Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Hot and Crowded as Hell

This week's "Starts & Stops" column breaks the news of hot cars on the Commuter Rail and people not paying fares on the Green Line. I nearly dropped my coffee when I read these startling accounts.

First up is the news that MBCR plans to finally do something about its notoriously-malfunctioning heating, air conditioning and circulation systems on Commuter Rail cars. For the first time in over ten years the full fleet will get a full makeover, which will also include better training for mechanics to (ideally) prevent "hot cars" from plaguing the system during the summer. The price of a more tolerable commute? Over $1 Million. I suppose it's the price we pay for comfort.

Next up is a scene anyone who has set foot on a Green Line car ever is familiar with - the free ride vs. on time service conundrum. On one hand, we have the revenue department and fare-paying passengers, who would like to see every last little sneak pay their fare at every station along the crowded and delay-plagued trolley lines. On the other hand, those on board who have somewhere to be (or don't like sitting or standing in a hot, crowded trolley for an hour), or the operator who'd like to actually complete a trip on time, often like to open all doors and waive fares when the platform is packed from end-to-end.

Stations once notorious for such activity, like Prudential and Lechmere, have eliminated the practice thanks to AFC gates. Now it's the street-level stops that bear the brunt of this issue, and its something that has become even worse with AFC and the implementation of outbound fares on the street. Quite often, operators will still open all doors on the outbound trips, merely suggesting that everyone pay their fare over the PA system. Few people ever do.

So what can be done about Green Line overcrowding? Not a whole lot. At stations like Longwood Medical Area, when Boston Latin gets out, or Fenway, when a Sox game is over, crowds will always fill the small platforms, and collecting fares from everyone would not only be a grueling hours-long process, it would pose a safety hazard. Center-of-street stops like Longwood Medical Area have no room for long lines to wind off the platform, and busy ones like Fenway would become unruly and breed crime or violence.

The unfortunate solution to this problem is a "more of the same" approach. Though new portable card=tapping devices do help in moderately crowded situations, a packed to the gills platform will remain so until a train comes to gobble up the people on it, and this can only be effectively done by opening all doors and eating the unpaid fares of the non-passholding passengers.


Boston Globe Photo
I'd also like to welcome TH's own Charleston "CS" Sargeant to the CharlieBlog. He and Ron Newman will be contributing to the blog with me, hopefully making this a current and interesting blog!


K. M. said...

With a real "proof of payment" system, and inspectors with handheld validators, the T could make its way randomly through trains checking. This would help ensure at least some people would pay/have their Charlie Cards debited, and encourage people to try to pay.

It's too bad, really. Doesn't seem like they thought that far ahead when they were designing the system.

MTD said...

The T did have inspectors with handheld validators go inside trains checking passengers, but I believe that was struck down after the first day of the fare increase this year due to complaints that the inspectors were first checking passengers who were inside the train at the first outbound surface stop! (I guess the concept of "paid fare lobby in a subway station" doesn't apply anymore?) I have yet to see an inspector with a validator ever go inside a train since.

Mike Prescott said...

The first time I encountered a validator was when they were busing between Riverside and Reservoir several weeks ago. Upon trying to board the train at Reservoir, they were making sure everyone paid their fare. This is what should be done, but that particular situation, historically, usually means a free ride for those inconvenienced (though such practices are becoming much more rare of late).


MTD said...

The validators should be positioned just outside the open doors. IMO they should never enter the train at all. They must go by the assumption everybody already onboard paid their fare. Otherwise doing it randomly inside through the train is a recipe for not only arguments with passengers who have paid, but also they are obviously wasting time and holding up the T schedule.

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