Is the MBTA’s “abundance of caution” abundant enough?
On Thursday night, unable to say whether track defects identified in February had been addressed, the MBTA tweeted that it was slowing subway travel, out of — wait for it — “an abundance of caution.” By Friday, after taking the usual beating this kind of failure triggers, the reduced speeds were lifted on all but the Green and Mattapan lines. At that point, plans called for the needed inspections to be completed by Monday (when, ideally, the system could get back to business as usual, i.e. slow, but not press-conference slow).
Needless to say, already frustrated riders were not happy with having their commutes further lengthened. But considering that interim MBTA Manager Jeff Gonneville said he didn’t want to risk an “incident,” maybe the T should slow the trains even further.
To zero miles per hour. It would at the very least make the schedules more accurate.
I know what you may be thinking: Doesn’t the T already do this?
Yes! In the past the agency has slowed the trains to zero miles per hour, seemingly at random. These stoppages were often met with an abundance of annoyance, but in retrospect, perhaps they can be appreciated as an unannounced pilot program — trial runs for halting the entire system.
To clarify: The 30-day Orange Line shutdown in August was not a move toward the bold goal of “T Zero.”
In that case, the T offered shuttle buses as a replacement. The beauty of “T Zero” is that it would allow commuters to stay in so-called “T shape” by still interacting with the trolley cars.
Passengers would pack on board as usual — making sure to tap their Charlie cards so the T doesn’t lose crucial revenue — and they’d stay in commuting practice by: blithely and unapologetically bumping fellow riders with their backpacks; pretending not to notice that someone with mobility challenges doesn’t have a seat; and enjoying loud music without headphones. In case the T is ever ready to resume so-called “traditional service,” the ridership will be ready!
The T knows it’s not the darling of the city, but it is proud of its environmental record. “100% of the MBTA’s system is powered by certified renewable electricity,” the agency proclaims on its website. “Additionally, we have on-site energy generation via wind turbines and solar arrays.”
If this is how green the agency can be when the trains are moving, think how low the footprint could go if the cars stood still.
MBTA! If you’re reading this, here’s some advice: Get out of your defensive crouch. Grab the narrative from your detractors. As you may have seen on Twitter, there’s already a rally planned for the Common on Sunday — “Broken trains & broken promises.”
So why don’t you reach out to natural allies — workers who would rather stay remote but are being forced back into the office by The Man. No T = no forced RTO (return to office). The public may be on your side for once.
Here’s another thought. At his Friday morning press conference, Gonneville said, “We are an organization right now that is at a generational moment. We are an organization that has to pivot within its culture.”
I don’t know how big a pivot he means, but considering that this transportation thing is not working, a full-scale reinvention might be the way to go.
You could refashion yourself as a buzzy destination for Millennials and tourists. The Seaport, but subterranean. A linear beer garden, an Instagram-worthy backdrop for bachelorette parties, or even a history museum of yourself, where museum goers could marvel at what it was like back in the day — when trains moved.
Beth Teitell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.