it's just, "we know you're uncomfortable, but we don't have clearance to do anything right now. We'll let you know as soon as that changes."

Wow.
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From:derspatchel
Date:October 9th, 2007 01:17 pm (UTC)
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Are you ever right about NYC whupping the T up one wall and down the other when it comes to problem and response (and a wide variety of other things, too.) I was once stuck on an F train underneath Brooklyn for about an hour, and a conductor got on the PA at least every 5 minutes or so to provide us with updates or just an announcement when he had no more new developments to share. The situation wasn't any less annoying, but at least we had human contact with the Powers That Be, even if they were powerless to do anything at that time too.

Even though the Red Line trains had no third rail power, I am reasonably sure the end doors open just fine. A typical train is staffed by one driver and three conductors, each of whom is responsible for two cars. I cannot believe that it did not occur to any of them, unless it is expressly forbidden for them to leave their compartments except in An Actual Emergency, to step out and provide updates to the passengers. What did they do when they saw passengers actually forcing the doors open and getting out of the train? Did they even notice?!

(And even when there is power to the train, many of the cars' speakers are horribly out of whack, rendering PA announcements inaudible. There have been several times when I've been on a stranded train and PA announcements were made, but nobody could actually hear what was being said. We could hear some kind of tinny Charlie Brown's Teacher voice telling us something -- but whether they were telling us we'd be moving shortly, or that the train was going express someplace, or if we should get the hell out and run for our lives, who knew?)
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From:cursethedark
Date:October 8th, 2007 11:33 pm (UTC)
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...

All of a sudden, the idea of making my forthcoming trip to Boston a five-day vacation doesn't seem like such a good one.
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From:etherial
Date:October 9th, 2007 11:29 am (UTC)
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Thankyou for reminding me that government corruption is systematic and the only people you can trust are other people.
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From:aerynne
Date:October 9th, 2007 04:13 pm (UTC)
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I sat on the Harvard outbound platform for forty-five minutes on Friday night, starting around 8pm. No trains, no announcement that they were running late, and no service delay notification on the MBTA website. It was infuriating, but I guess I can count myself lucky that I was in a station and not actually on a train.
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From:bookwyrm
Date:October 9th, 2007 05:15 pm (UTC)
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I've taken to believing them that 'safety is our number one concern here at the T.' The thing is, they don't tell you whose safety. I think now it's pretty clear they're keeping themselves safe from all those potential terrists riding the train.
Safety is their number one concern. Since it certainly isn't service, reliability, or timeliness.
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From:iterum
Date:October 9th, 2007 06:19 pm (UTC)
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Seen from Rigel's journal -- wow. Just, wow.

On a purely selfish and personal note, my Friday ended with my commuter rail train home being canceled because of signal problems (first time that's ever happened in 10 years of commuter railing) -- I'm glad it didn't also involve this!

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