Summarizing Input on the Green Line

Thanks to the over 100 people who participated in our forum on the Green Line at the Boston Public Library on Thursday. And thanks to the many more who have commented in our general MBTA forum.

Thank you especially to the MBTA staff who assembled an excellent opening presentation (click here for the PowerPoint) and brought a great depth of expertise to the table.

To further the conversation, I wish to summarize the comments pertaining to the Green Line.  I’ll be following-up on the comments about other issues in subsequent posts.

Rider concerns fall into the following broad categories:

  • Speed — cut travel time, especially on the long above-ground B line segment.
  • Frequency — more frequent service.
  • Capacity — if tunnel congestion makes more frequent trains impossible, then longer trains in the rush hour.
  • Transparency — publicly availability of train arrival time information.
  • Accessibility — many stops and the cars generally could be more accessible.

The following set of specific aspirations for the Green Line emerged from an airing of those concerns.  They all depend on adequate funding, and no specific commitments have been made, but with funding, it seemed from the conversation that the various aspirations might be realized in roughly the time frames below.

Short term — 1 to 5 years, focus on speed, transparency and accessibility:

  • Coordinate traffic signals with Boston and Brookline traffic officials to reduce above-ground travel times.
  • Add tracking technology to support arrival time information for consumers.
  • Discuss removal of closely-spaced above-ground stops, particularly along Commonwealth Avenue near BU.
  • Complete Government Center station rehab for accessibility and respond to above-ground accessibility issues identified in the forum and on ongoing basis.
  • Given the single directional tracks running along much of Commonwealth Ave and Beacon Street, express trains are not feasible — they only make sense when there has been a backup and the lead train can run express to regain schedule.  Complex express plans involving station skipping (odd trains and even trains) raise manageability concerns.
  • Accelerate boarding procedures through all-door boardingperhaps install rear-door fare collection boxes with audible signals that allow all passengers to police fare evasion by peers.  This would require all passengers to be using card technology.  A side benefit of this would be more complete ridership statistics.  (The T reported that customers protested fare evasion by others when all-door boarding was permitted without new fare collection devices.)  This strategy may be dependent on new cars and belongs in the medium term category.

Matt Danish, Andrew Fisher, Benjamin Tocchi and Eva Webster were among those who spoke about these issues.

Medium term — 5 to 10 years, focus on capacity and accessibility:

  • Expand and upgrade fleet to allow three car trains, improve accessibility and streamline boarding procedures (fare collection at all doors, see above). Currently, only about 8 out of 60 to 70 rush hour trains on the B and D lines are three car trains, so the potential capacity improvement from going to all three-car trains in rush hour is almost 50%.
  • Upgrade power systems to support three car trains.
  • Note:  No station upgrades are necessary on the B or D lines to support three car trains.  Need to understand 3 car issues on C and E lines.
  • Fund accessibility upgrades for the remaining inaccessible Green Line subway stations — (Symphony, Boylston and Hynes?); identify high-priority improvements in above-ground stations.
  • Consider new track segments (side tracks to allow express trains to pass; connections between E and D lines) and new uses of existing track segments (inner loop at Park Street) that might speed travel.
  • Consider possible frequency increases in off-hour service, depending on evolving demand and user satisfaction with train time transparency.
  • Address safety concerns with train control technology — note that this technology may actually tend to force increased train spacing in the tunnel core and reduce capacity.

Long term — 10 years plus, build major new connections.   Keep planning now to:

  • Move the Urban Ring project forward — direct connections around the rim from Dorchester to Longwood to Cambridge  to Everett would reduce core traffic along the Green and Red Line spokes and save time for many riders.   See these comments by Myron Miller and John Howe for more on this big picture concept.
  • Also possibly on the radar screen, the Blue to Red/Charles connector and a possible additional tunnel extending beyond Charles paralleling the existing core Green Line.

Further thoughts?

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

16 replies on “Summarizing Input on the Green Line”

  1. I believe Washington Square and Cleveland Circle platforms are too short for 3-car trains on the “C” line, due to cross streets. The “E” line supports 3-car trains up to Brigham Circle but they do not seem to want to run them beyond that.

    I didn’t want to interrupt the guy to say this, but, collection of ridership statistics is not based on automated fare collection statistics. It is supplemented through manual counts.

    One thing that was neglected to bring up except obliquely is the possibility of One Person Train Operation on the Green Line. The fellow who brought up San Francisco MUNI forgot to emphasize that: in addition to Proof-of-Payment, they have moved to a system of one driver per train. The driver is not responsible for fare collection, which takes an undue burden off them, allowing them to focus on driving. The T officials complained about staffing constraints briefly, and I should have pointed this out, but POP goes hand-in-hand with OPTO, which means those extraneous “drivers” who sit in the back cars can become roving fare inspectors instead.

