One of the many great things that I like about living in Swampscott is the fact that we don’t need a second car. I can walk to the beautiful historic train station and take the MBTA Commuter Rail into Boston. The ride is less than half an hour and costs me $163 per month for unlimited use even on the weekends and also includes the T. Compared to the cost and aggravation of driving to Boston back and forth everyday it’s a great value. And I'm not even missing out on listening to our local Talk 1200 radio host Jeff Katz in the morning thanks to the the free Wi-Fi service on many Commuter Rail trains."
Well, unfortunately there is a downside to all this. MBTA service can be spotty and unreliable. Like today when a train without any electricity was stranded at the Swampscott station and then carefully and slowly pushed into Boston. Thanks to the really friendly and thoroughly communicating conductor this didn’t turn out to be quite as unpleasant as these things can be. According to her record they had two broken engines to choose from when they left Newburyport and went with the one that was still moving — until they came to Swampscott and the power went out.
Again, this kind of event is not untypical. Trains are late, break down, T-service can be very unreliable, and so forth. And in the news we hear about the MBTA's ongoing and worsening financial situation that will make events like the one today more likely — maybe even to a point where things become a safety concern. A lot of what one can witness everyday on our public transportation system reminds me of the rather grim scenes from “Atlas Shrugged” often supported by the same kind of “Who’s John Galt?” attitude as in “I just work here…”.
There is lots of outrage at the moment over the MBTA’s announcement to a) increase fares AND b) limit services (sounds a bit like the government’s most recent ideas for healthcare but that’s for another day…). I even got an invitation to sign one of the local “Move On” petitions which I respectfully declined. The problem is that neither the MBTA’s “solution” nor the outcry over it addresses any of the root causes.
As I said before the daily commute at $163 is a great value to me — in more than one way. A good pricing model should reflect value. I assume that the MBTA’s pricing model is based on something different than value. In fact, I’ve been saying for years that I suspect that the price for my ticket is too low — and that I’d rather spend more for better and more reliable service. I’ve been getting “the look” for that remark usually. But it looks that at least the first half of my suggestion will soon become a reality.
For the second part we may have to wait until people start to seriously question the business model as a public transportation system that is sucked dry by union demands, public officials and often unmotivated employees. I know, “the look” again. Unfortunately, this old model is failing left and right and not only in the United States. Comparisons with Greece have become a little too popular lately but you get the drift. Maybe things have to get a lot worse before they get better. See you on the train.