Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Gone are the brass and in comes Charlie...

In an effort to modernize the antiquated MBTA "T", Boston's underground subway transportation system, the organization is planning to replace the usage of small brass fare tokens with an automated fare collection system by the end of the year. Similarly to the fare collection methods employed by the far superior Washington DC "Metro", the new fare collection system, called the "Charlie Card", will allow passengers to purchase a clean, never-before-used cards storing however many "fares" the person chooses. As the machines exist now, they will change brass tokens for Charlie Cards, and one is also able to use his or her credit card or cash on the system. Sounds nice, doesn't it?

The turnstiles in use at Airport Station

Well, my experiences with the system have not been so positive. These machines have been installed at the Blue Line's Airport Station and on a few other stations scattered around the system, for use on a trial basis. The card vending machines are not the most user-friendly, as I have observed MBTA workers having to work the machines for confused passengers. Given the MBTA's track record for maintaining automated brass token machines (which allow patrons to bypass long lines waiting to purchase tokens from a booth attendant), these Charlie Card machines will surely pose maintenance problems in the future. They are designed to cut the MBTA workforce numbers, but it seems to me that the maintenance of these complicated, state-of-the-art machines will require the employment of additional mechanics to keep the vending machines in working order.

Other problems: unlike the DC Metro, the Charlie Card does not physically print the balance on the card after it has been slipped into the machine. Rather, one must pay attention to a small screen that is inconveniently located behind them as they wait for the turnstile gate to open to view their card balance. Also, intelligent design would have the scanned Charlie Card exit the scanner machine on the other side of the turnstile gate, where one could pick up the card after moving through the gate. This is not so, as I found the first time I used the machine at Airport Station when an MBTA employee yelled at me for failing to pick up the scanned card (which the machine spits out behind you as you move through the gate) and holding up the line. I won't even mention the amount of litter these cards have generated at these stations, as they are useless once their fare balances have been drained.

Here's the worst decision on the part of the MBTA concerning the choice of stations for installing the trial basis equipment. As I said before, one such station is Airport on the Blue Line, where thousands of out-of-towners arriving in Boston inevitably choose to put multiple fares on their Charlie Card, thinking that the card is useable throughout the system. One of my friends made this very mistake, and I had to buy off the rest of the card from him as I knew I would be using that station multiple times in the near future. So, these people must redeem their cards for cash once they find out that the card is not used all throughout the MBTA, and only when they return to Airport Station, at the end of their stay in Boston.

Was this intentional? I most certainly think so.


Blogger Ben said...

Those graphics are great. Thanks for the post! I have to say...it was time to get rid of the coins, even if the new machines pose mechanical difficulties.

5:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Which college graduated the engineers who came up with the idea of popping the ticket *behind* the patron as they try to pass through the turnstile?

Meantime- there's going to be an outright rebellion with the planned fare hikes in 2007 that were just announced Thursday. The comments on the Globe's bulletin boards are telling


7:56 AM  
Blogger Phlip said...

Right on, anon! Y'all gotta read the comments on that board (s)he linked to.

The T is beyond saving. Let it go. Instead, we should be forward thinking.

It's time to install teleporters in the city of Boston.


4:57 PM  
Anonymous Custom Brass Tokens said...

I've got a New York City subway token. It is a brass color with a silver colored circle in the middle.on the Good For One Fare side are three small letters "SJD". Do you know what it is worth?

11:54 PM  

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