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Oh, the incompetant MBTA makes me mad


Now that I've got that out of my system, maybe I can calm down enough to write this column. Oooh, they make me so mad!

I am talking about Massachusetts' most extravagantly incompetent organization, the MBTA (shudder!).

Last term I wrote a column about hostile bus drivers, confused ticket clerks, inflexible conductors, and incompetent bureaucrats. They must have seen it, because since then they have really been out to get me.

THEM AND EVERYBODY ELSE, JOE. Or maybe they have simply gotten worse.

What got my blood boiling today was a relatively minor piece of idiocy, but it was so characteristically brain-damaged that I couldn't take it any more and ran over here to vent my spleen.

I wanted to take the #71 bus from Harvard Square. I went into the brand-new bus terminal there, where signs directed me to the lower platform.

I arrived at 2:17 in the afternoon; the bus was scheduled to leave at 2:20. At 2:23 I heard a mumble from the loudspeaker and made out the words "up the ramp." I went up to find that the #71 had just left from the upper ramp. The next one was scheduled for 50 minutes later.

There were no signs posted downstairs or at the doors saying that the place of departure had been changed, and the (unintelligible) announcement was not made until the bus had already left. None of the employees at the station admitted having anything to do with the foul-up, nor could they provide the name of anyone responsible.

The latter is the most distinctive feature of the T -- nobody is responsible for anything, or knows anybody who is. The MBTA has no complaint department listed in the phone book, and all of the sublistings are just numbers without addresses. Whenever one of the numbers is called, it is answered by either a machine, or, even worse, an MBTA clerk.

The clerks might as well be finite-state machines themselves: They are not only incapable of handling a complaint or any nonstandard request for information but are also incapable of sufficiently understanding your problem to pass it on to the appropriate person. At least an answering machine accurately takes down everything you say.

As I said last term, the T is a monopoly and doesn't need to provide good service. Only political pressure will make them change. But what can be done?

One solution is to take employees who've screwed up and put them in stocks in front of the Harvard Square station, where they can be pelted with rotten fruit by disgruntled passersby. Unfortunately it would be difficult to locate the individuals at fault.

If the commissioner of the MBTA were an elected official, we could boot him out of office every two or three years. This remedy, though, might not lead to real improvements, if experience with other elective offices in the Commonwealth is any guide.

Unfortunately, our only recourse is to complain. To make the most of this, we should concentrate enough heat on a single official that he'll be forced to do something; diffuse protest will just fade away unanswered.

So, are you tired of rude bus drivers?

Do you get mad when there is no token clerk in a subway station late at night, and the revolving gate is busted, so you can't get in to take the train (but it eats your token anyway)?

Have you had enough unannounced 20-minute delays between stations?

Are you fed up with having five subways go by in the other direction while you wait half an hour for your subway, resulting in your missing your commuter train because it left 3 minutes early?

Are you disgusted with a railroad where trains are not only regularly late, but regularly (and without notice) cancelled, forcing you to wait two hours (or, if it's the last train of the night, to take a taxi)??

Then do something about it. Write a letter to Fred Salvucci, Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation, 1 Ashburton Place, Boston; or just send him a copy of this column.