    In lieu of full POP, you could arrange a system where monthly pass holders use the rear door, pay-per-ride go up front, and the roving inspector will randomly check only people who they witness entering the rear door. This could be implemented at any time without any capital investment.

    I should have brought this up, but I have collected a quotation from “T officials” in the Metro which claims that fare evasion is at about 1.5%. If true, that’s an unbelievably low number by worldwide standards. For example, Zurich sees about 2% and considers that to be a success. If the T is doing better on fare evasion than Zurich then there’s no reason to waste further money or harm riders trying to collect that last 1.5%, it’s simply not worthwhile.–is-the-mbta-offering-a-free-ride-for-some

    Anyway, the reason I bring all this stuff up is that the point of all-door boarding, signal priority, and station elimination is to make the overall trip-times speedier, more reliable and more predictable. It’s extremely hard to avoid bunching and run a sensible schedule when you can’t be sure whether each station stop will take 1 minute or 5 minutes, when you can’t be sure whether you’ll get stuck at a cross-street traffic light for 30 seconds or 120 seconds, and when you have to go through all this uncertainty every 200 meters instead of every 400-500 meters. The variability is so bad that I have had the same trip on the Green Line take 15 minutes, and on a different occasion, 50 minutes.

  2. Does the scope of your discussion include the promised Greenline and multi use path expansion to/through Medford and Somerville? I thought when we agreed to pay for the big dig (for cars) a green line expansion was promised. I principally care about the multiuse path that was promised. Please please let us have a nice safe way to get Bikes into and out of Boston (to Arlington, in my case)

    Thanks for all you do!

    Carl Wagner

  3. Thanks, Carl. The Green Line extension to the north is not part of the focus of discussion. It is in the Governor’s Transportation Plan and I support it. But, the focus of the discussion we have been having is on the existing Green Line and its challenges.

  4. Dear Senator Brownsberger,
    Thank you very much for an outstanding meeting. I was pleased to see that so many of our elected officials attended or sent representatives to the meeting as well as co-sponsored it. I was appreciative of the number of MBTA officials that were on hand to listen to concerns and to answer specific questions. Evidently, it was great that so many Green Line customers showed up and were able to express their concern as well as to offer constructive ideas on how to improve services. Your summary of discussions is quite accurate. The meeting went a long way in clarifying where the main needs in the Green Line are and in drafting an agenda for prioritizing resources and investments. There is a lot to do, but is reassuring to know that a lot can be done in the short and medium term. I trust that decision makers in the T, the City, and the State will see the value of the process you have initiated, and will guide their decisions regarding funding and priority initiatives for the T according to it.

  5. I am really sad that I wasn’t able to make it to the forum. This is such great feedback.

    I strongly agree with the need to decrease travel time. I think it might be good to have fewer stops on the B and C lines, but this is difficult because these lines also function as a bus for people who can’t walk more than a couple of blocks. I have wondered if it makes sense to add a bus route to go either faster or slower than the trolley. On Comm Ave, some of this would be redundant with BC/BU shuttles. Maybe BU and BC could be part of the discussion/solution.

    It would be great to have GPS tracking on the green line, the way there is for buses and trains and through applications and sites like Nextbus. Living by Cleveland circle, I often wonder if I should take the C or D and I never know when either is actually coming.

    The biggest strength of the green line is that it’s relatively reliable during rush hour. It is much less reliable and more infrequent during off hours. Train time transparency would help, but really there needs to be a greater volume of trains. When I used to play in a sports league in Somerville and finished games at 8 or 9pm, I would take 2 buses to get to the green line and then wait for 30 min. When the train arrived, it would be packed. Needless to say, I quit the league.

    I wonder if in the long run it would be possible to build more connections between lines or at least have free transfer, e.g. when I am switching to the orange line, I often get out at Copley and walk to Back Bay. This costs another fare, but takes much less time than going all the way to Park St. to transfer to the Orange Line Downtown Crossing. A single station for the C and D at Reservoir/Cleveland Circle would be really nice, so we could take whichever comes first. Free transfers between the different green line stations overground would also be nice- so many stops are close together.

    I also wonder about more coordination with bus timing (esp. the 66, which serves as the main ring connecting other neighborhoods and trains to the green line). I have had numerous infuriating experiences with the green line– a train is 5 min late and pulls up just as the 66 is pulling away, adding a 25 minute bus wait to an already hour-long commute. In general, developing the efficacy of the 66 bus as a connector (making it more frequent, less packed) would have a huge impact on riders’ experience of the green line and the ability of folks in Brookline, Brighton and Allston to get to neighborhoods outside of downtown. The 65 and 86 also do this but serve fewer people. The 39 and 1 buses are much better and I think a model of what the 66 could be like.

