MBTA Information Line

Like so many of you, I make heavy use of Boston’s fine public transportation system. I use “fine” quite loosely, but the T gets me from the northtowns to out past 128 every single day, so even if it’s not perfect, it works.

Today, the orange line broke down right as I got on to go home. I wonder what the problem is? One quick call to SmarTraveler, and I was far more informed than the angry riders next to me – there was a fire near Haymarket and they had to turn off the power feed to parts of the orange line.

Since I ride the Commuter Rail, which is almost never on time in the hot summer afternoons, I have grown accustomed to dialing, hitting T*, T1* to get commuter rail information, and hearing that the Framingham/Worcester line is delayed due to heat restrictions. It turns out they have a bunch of other information available as well including highway traffic.

Give it a shot – 617-374-1234.

4 Comments so far

  1. Lynne (unregistered) on August 2nd, 2005 @ 7:52 am

    Hey Matt, here via Universal Hub. I agree the T could definitely use improvements, but at least for me, and I imagine many other people, SmarTraveler is not an option. That requires you getting signal on your phone on the T platform. And if you’ve been standing there for 15 minutes already wondering why three Ashmont trains have passed when you just want a damn Alewife train, it’s even more frustrating to have to leave the station to *call* SmarTraveler, and risk having the train come while you’re upstairs dialing, well out of sight of the train. And if you don’t have a pass that lets you go freely in and out of the station, or even a cell phone, well …

    Real-time information bulletin boards in the subway/train stations would help. “There is a medical emergency at Park Street. Shuttling to Charles MGH is in effect for northbound passengers; for southbound passengers, please walk down the corridor to Downtown Crossing.” Similar boards at the bus stops would help – “Due to construction at Russell Field, the inbound 83 will run 10-15 minutes later than the posted schedule. We apologize for the inconvenience.” I’d ADORE some sort of GPS locator thing on all the bus routes, and a realtime electronic map up on the bus stops, so you could actually see where the bus is, and figure out if you have enough time to go get a drink, or walk to the next stop.

    Really, even if we could just get the nifty “Braintree Train: 4 Minutes” electronic signs like the ones on the Washington Metro, or the ones that BART has had for 20-odd years now. “Next B train: 2 minutes. Next C train: 3 minutes. Next D train: 5 minutes. Next E train: 10 minutes.” … Seattle has a webpage that tracks their transit in real-time and lets you know precisely what has a delay when, even their buses. “The 5:30 CT1 is 12 minutes late due to an accident at the corner of Mass Ave and Harrison.” If only!

  2. Matt (unregistered) on August 2nd, 2005 @ 8:38 am

    Lynne, you’re definitely echoing some thoughts I’ve had before standing down in the depths of Porter Square wondering what is taking the darn red line so long! It would be fantastic if there were a real-time monitoring system and every time I think about it, it seems so ridiculously feasible that I can only speculate we’ve spent so much money on messing up the big dig that there’s none left to fix the T. One issue I would consider an obstacle would be security. If you knew exactly where a train was going to be, you could potentially do something bad with/to it. After 9/11, I’m sure the mass transit folks were a little stimied about letting their vehicles be used for terror.

    Maybe it’s time we moved on into this 21st centrury, though. I wonder what it would take? Know anyone important we could poke? ;-)

  3. Peter (unregistered) on August 2nd, 2005 @ 3:37 pm

    Boston needs to take a lesson from the Moscow Metro. During the day, you wait no more than one minute for a train. During off-peak hours, it’s 3-6 minutes depending on the line, and typically about 3. You can get a 10-ride pass there for less than US$2. And their stations are actually pleasing to the eye, and generally clean.

    In San Francisco, they have LED boards that show the times for the next three trains to arrive, along with their destinations. Portland, OR does something similar at some of their bus stops.

    There are a lot of great things about Boston, but the public transportation is not one of them. The MBTA is just PITIFUL. The best you can hope for is that you will eventually get to where you want to go. I typically walk around Boston unless my destination is rather far away.

    Maybe people from Boston just need to do a bit of traveling to other big cities… I think the majority of people don’t realize how bad they have it. Or maybe they do, and they just have resigned themselves to the conclusion that they have no way to affect any change. It’s a depressing situation either way.

  4. Matt (unregistered) on August 2nd, 2005 @ 3:44 pm

    For the BART in San Fran, you can actually download a widget for OS X 10.4’s Dashboard that gives you real-time information about where their trains are. Another one for the Paris bus system. Another for the Tube in London. Another for the Metro in DC.

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