The announcement this week that all MBTA trains are finally up and running probably won’t stop riders from railing about what’s wrong with the system. Complain away, but to begin fixing it, it might help to identify anything that does work.
Interviews with riders, transit advocates and critics, MBTA management, and my own forays on the system found things that do work on the T — even enough to fill a Top 10 list. They are:
10. The countdowns. “That’s what works most,” Red and Green Line rider Kate Burke of Dorchester said of the electronic next-train or bus signs. True, they’re sometimes kaput, but are otherwise quite accurate — enough for State Street busker Tom O’Donnell to time his five-minute guitar and harmonica sets. A breakdown on the tracks may mean a train indicated as three minutes away is suddenly reset to infinity, but good news or bad, it’s what riders want to know most.
9.Vertical transportation. Every escalator and elevator I happened upon worked — until I hit Quincy Center on the Red Line. Outliers aside, official numbers show a 98 percent-plus performance rate even during the worst of this winter’s storms; much improved from 84 percent in January 2005.
8. Secret signals. Ever look at the departure board at South Station telling you what track your train is on? Sue Medinaceli of Norwood doesn’t. “We always watch for the (conductors) when they’re getting on so we can slide in before it gets up on the board,” she says. “It’s kind of like they give the high sign, ‘you can get on now,’ ahead of everybody else.”
7. It works if you’re in the right place, part 1. “We live right by Arlington Station and I work right by Kenmore Station,” said short-hop Green Line commuter Rama Krishnan. “It takes me 10 minutes either way, regardless of all the (snow), because I just commute in the underground part.”
6. It works if you’re in the right place, part 2. With their own tunnel and dedicated busways, most Silver Line routes posted the winter’s most reliable on-time numbers, 75 percent, according to MBTA stats. Next, at about 70 percent, were bus routes 31 (Mattapan), 32 (Hyde Park Avenue), 71 (Mount Auburn Street), 73 (Trapelo Road), 100 (Medford and Malden). Hardly perfect, but a better-than-even chance of getting there.
5. Subway Wi-Fi. “I have an iPhone 5 and it works perfectly fine,” Wilkin Matos of Boston said while on a delayed Green Line train at Copley.
4. Better smelling than New York. “The New York subway smells funny. Funky would be a better word,” said transit-using tourist Rob Otlowski, from subway-free Detroit, sniffing in the Orange Line air at State Street. He also noted an absence of rats.
3. You probably won’t die. Yes, there were smoke-filled Red Line cars and passengers left walking along the tracks, but the incidence of injury due to weather this winter was remarkably small, T spokesman Joe Pesaturo said. Numerous riders attributed that safety to crews looking out for passengers in a “we’re-all-in-this-together” esprit-de-corps.
2. The fact that there even is a transit system “is a very good thing,” said Blue Line rider Ricia Fleming at Wonderland, lamenting areas like her town of Marblehead, with little or no T service.
And No. 1? “The T,” messaged MBTA enthusiast David Joseph, meaning the letter T with a circle around it. A Boston transplant now living outside of New York, where transit officials changed that system’s recognizable logo a while back, he asserted: “The T’s brand identity has been as solid as that of the London Underground and should remain permanently in place.”
You’re absolutely right, Dave. Does that mean when we follow that logo to the buses and trains their wheels will actually turn? Who knows? But there’s no mistaking the — one thing that doesn’t need to be fixed.