What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate

Opinions Posted Feb 18, 2016 by Chris Carleton

What-we-got-here-is-01Cool Hand Luke said it best.

The MBTA Commuter Rail System embodies it like no other.

If you need a proof point, look no further than this morning’s fiasco.

The snapshot: thousands of rush-hour passengers – taking Framingham/Worcester, Needham, Franklin, Fairmount, Providence/Stoughton, Middleborough/Lakeville and Kingston/Plymouth Lines – boarded their usual morning trains with the reasonable expectation that we’d get to our final destination.

No such luck.

Instead, throngs of commuters were told – only after boarding – that the trains wouldn’t be reaching South Station. Apparently a signal issue – which devolved into yet another he-said-she-said spat between Keolis and Amtrak.

For many of us, it didn’t matter. The conductors didn’t appear to be told the why…just the what. Tell us to get off.
So, take the subway, in my case the Orange Line from Ruggles. Or an Uber. Or walk. But, find your own way there. The cherry on the sundae – foot the extra cost. Again.dtx orange line stop mbta fiasco 2.18.16

A few points: I love working in the city. After 20+ years of driving Route 128 in increasingly horrible traffic, we moved our agency into the city a couple years ago. We’ll never leave. There’s a buzz that you only get from being here, especially in Downtown Crossing. Those of us not living close enough to our Summer Street locale to walk take trains and subways – in large part because we strongly believe in the mission that public transportation systems should play.

Ours, unfortunately, fails to deliver so regularly that it undermines that charter.

I know it’s not simple. Decades-long managerial and maintenance inefficiencies have stacked the deck against the current regime. Inclement weather is beyond their control, too, though those issues represent a minority of the countless delays and cancellations.

The worst part for most of us commuters, though: the inexcusable, inefficient process for telling us what’s going on. In this day of real-time communications and mobile devices, email, text and Twitter notifications of delayed trains regularly arrive long after commuters have boarded their trains. Sometimes, they arrive even later.

That makes these ‘notifications’ useless.

And infuriating.

And unnecessarily so.

Unlike infrastructure and equipment issues, Keolis and the MBTA Commuter Rail system have complete control over their ability to keep an eye on what’s happening and sharing information with its thousands of customers in a phenomenally better and considerably more timely fashion than it does.

I don’t know who owns this function there. I don’t know how they budget for, operationalize and staff it.

I do know, as an intended recipient, it’s a fail. Over and over again…and in a way that just makes these ongoing torture-on-the-tracks snafus that much more painful. By regularly sharing info much later than it should, passengers have no way to adjust their plans to accommodate for the commuter rail’s shortcomings.

Please fix the problem, folks. It’s completely in your control. You can duck responsibility for whatever the service hiccup de jour is. You can’t point the finger elsewhere for your chronic failure in timely communications.

Show more consideration for your customers. We deserve better – especially as you prepare to change schedules and raise rates in the face of compelling data points that the service is going south as the cost for customers is heading north.

And that ain’t cool…