This has not been a stellar past few weeks for the MBTA. Actually, scratch that. There has never been a “stellar” week for the MBTA. The closest the MBTA can get to “stellar” is “relatively quiet” or “no one is currently being forced to evacute one of our services.”
But while the word “stellar” has certainly never been tweeted out from @MBTA_alerts, the snowstorms that have blanketed the northeast at the beginning 2015 have brought out the guttural, abysmal worst that Boston’s public transportation has to offer. The delays, the breakdowns, and full-out service stoppages have become more commonplace to city-goers than chairs left in cleared out street parking spots.
Is this God, derisively laughing at Boston’s Olympic Bid? Crying out “Look, you R-omitting morons: You can’t handle some snow, but you expect to deal with the incredible influx of the most annoying and drunk sports fans from every region of the world?”
Regardless of whether or not you believe it is due you blame a sometimes douchey dude in the sky, it has become readily apparent that there are a multitude of maladies infecting the T. Here are five of which that are particularly concerning to me:
- Trains breaking down because of “cold weather”
Oh- I’m sorry. Is it too cold for you to work today, Train? I’m not mad. Please, take the day off. Nothing is more important than comfort, after all. Perhaps, Train, you would be interested in a moist towelette with your sushi lunch? We can also set you up with a Swedish spa before your matinee as well.
It has never made sense to me that MBTA trains, which are supposed to do train things in Boston, can suddenly develop the work ethic of disgruntled Katherine Heigl when it’s below freezing and become immovable in cold weather. I realize that frigidness can affect machinery, and I’m not asking for a cold weather MVP the caliber of Tom Brady, but don’t give us Peyton Manning instead. (Zing!)
We live in Boston, which is part of the northeast, which is part north, meaning it can, from time to time, get chilly. If my Dodge can get me to work in the morning in January, then the MBTA should be able to figure out a way to get the huge lumbering vehicles responsible for the transportation of thousands to function whenever the temperature isn’t above 40.
2) Creepy-ass advertisements
The interior siding of MBTA trains reflects the advertising industry at its most ruthlessly opportunistic.
T commuters spend more time than they would like in this environment:
And on the off chance they dare look away from their phone, book, or sketchy old woman in the corner with a rotting TJ Maxx box, they are greeted by this:
It’s cruel. All advertisements on the T should be just like the new McDonald’s ad campaign: Happy, loving, completely devoid of social reality, and trying to sell you french fries.
The saddest part about the advertisements on the T is that they are a reflection of how the MBTA sees their riders. At some point they agreed with the companies pitching those ads that the cold, souless, and droning experience of riding the T did make sense for depression prevention campaigns.
I can see the meeting going something like this:
Depression Prevention Company: “We think our advertisements would be a perfect fit for the space inside your trains.”
MBTA: “Really? Why do you say that?”
DPC: “How would you feel if you had to ride on the back train of the B line everyday?”
MBTA: (Thinking) “Actually, we’ll sell you double the amount of placements.”
3) The Green Line Screech
You know what I’m talking about: The tunnel area between Kenmore and Government Center operated by banshees on their period. It is a sound echoed from the depths of hell, and it always surprises you just how long it lasts. During the first few seconds it is an annoyance on par with your office fire alarm; you want to cover your ears but your too MANLY to do that, and manliness always takes precedence over common sense. As it continues, digging into your brain like angry cicadas looking to breed, you begin to question your sanity. If being insane is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then try to explain to yourself why the hell didn’t you get off at Kenmore. You knew the screech was coming. You psychopath.
Scarier than the sound is what it represents: The violent breakdown of the very transportation system you find yourself on. Whatever the hell is causing the screech is beyond a little WD-40 fixeroo. It’s serious. We all know it’s serious, but we choose to ignore it. Ours won’t be the train that gets stuck down there, in the dark Boston sewers…
4) The barely contained rage of one T driver
Does anyone remember the viral YouTube series from about ten year ago, “Unforgivable?”
