More cards and cars

What's next for the MBTA
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  January 17, 2006

Regardless of where the T ends up running, two projects in the works aim to make the system run smoother and more efficiently. It’s also likely that they’ll cause a few headaches during implementation.

CONSPIRACY THEORISTS BEWARE: the MBTA would be able to track where you board the T.Last month, the MBTA announced that by the end of 2006, the “CharlieTicket” fare system which issues paper tickets via touch-screen machines like those used by transit systems in New York City and Washington, DC will be in place in all T stations. The automated machines are currently installed in eight Blue Line stations. The MBTA expects them to be in Orange Line stations by the end of the summer and throughout Red and Green Line stations by the end of next year. Remember, though, that, as in the Big Apple, if you insert $20 for a $5 ticket, you’ll end up with a $15 pocketful of Sacagawea coins, which are good for little else than weighing down pockets and confusing cashiers. Better to use your credit or debit cards for smaller purchases.

And super-paranoid conspiracy theorists beware: if you opt for the rechargeable CharlieCard a plastic card that can be linked to a credit card for monthly deductions and reissued if it’s lost or stolen the MBTA would be able to track where you board the T (but not where you get off).

“The T has absolutely no interest in the travel patterns of any one passenger,” MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo says dryly. But the records will be maintained for a year and a half before they’re destroyed, and they can be subpoenaed by law-enforcement officials. So if you’ve got a guilty conscience, pay for your ticket with cash.

In other news, the T told us that by 2007, there will be 85 new Italian-made Breda trains in the Green Line fleet a net increase of 30 cars for the line that carries 200,000 riders daily back and forth from Boston College, Boston University, Brookline, Jamaica Plain, and Newton to downtown Boston.

The announcement isn’t likely to inspire much confidence among T riders who remember when the Italian trolley cars were introduced to Boston in 1999. At that point, the brand-new AnsaldoBreda cars were plagued by “a long laundry list of problems,” admits T general manager Daniel Grabauskas, such as door and propulsion problems, frequent need for repair (the Breda cars were averaging a mere 400 miles between failures; the T had specified 9000 miles when it ordered the cars), and derailments. The awkward stair and seating arrangements weren’t too popular either. (In 1999, then-Phoenix writer Jason Gay described the new look: “To start, all the seating has been rearranged, and some full seats have been abandoned for stool-like seats and benches. Even more radical, passengers now board the train at street level instead of climbing those little stairs. The thing is, the interior must still accommodate the train's raised wheel well, so the east and west sides of the cab stand nearly a foot and a half higher than the street-level center. This is a tad jarring at first: if you're standing in the train's middle, you can't help being freaked out by the people standing high above you to the right and left.”)

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