  6. I am sorry that I missed this meeting. The suggestions are substantial and I appreciate that they were voiced and heard. Here’s hoping they are acted upon!

    My suggestions have more to do with the ridership and the relationship the MBTA takes responsibility for. Many come to Boston each year from places where mass transit doesn’t exist. It is clear to this subway and bus rider that for this reason and others, the MBTA must be a partner in establishing and maintaining the courtesies and logic that comes with using the transit system.

    On a recent trip to DC I notices more signage and announcements geared toward this. The MBTA has improved announcements of delays and causes but has yet to touch on this aspect of crowd control. For instance, passengers getting on at the height of rush hour with full backpacks on don’t realize they are exacerbating the close quarters and in many cases whacking others with their load when they turn around. That kind of stuff.

    I also think that the issue of overly large baby strollers needs to be reapproached. Perhaps now that there is a female GM, we will be more successful in encouraging parents to use smaller strollers and passengers from standing in the areas that are best suited for them.

    Thanks again, Sarah

  7. I have ridden the MBTA green and red subway lines and the buses for the 42 years that I have lived in the Boston area. During this time, I have seen the T drivers and by ascending domino effect the T management, bear the burden of increasingly self-centered, hostile and dishonest passengers. In short, I offer the following rules for consideration, which would require creative and determined implementation.
    1. Every passeger pays a fare, including babies, the elderly, and the disabled. Any passenger who attempts fare evasion should be ejected before the vehicle proceeds.
    2. No assistive devices or personal belongs including baby carriages should be larger than umbrella strollers. Any larger devices or objects should be collapsible to the size of such a stroller.
    3. Persons with babies or small children should immediately be given a seat (or more than one seat for additional children) by the nearest appropriate passegers. Infants should be placed on the adult’s lap and other children in the group seated in adjoining seats. Strollers should be collapsed and held by the adult. Children should refrain from standing on any seat or kneeling on a seat to face the window.
    4. A person seated is entitled to one seat only. If the adjoining seat is transiently empty, the seated person should refrain from placing any personal belongings on that empty seat. The seat should be left empty and ready for the next person entitled to a seat. A passenger should not have to ask another passenger to move personal belongings to allow seating. History confirms that seats turn over almost instantly.
    5. All persons who enter a vehicle should move as far into the car as possible, even if they must speak to or climb over other individuals to reach the interior. This will maximize the space available to pick up additional passengers. On memorable occasions I have been left on freezing rainy or snowy corners as T vehicles full at the front but with room at the rear have sped by. T drivers are consumed with safe driving and exhausted by the necessity of asking adults to behave as such — and they cannot be expected to constantly admonish passengers to move to the back.
    6. Noise from electronics hould be eliminated by ear pieces and noise from voices kept at the level of acoustic detection by the adjoining person only. No one else wants hear music or conversation.
    7. Every elderly or infirm person should immediately be given a seat. So many young people are zoned out now, eyes closed or downcast on their phone or pad, ears plugged by pieces, that they are oblivious to surroudings. While standing, I routinely tap these young people on the shoulder to give a seat to someone (not me) who is in need.
    8. As I enter a bus every time, I thank the driver for coming, because I know what a constantly challenging job it is and how grateful I am for public transportation.

  8. I am sympathetic to Lorraine’s beef about oversized assistive devices blocking seats and passages on the T. However, as a father of twins, I also have to maintain that this issue is not always quite so simple.

    If a parent has to manage two children in a stroller at the same time, it is extremely difficult to manage this with two umbrella strollers. So, it is almost inevitable that a double-length or double-width stroller has to be brought into play. Collapsing said stroller is a performable task, but quite challenging while also trying to keep two children under control. In a similar way, a person who must use a wheelchair to get around (and most double width strollers are now the width of a standard wheelchair) may have a very hard time indeed collapsing the wheelchair and sitting in a seat. Similar conundrums confront the traveler heading to the train station or the airport with a large suitcase (or three) in tow.

    For my part, when I am on the T with my daughters, I tend to avoid cars that are over-full, and skip trains in favor of ones where I can leave my daughters in the stroller while striving to minimize obstruction to everyone else. But at rush hour, this can be quite the challenge. I don’t know the best way to try to handle this sort of problem.

    I do have to say, I’m sorry that I missed the forum, and quite impressed with the thoughtfulness, breadth, and depth of the thinking that is summarized in this forum. Thank you, Senator B., for helping to facilitate this discussion in this way.

