Posts Tagged ‘MBTA’

Fumes in MBTA buses: significant progress

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

I met several months ago with MBTA management to present my concerns about toxic fumes in certain MBTA buses. Thank you, again, to State Senator Will Brownsberger and his  Legislative Counsel and Policy Advisor, Michael Buckley, for making that meeting happen.

I am pleased to report that the MBTA took my concerns seriously, investigated them, and took corrective action which they hope will fix the problem.

I met today for a second time with Jeffrey Gonneville, the MBTA’s Chief Mechanical Officer, and Troy Ellerbee, Director of Bus Maintenance, and they filled me in on their progress. Read on for the details.


MA Supervisor of Records denies my appeal based on specious legal reasoning

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

To: Shawn Williams, Massachusetts Supervisor of Records
Cc: Lori Sullivan,  the staff attorney in Williams’s office who research my appeal
Cc: Susan Krupanski, the MBTA employee who denied my legitimate public records request
Cc: Will Brownsberger, my state senator and an all-around good guy
Cc: On the Media
Cc: The Boston Globe
Cc: The Boston Herald

Dear Mr. Williams,

I have received your letter dated May 28, 2013, in which you denied my appeal of the failure by the MBTA to provide me with records I requested under the Massachusetts Public Records Law. A copy of your letter is attached for reference.

The legal justification you provide for denying my appeal is specious. Furthermore, your denial of my appeal flies in the face of available facts. Finally, on a purely common-sense level, your response is simply absurd.


MBTA obstructs public records request, Secretary of State drags feet

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

A side effect of my attempts to get information from the MBTA about toxic fumes in the passenger compartments of their buses (I will write more about that later, after a followup meeting I’ve been invited to by the MBTA) was my discovery that the MBTA is not terribly good at responding to public records requests within the time frame required by law. Since I view that as a serious problem in its own right, I attempted to shine some sunlight on it in my February 13 letter to the MBTA:

I would like to add an additional item to my request, or if you wish you may treat this as a new, separate request under the public records law. Please tell me how many public records law requests the MBTA has received in 2013, the date on which each was received, and the date on which an initial response was sent. There should be no significant cost for satisfying this request, since there could not have been that many requests so far this year (mine, after all, was only the ninth) and all such requests are presumably handled through your office.

In a letter dated February 22, the MBTA lawyer who handles public records requests informed me that, “… after a thorough and diligent search of files, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has no existing, responsive documents.”


Unfiltered diesel exhaust from MBTA buses

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

In my meeting today with the MBTA about the air quality inside T buses, I suggested that the fact that we sometimes see exhaust smoke coming from underneath the buses, despite the fact that the buses’ exhaust pipes are on top of the buses, might indicate a broken exhaust system which might explain how exhaust fumes are getting into bus passenger compartments. As evidence of this, I pointed to an article by Doug Tillberg on

In response, the T employees at the meeting explained to me that it’s actually normal for exhaust smoke to come from underneath the buses, because there are actually two engines in the back of the bus that burn diesel fuel, one of which exhausts out the pipe at the top of the bus, and the other out from underneath.


Meeting with MBTA about bad air in buses

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Today, I met with the MBTA to discuss my concerns about poor indoor air quality (IAQ) inside some T buses. I am extremely grateful to Michael Buckley, Sen. William Brownsberger’s Legislative Counsel and Policy Advisor, for arranging the meeting and attending with me.

The following T employees were present: Jeffrey Gonneville, Chief Mechanical Officer; Dave Carney, Director of Bus Operations; Troy Ellerbee, Director of Bus Maintenance; Erik Scheier, Project Director; and one other person whose name I’m sorry to say I didn’t write down and can’t recall. (If he reads this, I hope he will forgive me. If I am going to keep doing this kind of thing, I really need to get better at remembering people’s names, which I’m really awful at.)

I learned several things at the meeting, and I obtained commitments from Jeffrey Gonneville to take concrete steps to look into my concerns. I wish I’d learned more, and I wish the T had committed to do more, but progress has been made.


MBTA responds to my public records request

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Last month, I sent the MBTA a public records request, trying to obtain more information about how aware they are of the problem of air quality problems in the passenger compartments of their buses, and what they are doing about the problem.

