Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Free transfers on the T. Not.

A complaint registered with me by one of our employees who takes a trolley line from Brookline and then connects with a bus at Newton Highlands to get to work at our Needham hospital.

According to the MBTA website:

Bus and Subway transfers are discounted when you use the CharlieCard. With a CharlieTicket, the full fare, plus the surcharge will be deducted from the stored-value on your CharlieTicket when you board the bus or subway.

With a CharlieCard, simply board the first vehicle of your trip and the corresponding fare is deducted. When you transfer, the faregate or farebox will automatically recognize you as a transferring customer, and deduct the additional transfer fee, if any. When transferring from a lower-priced service to a higher-priced service, like Local Bus-to-Subway, the price of your transfer is simply the difference between the two fares ($0.45). When transferring from a higher-priced service to a lower-priced service, like Subway-to-Local Bus, there is no cost to transfer.

Not quite so, remarks our friend. Apparently, your CharlieCard is time-stamped when you first get on the trolley line, and if the time you enter the bus is more than a certain number of minutes afterward, the discount doesn't work. Ditto on the return trip. A bus driver told this passenger that the second ride has to begin within 20 minutes of the first ride.

I don't know if the driver was correct, but -- as locals will tell you -- the trolley ride itself is likely to be more than 20 minutes, and if you have to wait for the bus connection, it might be 40 minutes or more before you actually get on the bus. Ditto on the return.

Apparently you can write to the T and ask for a refund if the transfer discount doesn't register. But that takes a couple of months to process. And, who wants to do that every day?

So, if this is all true, why would the people at the T be so concerned about a transfer having to occur within a certain number of minutes? Are they really worried about people "abusing" the system by, say, stopping for coffee en route to their destination? Do they think someone will hand off his or her card to another passenger at the junction of a rail and bus line and use it later in the day?

And, if it is not true that there is a specific allowable time interval, why doesn't the discount work?


Anonymous said...

This question is exactly why Mac should have left the Globe to work for the T instead of the Pike...hope you hear from someone. In NYC I believe you have two hour for the transfer --- just sayin.

Anonymous said...

Are you sure its 20 minutes? I remember I used transfers a good number of hours after or something and it still works...

DP said...

You get 2 hours, not 20 minutes.

Anonymous said...

While we are talking about the T, how about improving the safety of the Longwood stop at night so that maybe second shift employees could take public transportation. I would, but am afraid to wait there at 11 pm. Or, maybe the hospital could provide reliable transport to Kenmore or Coolidge Corner so people could wait in safety. I have mentioned this in every Masco and hospital survey and not once has it been addressed, even to say it is not feasible

Anonymous said...

Your employee or the bus driver might have misunderstood the situation. The time for transfers is 2 hours long not 20 minutes. But if you use a monthly pass, then your pass is locked for 20 minutes before you can use it again anywhere. This is to prevent people from buying 1 monthly pass and passing it around at the gate to get everyone in for free.

This is actually a bigger issue to me because it does not report that your pass was recently used in any way. It simply goes straight to any money on the card to purchase a new ride. Any mistakes or double ring-ups getting on a green line train and your funds on your card will be used up for no good reason.

Anonymous said...

This entry was picked up over on UniversalHub, where user "02132" found the MBTA's official policy and left it as a comment: The window is 2 hours for a bus transfer.

Ron Newman said...

Yes, there is a time limit on transfers, but it's 2 hours. I doubt many passengers are affected by this.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to all for your comments. So, if the policy is two hours, (1) why is our passenger seeing a different result, and (2) why doesn't the bus driver know this?

Anonymous said...

To answer your questions:

1) People are stupid, at least regarding new technology. No offense to your employee/passenger but I've seen people claim all sorts of things were going wrong with some new technology and it was actually that they didn't understand what was being shown/told to them. I work in IT and you might be surprised how many times I hear how a computer is screwed up when it's really the user.

2) I think the bus driver was telling them about the 20 minute re-use lockout policy. In fact, this may relate to my answer to #1.

For example, it's possible your employee was somehow double-tapping their card and seeing the transfer + new fare being taken from their card (first tap takes transfer, second ding takes fare). Without observing it directly, it's impossible to know why they think they're not receiving a transfer. But it's more likely that the system is working correctly, albeit poorly from a human interface standpoint (e.g., adding money to a card requires tapping the card like 3 times while everyone's trying to get onto a bus/streetcar).

Anonymous said...

Anon 10.07,

As the person referred to in this post, I take offense at being called stupid. I'm hardly what one would call a technophobe: I'm an engineer, and I _do_ understand technology. I can also do simple math, so I can figure out from the balance remaining on my Charliecard that I'm not double-tapping, once for the transfer and a second time that would result in the deduction of a full new fare.

The scenario described in the blog posting has happened more than once (I'd have chalked up one occurence to a simple glitch), with a variance in waiting time between transit. All transfers have taken place well within the two hour window. Sometimes, the transfer works. At others, it has not. I'm not sure why - perhaps I simply have a faulty card. I wonder if other transit users have experienced this

Technology is not fail-proof, particularly when a system has been newly installed and still has kinks to work out. The point here is that the free (or small balance charge) transfers sometimes do not register, and that the T operators themselves seem to have an incomplete/inconsistent understanding of the T's own policies. (The last time this happened, the T operator told me I had 15-20 minutes from the time I tapped my card - to pay my first fare for the bus - to the time I made the transfer to the train, or I'd be outside the transfer window) There's also no easy recourse for a customer who has been incorrectly charged, short of writing to the T and waiting possibly months for an answer or a refund. (It's also a little sad that no one from the T appears to read any customer/rider blogs, or at least didn't seem to when forums like existed; it would seem to be a good thing to do to improve one's customer service model.)