MBTA customer service continues to excel (not!)

By | July 30, 2009

T_sucksLast year, when I complained in writing to the T about receiving no response to the email messages I’d sent through their “Write to the Top” program, I received a response from Kevin McGuire telling me that if I continued to have this problem, I should contact James Monahan at a specific email address or telephone number.

On July 10, I emailed Monahan at the address McGuire gave me to complain about the fact that John Houghton, the superintendent of the Cabot Bus Garage, had not responded to complaints I’d sent on July 6, 7, and 9.

My email message to Monahan bounced with “User unknown”.  I can’t say I was surprised.

I called the phone number McGuire gave me for Monahan and left a message.  About a week later, on July 16, Houghton finally responded to my email.  He responded to my complaint about passengers not being notified about the delays on July 6, but ignored my complaint about the trip planner having given me an incorrect route.

I wrote back to Houghton on July 17 and asked him to address that complaint.  Almost two weeks later, he has not responded.

Around that time Monahan finally called me back.  I told him I was still trying to get someone to fix the broken trip planner, and he said he would refer the problem to someone who would be able to do something about it, and I would be hearing from her soon.  I haven’t heard from her (no surprise there!).  He also said that McGuire had given me an incorrect email address for him, but he did give me his correct address (no surprise there either!).

Here, incidentally, is the email message I tried to send Monahan on July 10, which reveals a critical piece of new information about this fiasco: I actually first notified the T about the problem with their trip planner over six years ago.  They admitted at the time that there wa a problem, but almost 6½ years later, it still isn’t fixed.

Subject: Non-responsive garage superintendent; failure to notify passengers about delays; wrong information on MBTA Web site

Jim Monahan
Deputy Divison Chief — Transportation

Dear Mr. Monahan,

I am writing with the following complaints:

  1. The superintendent of the Cabot garage has failed to respond to three separate emails from me, and I was told by Kevin McGuire in a letter last November that I should contact you if that happens.
  2. The MBTA continues to fail to notify passengers of delays using the mechanisms it has established for that purpose.
  3. The Trip Planner on the MBTA Web site contains incorrect route information which causes passengers who rely on it to miss their buses, a problem about which I first wrote to the MBTA over six years ago.

Please read on for details.

On Monday, July 6, my daughter and I attempted to travel by bus from Brighton Center to Newtonville. I asked the MBTA Trip Planner for the correct timing and route to use, and it told us to take the 501 from Washington St and Foster St to Park St & Tremont St, then walk to 400 Centre St and take the 554 from there to Washington St & Walnut St.

My daughter and I followed the Trip Planner’s directions exactly, but although we waited for well over a half hour, the 554 never showed up. Afterwards, I heard that there were many significant bus delays that morning due to a stuck railroad crossing gate in Waltham. None of these delays were posted to the MBTA Web site or broadcast to passengers through the T-Alerts system. I have complained to the T before about your failure to post and broadcast delays, and I shall continue to do so until you are reliably doing so. I sent the attached complaint about this to the Cabot superintendent on July 6 and received no response.

The next day, we attempted the same trip. Once again, the bus never showed up. This time, we were told afterwards by another passenger that she had seen that bus driving down Washington Street, and I surmised that either the driver had not stopped at 400 Centre St (I was correct, but for the wrong reason; see below), or the driver had run the route early. I sent another complaint to the Cabot superintendent, attached, and again received no reply.

Yesterday, we attempted the trip a third time. This time, we arrived at 400 Centre St more than twenty minutes before the Trip Planner said the 554 would stop there, to ensure we would not miss it. When a 554 bus whose route sign said “downtown” stopped at approximately the correct time, I ran over and asked the driver whether he was going to Newton. The driver responded, “No, I’m going downtown. You need to be on the other side of Newton Corner to catch the bus to Newton.” When I informed him that the Trip Planner had told us to wait at 400 Centre St, he replied, “I’ve been driving buses for 22 years, and that bus has never stopped here.” In other words, your Trip Planner tells people to wait for buses in the wrong place. I sent the attached complaint to about this to the Cabot superintendent and again received no response.

This morning, it occurred to me that the Trip Planner problem sounded familiar, so I went digging through my email archives to find out why. I found an email message (attached) I sent to the MBTA in April 2003 reporting almost exactly the same problem, along with an acknowledgment (attached) from the MBTA. It’s astoundingly unacceptable that over six years later, your trip planner is still giving passengers the same incorrect information.

I’m very much used to complaining to the MBTA, and I’m very much used to being either ignored or fed rationalizations, excuses, prevarications, and buck-passing rather than seeing problems actually solved. It would be a pleasant surprise to receive a prompt, honest, straightforward response to this message, and to see concrete steps taken and concrete improvements made to address my complaints.

So, what’s it going to be, Mr. Monahan? Real improvements or more of the bad service which typifies the MBTA?


Jonathan Kamens

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2 thoughts on “MBTA customer service continues to excel (not!)

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