As planned, I went to South Station about a half hour before the press conference scheduled to announce that Boston (finally!) had been added to Google Transit. Upon arrival, I started talking to reporters and handing out flyers.
I was quickly confronted by Daniel Dombak, a Marketing Director for Equity Office (which manages South Station), and informed that I was on private property and couldn’t distribute flyers without a permit.
“Are you going to arrest me and drag me out of the station for handing out flyers to reporters?” I asked him.
“No, of course we’re not going to drag you out of the building,” he responded, but in fact that’s exactly what he intended to do.
A few minutes later, a Transit Police officer approached me and informed me that I was not allowed to distribute written materials on MBTA property without a permit. We went back and forth for several rounds with me trying to get her to explain in plain English what would happen if I continued to distribute flyers. She finally claimed that yes, if I continued to distribute the flyers after being asked to stop, I would be arrested. The police officer, against whom I have no complaint because she was just doing her job, informed me that of course I could talk to reporters as much as I wanted; I just couldn’t hand them pieces of paper.
This entire exchange was witnessed by Wade Roush, Chief Correspondent for Xconomy Boston. He subsequently interviewed me about this incident and about the problem I was attempting to bring to light. [UPDATE: Roush's Xconomy article which discusses what happened to me: MBTA Data Helps [sic] Google Users Get Around Boston]
I would have enjoyed getting arrested, because that would definitely have given some much needed publicity to the issue I’m trying to get fixed, but I don’t think my boss or my family would have appreciated it all that much, so I decided not to push the issue.
Nevertheless, the trip was not a complete waste. I managed to get flyers into the hands of a few reporters, and I was interviewed by one of them. Furthermore, something even better happened. Boston Transportation Commissioner Thomas Tinlin was there representing Mayor Menino, and I was able to talk with him briefly after the press conference. He and I have corresponded in the past, so I used that to break the ice before asking what he recommended I do to get someone to fix the incorrect route information I’d been complaining about for over six years. He told me to send my concerns to him by email and he would make sure they made it directly to Dan Grabauskas. So I’ll give that a try and see what happens.
One final thing I’ll mention is that I was terribly amused by the number of people who praised Dan Grabauskas for so quickly taking advantage of new technology by getting the MBTA onto Google Transit. “Quickly” indeed. Apparently none of these people are aware that there are 70 transit agencies in 10 countries managed to find their way into Google Transit before Grabauskas figured it out.