Meeting with MBTA about bad air in buses

By | March 7, 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.

Here’s what I learned:

  • The T does not know of any systemic issue with IAQ.
  • Chief Mechanical Officer Jeffrey Gonneville said that before today’s meeting, the possibility that there might be a systemic issue with IAQ has never been brought to his attention. This, despite the fact that I have complained to the T about it at least 32 times since 2001.
  • None of the complaints I’ve tweeted to @mbtaGM about IAQ were brought to the attention of anyone who was in today’s meeting. I think they probably means they weren’t brought to anyone’s attention, i.e., I think they were ignored. The people in today’s meeting encouraged me to report issues in the future by phone (617-222-3200) or through the web site, but there are three problems with that:
    1. it’s a lot more work than sending a tweet;
    2. such complaints are not public; and
    3. people submitting complaints by phone or web are left with no verifiable record of the complaint.

    Nevertheless, getting the T to stop ignoring my tweets is a battle to be fought another day, so for the time being I will submit complaints through the web site as suggested.

  • The T has never done any testing or measurement of IAQ.
  • Even under the best of circumstances, some of the diesel exhaust from buses is completely unfiltered and neither measured nor tracked by the T’s emissions monitoring program. To my mind, this is a Big Deal; the details are sufficiently convoluted that I have written about them in a separate blog posting.
  • The T tests the emissions of each of its buses twice per year. The emissions monitoring program report published several years ago by the T claims buses are tested “at least three times a year.” Perhaps this was accurate at the time of publication, but apparently not anymore.

Here are the commitments that Jeffrey Gonneville made to me today:

  1. He gave me his personal contact information and said he would make sure any IAQ issues about which I notify him directly will be checked out and I will be informed of the results.
  2. I gave him a copy of the data I’ve collected about problematic buses; he said the T will immediately check out several of the ones I logged most recently and let me know the results.

I am disappointed that my efforts prior to this meeting to bring this issue to the attention of the T were unsuccessful, but I am hopeful, at least for now, that the right people are “on the job,” and that they will be able to identify and fix whatever is causing the IAQ problem. Of course, only time will tell… I will post an update when I hear more back from the T.


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5 thoughts on “Meeting with MBTA about bad air in buses

  1. Pingback: Fumes in MBTA buses: significant progress « Something better to do

  2. Nate

    Sounds like the MBTA needs to work on their communication, if so many complaints about mechanical issues never made it to the people who can do something about them.

    1. jik Post author

      Maybe, but the T certainly wouldn’t be the first organization which does a bad job of handling feedback sent via Twitter. I just sent a tweet asking what the story is, but I don’t expect a useful response, and in the spirit of picking my battles I’m not sure this particular issue is worth pushing hard on.

      1. jik Post author

        As I expected, I did not get a useful response. Here’s the private message conversation @mbtaGM just initiated with me:

        T: Hi! To make official comments for us to investigate, you can call Cust Serv at 617.222.3200 or fill out this form:

        ME: That doesn’t answer my question. You respond to comments and questions that others tweet to you. Why have you been ignoring mine? Furthermore, if I tweet issues to you, then there is a permanent, public record of the issue. There isn’t if I call or use your web form. And it’s a heck of a lot easier for me to tweet on the spot from a problematic bus than it is to call or visit a web site.

        T: We apologize for what seems like an inconvenience. An official call/msg to cust serv is the easiest course of action to resolve your issues.

        Note: No explanation proferred for why some people’s tweets are acknowledged but mine are ignored.

        Note: “We apologize for what seems like an inconvenience.” Wow, that’s incredibly snooty.

  3. Pingback: Unfiltered diesel exhaust from MBTA buses « Something better to do

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