Some of you may have already noticed that this dude is now a T conductor. I had my first experience with him a few months back on the C line, and he was behind the idea of this entire post.
He doesn’t yell at any one person. Using the loudspeaker as his soapbox, he yells at everyone. Here are some examples of his rage-induced rants (emphasis is mine, and it’s not nearly big enough):
“Do not–and I mean DO NOT–EVER BLOCK THE DOORWAYS! EVER!”
“If you entered through a back door, please come up and pay…and I DON’T mean at the end of the ride, and I DON’T mean at your convenience, I’m talking about RIGHT NOW!”
“Keep the aisles open. AT ALL TIMES, or else you WILL be subject to EJECTION…”
Riders, including myself, were laughing at his ludicrously over-the-top threats, and perhaps he was joking. Perhaps he was exploiting our collective stereotypes of MBTA employees and our assumptions of their existential misery and frustration surrounding a life of riding underneath one tunnel just to get to another tunnel and then turning around to do it again. Perhaps the joke was really on us. If this is the case, then I applaud him, and someone should sign him to a comedy tour stat.
But the other scenario is that the dude is fucking miserable and filled with rage that he can only barely contain anymore, like the cover of a boiling pot water shaking with friction.
I don’t want to be there if and when it boils over.
5) The Orange Line.
You knew it was coming. The Orange Line is the Daniel Baldwin of the MBTA brethren: Old, obsolete, prone to suspicious activity, and you can tell it’s smelly from far away.
I will defer to the Orange Line’s Yelp page for further critique:
“It always smells like stale sewer gas and vomit on the Orange Line.” (This was an “updated review.” I wonder what it used to smell like.)
“I will never understand what the point of the time clocks are… Why have them if they mean literally nothing?”
“I sometimes wonder what hell is like until I realize it really can’t be worse than the orange line. I can run faster from malden to boston than the orange line can on a good day and I’m not an elite runner.”
“There should be a rating option of negative five million stars.”
“I’ve seen cockroaches only 3 times in my whole time riding the T. Can we talk about why all of them have been at Downtown Crossing?”
“Delays are just part of the ride. You won’t ride the orange line without a delay. It’s just fact. Broken train, traffic ahead, schedule adjustment, signaling problem, whatever, it’s always something, every single ride.”
“Oh Orange Line – why must you run the places I need to be? You smell like pee. You have the scariest of passengers. You are sticky in strange places. You make a girl feel violated just for entering you….wait, what?”
I started writing this post before the MBTA GM Beverly Scott announced her resignation yesterday, and this was not meant to be a criticism of her, or of the MBTA employees. (The Unforgivable dude was scary, but he seemed to be adequate at his job.) They are all working around the clock attempting to return the T to some semblance of a normal schedule.
And therein lies the ultimate fault of the MBTA: It doesn’t matter how hard employees work during times of emergency, or how much they need to hike up wages on riders in order to bring in funds. The problems with the MBTA are so entrenched within the institution itself that they are well beyond fixing through man hours or additional finances. Like the Green Line Screech, there ain’t no fixeroo.
Scott has spent her entire life fixing public transportation problems across the country, and she quit after experiencing her first real snow problem with the MBTA. What does that say about the MBTA?
But the longstanding problems don’t absolve her. She took the job a little over two years ago knowing full-well the problems underneath the hood (or engines inside the caboose?). The past few weeks have revealed how little had been done since her appointment to fix the serious issues, and during this most dire of crises, instead of hunkering down, leading MBTA employees through it and promising to make the changes needed to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, she essentially said “Screw this, I’m outta here.”
What a message to send to the people you were hired to lead while they’re out there shoveling snow off train tracks and repairing downed trains. What a message to send to the state government, who now has to scramble to find a replacement for her while also dealing with a historic weather calamity. And most importantly, what a message to send to all of the people who pay for MBTA services, some of whom might still hold optimism that their commute will get better at some distant day in the future… say, in 2024.
On the other hand… at least we’re not in Tokyo.