  9. One point that I did not see addressed, either here or at the meeting, was the general suspicion among many that a dollar spent on the T buys just a dime’s worth of improvement. I stress that the only direct evidence I have of this that comes to mind right now are the double teams of guys I see readjusting the spur intersections on the B line every morning. Maybe that is unrepresentative. Possibly the T is wonderfully managed. Maybe I am being unfair. But I know I am not alone. It would be great if at some time an independent task force could evaluate T procedures and practices to see if we are getting a reasonable return on our dollars.

  10. I realize that this forum has not been active in some time, but I wanted to share a few thoughts I had implementation of a Proof of Payment System. I’m a strong urban transportation enthusiast, but growing up on the Green Line has been the biggest disappointment. Perhaps it was this systems misery that first attracted me to the idea of working with transportation.

    Back with the implementation of the CharlieCard, the MBTA added a few boxes at each station where riders could tap their cards. They have been widely unused, but I must ask: were these installed for the hopeful implementation of a POP system? My idea for the system would be that riders hopping on would tap their charliecards to the machine while waiting. The screen would then would say “payment accepted” for example. Then when on board, roaming fare collectors would have hand held smart card receivers. The rider would simply tap the card, and assuming they had paid their fare, it would be accepted. This is the same technology used to register transfers on the card. If a transfer is registered, then then the card is under active trip and thats it. I believe this differs than originally thought, since wasn’t the MBTA’s original plan to have the on platform machines issue paper tickets?

    For riders without a charliecard, cash could still be used up front. This would then issue a charlieticket as it does today that would be used as POP. Fare inspectors would be able to inspect tickets the same way to see when they were last used, and if the card is valid. A system like this would probably have to coincide with one person train operation and the installation of more ticket machines at surface stops. If successful, the system could implemented on buses too to speed up boarding. The entire process seems like something the T can do relatively easy given the technology it currently has. It could also raise money in more collected fares and violation tickets.

  11. The question of how to modify fare collection is a subject of continuing discussion within the MBTA. My sense is that all approaches are on the table and most have substantial costs associated with them — that’s the challenge, how to afford the upgrade.

  12. The nice thing about proof-of-payment is that it is cheaper to implement than any other fare collection strategy. The T would actually save money. (Of course, government contractors don’t like the fact that it is cheaper, because they cannot then fleece the public for expensive fare gate technology, and big expensive segregated stations). Not only that, more efficient operations could lead to cost-savings as well.

    This article is worth reading:

    When I rode the Strasbourg tram earlier today, I was pleased to see that they use a “proof of payment” system for fare collection. It was also apparent to me that many of my fellow American journalists on this trip regarded the system as bizarre and unfamiliar, so it’s perhaps worth explaining because it’s actually quite widespread and ought to be more widely used in the United States.

    It starts with buying tickets. You can buy one. Or for a discount, you can buy a bundle of tickets—ten or maybe even larger bundles. Then when you actually want to ride the tram (or bus), you go to the stop and while you’re waiting for the tram to arrive you “validate” one of your tickets by inserting into a little machine that puts a time stamp on it. Then when the tram arrives you simply step on. Nine times out of ten, that’ll be it. But once in a while your tram will have an inspector on it who’ll ask to see people’s tickets. If your ticket has a recent time stamp (exactly how recent it needs to be has to be worked out according to overally system goals) then you’re golden. But if you don’t have a recently validated ticket, then you’ll have to pay a steep fine

    The great virtue of this system is that people can board the vehicle very quickly because they simply step on board. The transactional hassles of payment and validation are handled during otherwise wasted waiting time.

    And over the course of an entire route, speeding the boarding process can make a really substantial difference. And that’s important because faster speed sets off a virtuous circle. For starters, a faster transit mode is more attractive to riders and will collect more fares thus allowing a given level of subsidy to provide more service. Second, faster speed lets a fixed quantity of vehicles and drivers provide more frequent service. That increases the value of the line which, again, attracts more riders and more revenue and allows for more service. So even though it seems like a small change it can actually have quite large benefits for your system.

    One reason Americans tend to shy away from it, I think, is that the transit conversation gets a bit excessively dominated by exotic uses. Important people drive everywhere, except maybe while traveling, and proof of payment systems are more complicated for visitors to figure out than a simple “hand the bus driver some money” approach. But the majority of transit ridership is regular transit users taking the bus in the city where they live. And proof of payment is a much better way of delivering higher quality service at reasonable price to transit users. And if proof of payment was more widespread, it’s biggest downside—people don’t always get what’s going on—would be massively ameliorated simply by making people more familiar with it. So, seriously, ask your local transit agency why they aren’t looking at a switch to proof of payment.

  13. Thanks, Matt.

    I agree that this approach merits continued attention. I will continue to follow up on all dimensions of green line service. Right now, the big variable is funding and we’re trying to put that in place.

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