Wellesley resident and regular commuter rail traveler Michael Kiernan says the MBTA would have been better off taking whatever money and effort went into its new Winter Happens (But We Know You Still Need to Get There) advertising campaign and instead putting it into making sure trains show up when they are supposed to arrive. Even though winter has barely made an appearance, commuter rail performance has remained erratic, says Kiernan, who reached out to us earlier this month to share his experiences with the trains of late.
“Why are you spending money on advertising when you have a captive audience?” Kiernan says, paraphrasing an email he sent to the T recently. “We will believe you can do a good job in the winter when you’ve performed up to what you’ve agreed to.”
Worcester Train 512 (7:35 am from Worcester) is operating 10-15 min delayed between Wellesley Sq and South Station due to a signal problem
— MBTA Commuter Rail (@MBTA_CR) January 12, 2016
News reports of the derailment of a Haverhill commuter rail train on a frigid early January day didn’t give Kiernan reason for optimism either.
In his third year as a regular Wellesley/Boston commuter rail rider from the Wellesley Square or Hills stations, Kiernan has become a self-described “voice of the commuter” in part, he says, because he can. Many other disappointed riders just don’t have the time to formally complain to train operator Keolis or politicians who might have influence, Kiernan says. People are squeezed as they rush to jobs that pay by the hour, as they attempt to get home before having to pay extra for daycare, he adds.
When we spoke last week, Kiernan recounted the trains being late 1 out of 3 days that week, and 3 out of 5 days the week before. He cited an incident where one 7:30am train went missing, and a follow-up train was packed, no one could get on in Wellesley. While he acknowledges that things maaaybe actually have improved over last year’s disastrous MBTA performance in the midst of record snowfall, he says the bar was so low it kind of had to get better. He understands that Keolis inherited a weak system, but it had to know that going in and should have been prepared to overhaul things more quickly.
Pointing to the performance stats that the MBTA shares, Kiernan isn’t impressed when he sees numbers such as 86% on-time arrivals. “You might have 2 good days, but then have 3 bad days,” he says. “I don’t think an employer is going to be excited that out of 100 days you can make it there on time 86 days,” he says.
— That Guy From Boston (@ThatGuyBoston) January 11, 2016
Wellesley State Rep. Alice Hanlon Peisch also continues to push for improvements, as she emailed me last week.
“My impression based on the ‘t-alerts’ that I receive and complaints from riders is that Keolis still has a long way to go in terms of reliability of service,” she says. “There are periods of pretty good on-time service but on a fairly regular basis delays and overcrowding still occur for a variety of reasons. Despite the addition of about 40 new locomotives, there are still periodic mechanical failures presumably on the old locomotives still in use – I think about 1/3 of what is needed to operate is quite old, 2/3 new. Additionally, signal and track problems continue. According to MBTA, lots of time/money is being used to address the signal and track issues but lots of work remains. Beyond frustrating. I am meeting with the MBTA to discuss the schedule changes [the week of Jan. 11] so may have a little more info. Relative to some rapid transit and bus [routes], the proposed commuter rail fares increases are relatively modest, but still an issue when reliability remains elusive.”
[Note: A change.org petition regarding fare hikes launched by a Gloucester woman has gathered more than 2,200 signatures. Upcoming public meetings on fare and schedule changes will be held nearby, in Newton and Natick…more details here.]