When I first made the decision that I was going to move to Boston, I made a point of searching out and subscribing to local Boston-area blogs. After reading them for a while I discovered that there was a very common thing that kept popping up all over Boston blogs: complaining about the T and the MBTA. At first, I didn't really understand this. Living across the bay from San Francisco, my experience with similar systems had been BART. In comparison, the T is vastly more convenient and vastly cheaper ($1.25, rather than getting you wherever you're going, will maybe get you to the next stop, but the farther you go the more you pay on BART). Fortunately, this naÃ¯vetÃ© was not to last for long.
I had the good fortune of moving here just as the MBTA was about to implement the CharlieTicket system. At first I thought this would be a good thing because although the cards lack the quaintness of the token system, they also lack the sheer mass of the actual tokens. The cards definitely do make it much more convenient to pay for all the rides you'll need in a given day or week at once. But once they actually installed the machines at my T stop (Central Square), I realized that the system just isn't well designed for the way the T currently works. If you buy a $1.25 card, as many people do, you stick it into the machine, get it back, and walk through the gates. Makes sense until you realize that you now have a completely useless card with no money on it. As a result there's almost always a pile of spent CharlieTickets just inside the gates. Obviously this is a waste of paper and money, and could easily be corrected with one simple change taken from the BART system: if you stick your card in, and it only has $1.25 on it, just open the gates and don't give the card back. That saves the cards to be put back into the distribution machines and reused, or at least just cuts down on the clutter in the stations.
The only reason I can think of for the current behavior of the CharlieTicket machines is if they want people to keep their spent card and just put more money on it the next time they want to go somewhere, but that really doesn't make sense either as it's not any more convenient for people to do it that way than it is to just get a new card every they use one up. Also, the little paper cards are just too flimsy to last for all that long. If they really wanted to have people reuse the cards they should use heavier, plastic ones. Ones that would be read with a swipe mechanism similar to the one that was already present on about 50% of the old turnstiles
The other, and I think vastly bigger, problem with the CharlieTicket system wasn't with the implementation but with the installation. Someone in the MBTA had the brilliant idea of switching the stations entirely over to the CharlieTicket system one at a time
. As a result, some stations only use CharlieTickets and others don't use them at all. Even now, at least a month into the transition, if I want to go to Harvard Square (as I did on Saturday) I have to buy a $1.25 CharlieTicket to get there, then a $1.25 token to get back. Of course if I didn't realize that Harvard Square didn't have their CharlieTicket machines installed yet I'd probably end up getting a $2.50 CharlieTicket thinking I could use it to get home only to be surprised when 1) I couldn't, and 2) they only have one window open selling tokens at Harvard Square on a Saturday afternoon so there's an enormously long line. Long story short, I walked home to Central Square.
What they should
have done, was not bring a single CharlieTicket machine online until there was at least one in operation in every station. So for a while they would have had all stations using both cards and tokens and slowly moved them over until all stations had only one token turnstile. At that point they could easily have just completed the transition over night without inconveniencing the riders at all. Of course, I suspect their plan is really to change the fare structure to make it more like BART and therefore more expensive for the riders. They should have just stuck with the tokens and added token dispensing machines. Hopefully things will be better when they roll out the CharlieCards...