MBTA suggests some obvious transit etiquette on the Orange Line
I’ll admit it: I’m one of those public transit riders who rolls her eyes at the passengers trying to immediately rush onto crammed vehicles as soon as the door opens, blocking those trying to exit.
The obvious breach in transit etiquette slows everyone down: If passengers take too long to pack onto buses and trains, the rides are longer than they need to be.
The MBTA — and likely every mass transit system that has ever existed — has also noticed this. And so T officials are trying a new solution on the Orange Line: Green and red markings on the platform that show how you should line up while waiting to board, allowing passengers on the train to get off first.
Jeffrey Gonneville, the chief operating officer of the T, said it can sometimes take as long as three minutes for passengers to get off and on a train at crowded stops like North Station during rush hour. In transit parlance, those minutes are called “dwell time.”
“Passenger dwell time really does have an effect on overall efficiency on the line,” he said.
The longer the dwell time at a station, the longer it takes for the train to reach its next stop. If it happens frequently, the delays can multiply — and the passengers are not only cramped for their commutes, but late as well.
The new markings on the platforms are currently in place at North Station and will be installed soon at State Street. The T will try using the markings for three months before deciding to make them permanent, and possibly expand their use to other subway lines.
Gonneville said officials hope the markings are a positive way to lower the time passengers take to board and exit. He pointed out that the Orange Line can’t speed up performance with new trains on the tracks until 2018, when those cars are scheduled to be delivered.
In addition to the platform markings, Gonneville said officials will try another way to speed up the Orange Line.
Right now, drivers who get to the end of line take the time to get out and walk to the other end of the train, so they can take off in the opposite direction. But under a new plan, drivers will take over the trains in “relay race” fashion: The driver who gets to the end of the line will no longer drive the train in the opposite direction, but will rely on a second employee already waiting at the station. Gonneville said he hopes that tiny adjustments such as this can add up to better service.
As for the new markings at North Station, at least one T employee says it has been helpful. Andrea Gordon, the T’s division chief who heads the Orange Line, said staffers are talking to riders about what the signs mean for now.
“The customers are paying attention,” she said.
Looming giants on the Pike
Commuters on the Massachusetts Turnpike have probably noticed the giant metal contraptions hat have been rising along the highway in recent weeks: Steve Colman, a Lexington driver, wrote to me recently, asking me what they are.
Starting in October, those contraptions — known as gantries — are going to replace the toll booths on the Pike as the state makes the transition to an all-electronic payment system.
Such gantries are already in place on the Tobin Bridge. There, drivers are automatically charged when they pass under them, either by detection of a customer’s EZ-Pass, the transponder that many already have in their cars, or by a snapshot from a camera that reads license plates and sends the driver the bill later.
Officials say the change will help ease congestion. Instead of slowing down or stopping to pay their tolls at the booths, drivers will be able to cruise right under the gantries.
Currently, the state has 24 toll plazas. Under the new system, the state will demolish those and make way for 16 gantries instead, according to state officials.
The state had initially said the change would produce $50 million in annual savings, partly because it would no longer have to employ toll booth collectors. But transportation officials have since said the savings are not as large as anticipated.
Officials in November said all-electronic tolling will reduce the annual costs of toll collection from $56 million to $36 million, and they noted the change may also drive down how much is collected.
The state’s toll collection system counts about 214 million toll transactions and $375 million in gross revenue annually, according to state Transportation Department figures.
The gantries won’t be the only difference coming soon, either. Commuters should also be on the lookout for price changes: Officials are in the process of working on a new toll pricing structure.
“MassDOT is going to have a public process to determine gantry rates, and will have help from a consultant in setting pricing between specific points,” wrote Jacquelyn Goddard, a MassDOT spokeswoman.
Some highway exits, such as one near Newtonville, will gain tolls after being free for years, but officials said the changes probably won’t result in overall increased revenue.
Ubers on the Ride?
An Uber could soon pick up riders with disabilities through a partnership with the MBTA’s door-to-door service, The Ride.
The T has been looking for ways to save $10 million on the transit service, which picks up and drops off riders at locations close to MBTA stops and stations. The current system uses three contractors, and each ride cost the T about $45 in the 2015 fiscal year. Officials believe that partnering with companies such as Uber — known for being much cheaper than taxis and other livery services — would help lower costs.
Last week, officials took another step toward working with these companies: The T asked ride-for-hire companies for proposals that could take over some trips for the service.
T officials have already started allowing customers on the Ride to use taxis with the service, under a pilot program that will be expanded in June. But Michael Lambert, an MBTA and MassDOT official, said customers are also clamoring to use services such as Uber and Lyft with the Ride.
“These are very popular services across all elements of the Massachusetts population, and so the directive from our community was, “Don’t get in the way’ and ‘Don’t overthink it,” said Lambert, deputy administrator of transit and special assistant to the general manager.
Joe Pesaturo, an MBTA spokesman, said several companies may try to get involved: three ride sharing companies, one social services provider, one livery/taxi company, and one nonprofit/community-based organization have expressed interest in submitting proposals.
The MBTA held an informational meeting for vendors earlier this month, and representatives from Uber attended.
Kelly Smith, an Uber spokeswoman, said the company looks forward to working with the MBTA. And Chelsea Wilson, a Lyft spokeswoman, said the company has been working with the agency for months and could pursue a proposal.
The Legislature is still weighing a bill that could enforce regulations on ride-for-hire vehicles, and T officials say they will obey any new rules that are approved.