The Massachusetts Public Records Law requires “custodians of records” like the MBTA to respond within ten days to such requests. It took the MBTA 26 days to respond, which they did only after I appealed to the supervisor of records in the Secretary of State’s office Correction: I mailed my appeal to the Secretary of State’s office on February 11, and I received the response below from the MBTA on February 12, so it appears that they although they were quite late in responding to my request, they did respond before my appeal was brought to their attention. The job of the supervisor of records is essentially to force custodians to obey the law. This is necessary because custodians regularly violate the public records law until the supervisor is involved, and sometimes even then. This sorry state of affairs persists because there are no penalties for violating the law (stupid!).

Anyway, here is the response I received from the MBTA yesterday (click here to see it in a separate window), followed by the letter I sent back to them this morning. (more…)

Public Records Request to the MBTA about air quality in buses

Monday, January 14th, 2013

I just sent the following letter to the MBTA.

January 14, 2013

Beverly A. Scott
General Manager, MBTA
10 Park Plaza, Suite 3910
Boston, MA 02116

Re: Massachusetts Public Records Request

Dear Ms. Scott:

This is a request under the Massachusetts Public Records Law (M.G.L. Chapter 66, Section 10).

I am requesting that I be provided a copy of the following records:

  • All complaints and inquiries received by the MBTA from passengers in the past year, through any medium including but not limited to telephone, U.S. Mail, facsimile, electronic mail, Web form submission, and Twitter, concerning air-quality issues (e.g., engine fumes) in MBTA buses. If such complaints and inquiries are consistently logged in a single computerized tracking system, then a spreadsheet, report or other document produced from said system, including the details of the relevant complaints, is sufficient and indeed preferable for satisfying this request.

MBTA buses are poisoning passengers

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Have you ever noticed a strong smell of diesel fumes in an MBTA bus, most strongly at the back of the bus?

The smell comes from diesel exhaust leaking into the passenger compartment of the bus. It is extremely toxic. Its short-term effects include headache, dizziness, light-headedness, and nausea. Long-term effects include cardiovascular disease, cardiopulmonary disease, and cancer.

This only happens on diesel buses, not on the buses fulled by chilled natural gas, and it only happens on some of the diesel buses. I don’t know whether this is because the T uses different models of diesel bus and only some models have the problem, or because the buses exhibiting this problem are broken and need to be fixed.


Abhorrent proposal to close the MBTA’s budget gap

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Dear Gov. Patrick (via Fax), Rep. Honan, Rep. Brownsberger, Mayor Menino, and members of the Boston City Council,

I am writing to you all in incensed opposition to the abhorrent plan currently under discussion to close the MBTA’s budget gap by decimating Massachusetts public transportation.


Maybe the T should ask the people who drive cars about changes to bus schedules?

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

The MBTA just spent $900,000 in federal stimulus money to buy 25 new buses for use along Route 28 (Mattapan Square to Ruggles Station).  These longer, articulated buses don’t fit in the current bus stops, so the stops going to have to be enlarged, eliminating between 60 and 92 parking spaces along a stretch of road that has a heavy concentration of local merchants who rely on car traffic for their business.

Needless to say, the merchants are livid.  According to the Boston Herald, here’s what Richard Davey, the General Manager of the T, had to say to justify the removal of parking spaces:

“… he said a survey of 500 Route 28 bus passengers found that 91 percent approved of it rolling out the state-of-the-art 60-foot articulated buses, even if it means losing between 60 to 92 parking spaces along its five-mile route…”

Yes, that’s right, the T asked people who don’t use the parking spaces whether it’s OK to get rid of them.

What’s next?  Are they going to ask people who don’t ride the buses whether it’s OK run fewer of them?

The T is holding a public hearing at 6:00pm tomorrow at the Mattapan Public Library.  They’ve publicized this hearing where?  On the buses, of course.  This calls to mind Arthur Dent’s experience in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when his house is slated for demolition to make room for a bypass road:

“But Mr. Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months.”

“Oh, yes, well, as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon.  You hadn’t exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them, had you?  I mean, like actually telling anybody or anything.”

“But the plans were on display…”

“On display?  I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”

“That’s the display department.”

“With a flashlight.”

“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”

“So had the stairs.”

“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” said Arthur.  “yes, I did.  It was on display in the bottom of a locked file cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.’”

Also, wouldn’t want normally want to hold one’s public hearings before buying the new buses?  What exactly is the T going to do with $900,000 worth of buses if it turns out they can’t use them because the public outcry is too loud for them to enlarge the bus stops?

Unless, of course, the public hearing is a sham and the removal of the parking spaces is a foregone conclusion…