Charlie on the MBTA

This post will probably be of interest only to my fellow Bostonians. It’s a blog called Charlie on the MBTA which focuses on the new Charlie system that is now being used for mass transit in Boston. The Charlie reference was taken from a folk song called “Charlie on the MTA” which was about a person named Charlie trapped in the Boston subway because he can’t pay his fare to exit. The MBTA saw this as a positive and named the whole damn system after him.

Here is a letter published on Charlie on the MBTA from a T worker about the failings of the new system:

Hi Charlie

I am writing because of your post that things seem to be getting better with the Charlie Cards. I feel compelled to tell you that is not the case.

I am currently stationed at Porter Square as a “T Ambassador”, the T’s Madison Avenue way of describing a customer service representative. After working many years behind bullet proof glass I have come to enjoy interacting with customers and enjoy my job. Our complaint is we are getting virtually no help from T officials’ downtown. They want the public to believe the system is working flawlessly and I must tell you it is not.

Since the weather got colder in the past couple of weeks the machinery has not been working properly. Yesterday morning we must have admitted over 40 people with Monthly passes that the turnstiles refused saying their pass had already been used.
We also have been having problems with gates that deduct fares and then will not open.

The ticket machines have been a nightmare. While they don’t malfunction the way the turnstiles have they are very confusing for customers to purchase tickets. I have a stack of unused railroad tickets that passengers have bought in error. We let the people in after they have bought the wrong ticket but our lives would be so must easier if we could correct errors like this on the spot but the T will not allow that. We also have been seeing many passengers throwing away tickets that still have value on them. Over the weekend I collected about 25 discarded tickets and about half of them still had value remaining from amounts raging from 30 cents to eight dollars.

We try to intercept passengers using machines for the first time and offer them a Charlie Card but when the station is busy that is next to impossible. It is especially chaotic when the railroad arrives upstairs and we can have 300 people entering at once. Many are day trippers to Boston and have no idea how the new system works and wind up making mistakes that we can’t fix. Customers then get angry at us and I can’t really blame them.

Then we have customers that do have a Charlie Card who want to buy either a one week or one day pass and the machines instead of putting the pass on the Charlie Card issues a Charlie Ticket and passengers then say why do I need this dumb card? All I can say to them is that is what the marketing department of the T wanted.

You mentioned that the ticket machines don’t tell passengers how much a ride is and wonder why there are no signs on the machines. Again this was not something that was overlooked by the T but done by design. They do not want people buying single ride tickets and designed it so it appears the cheapest ticket available is $5. I had a suit from downtown upset that we had put up hand written signs informing passengers of the fare amount. They have at least responded to another concern we had and now have stickers on the machine telling customers how to insert a credit card.

What infuriates me and my co-workers is the T’s Sgt. Schultz approach that all is well with the new equipment and for the workers not to speak up about what is going on. We are not allowed to talk to reporters but must refer them to some guy named Joe downtown. When the system was first introduced we had reporters from the Cambridge Chronicle and Somerville Journal asking us questions and we are forbidden to respond if they say they are a reporter.

I have become a coffee buddy with a guy that works for the company that built the machines out in Burlington as he has spent a lot of time at our station. He gripes he is spending too much time going out to Logan to get spare parts from Germany for machines that are only a few months old. He told me that the design choices made in Europe sometimes leaves him scratching his head.

The main reason I wrote this message is the hope that somebody at T headquarters reads it and decides to actually do something. I want nothing more than for Dan Grabauskas to come to our station during rush hour by himself and see first hand the mess this system is. We have called and asked his office for him to come and have been rebuffed. But we shouldn’t be surprised by this as the running joke with T employees is “The people who run the T have never taken it in their lives.”

Thank You for a place I could vent.

A “T” Ambassador