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Starts & Stops

Commuter rail Internet lapse brings questions

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

You know when you’re trying to treat someone to a fancy dinner, but the waitress says your credit card is declined, even though you know you paid your last bill?

Yeah, that totally just happened to the T.

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I got an interesting e-mail last week from Keith in Framingham, who was riding the commuter rail home when he discovered — shock! — the wireless Internet wasn’t working.

The Internet landing page that popped up on his laptop screen directed him to call 888-MBTAWIFI for help, which transferred him to a company called Waav. The customer service rep asked what train system and car number he was riding.

“I was put on hold for a minute,” Keith wrote, “and then the rep came back and apologized to me, stating that the MBTA has not paid their bill in over six months and as a result, he was unable to provide any support to me.”

Awkward.

Waav began contracting with the T in 2008, according to a press release on the company’s website — they’ve also provided Wi-Fi for Bolt and Greyhound buses, too. I called the same customer service number, asking about broken wireless on a commuter rail train.

The rep told me the same thing that Keith heard — except this time, he said the T had not paid the bill since 2011.

“There was a balance due that was very significant when we ceased providing support,” the rep said. You should call the T about it, he advised.

So I did. And Kelly Smith, a spokeswoman for the MBTA, made a few calls, and came back with a response: They’re wrong.

Waav, she explained, is a former contractor with the MBTA. For the past several years, the T has used AT&T — and, as the Globe reported earlier this year, they are seeking other vendors who would provide the service at no cost.

MBTA information technology staffers are working to change the landing page that Wi-Fi users are directed to when they log on, she said.

And how about that bill, the one that was “very significant”?

No way, Smith said.

“The MBTA does not have any outstanding bills with this company,” she said.

Intrigue!

But when I called up Waav management and got an e-mail back from the company’s president, Brian J. Smith, his response wasn’t what I expected: a complete about-face.

“First, I would like to apologize on behalf of any person at Waav (support or otherwise) for saying anything about any customer, past or present,” Brian Smith wrote.

“I can emphatically say that the information given by the MBTA is correct,” he continued. “There are no outstanding unpaid invoices, and the fact that they have not had a contract to continue supporting the system for quite some time is true.”

Still, that doesn’t change the fact that Keith’s Wi-Fi service was broken.

So who should he have called? Commuter rail passengers having problems with their Wi-Fi are supposed to contact the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company: (617) 222-3200
or http://t.co/SHPArEQw.

A royal bus tour

We may not have gotten Prince Harry, but at least we got his double-decker.

An iconic double-decker bus hailing from across the pond arrived with full fanfare in Boston on Wednesday, just a few weeks after it escorted British Prime Minister David Cameron and Prince Harry around New York.

The bus, one of the red two-story behemoths that have become synonymous with London, had been brought to Boston to provide bus tours to “promote Britain as a world class destination for trade, tourism, and investment,” according to a statement from the British consulate in Boston.

The double-decker also features green diesel-electric hybrid technology, and produces half of the emissions of a conventional bus. In the next few years, all of London’s double-deckers will be hybrids — a trend that Massachusetts transportation officials have sought to emulate in recent years.

The bus took passengers on a spin around Back Bay with stops at local branches of British businesses — Ted Baker and French Connection, obviously, as well as Chocolat. Burberry was also on the list of stops, though that apparently got scratched because First Lady Michelle Obama was next door at the Taj Boston, stumping for Senate candidate Representative Edward J. Markey.

After Boston, its next destination will be Cartagena, Colombia. During the course of the next year, it will be making appearances on four continents and in 16 countries, including Russia, India, and South Korea.

George Denning, the driver of the bus, said he had to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road. So did the passengers — many stepped off the sidewalk and tried to board on the bus’ right side, only to realize their mistake.

“They want to get on,” he said, “but they can’t!”

CapeFlyer’s 1st weekend a success

It wasn’t exactly beachgoing weather — 45 degrees on Memorial Day weekend — but the rain and cold don’t seem to have hurt the inaugural run of CapeFlyer, the Boston-Hyannis train service that rebooted this past weekend. The train carried 770 passengers between Friday and Sunday, a spokesman for the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority said last week.

That’s way more than what transportation officials believe is necessary to break even by the end of summer: They estimate that 310 passengers per weekend will keep the service afloat.

During the summer, I’ll be checking back to see if the CapeFlyer, which costs $35 for a round-trip and $20 one-way, remains popular after the buzz wears off. (Previous iterations of the storied Cape train were shuttered because of flagging ridership.)

But transportation officials are optimistic: MassDOT’s deputy rail administrator, Jody Ray, mused to the New York Times that he would like to install real-time car traffic monitors on the train “so that rail passengers can better appreciate their decision to choose the rails over the roads.”

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.
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