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The trolley Svengali

Why Dan Grabauskas might actually fix the T — if he can keep his job
By ADAM REILLY  |  April 30, 2008

NOT EASY BEING ON THE GREEN: The line may be notoriously slow and crowded, but there have been some improvements of late.

Smells like T spirit!
Boston’s mass-transit system dates back to 1631, when sailboats ferried passengers from Chelsea to Charlestown. In the subsequent 377 years, service has become a teeny bit faster — but at a price that has put the MBTA in debt to a tune of more than $8 billion. With transportation issues getting renewed scrutiny under the Patrick administration, Phoenix staffers fanned out to kick the T’s tires.

• Trouble 'round the bend? MBTA workers have been without a contract for two years. Arbitration will settle the matter soon, but could stir an angry hornets’ nest for 2010. By David S. Bernstein
• Seven habits of highly effective T-riders: Keep your hands on the pole and not on your neighbor’s ass, bucko. By Sharon Steel.
• The T and the Tube: London’s Underground is seething with danger. Boston’s T has cuckoo juice. By James Parker.
• Underground art: Reviewing the MBTA’s subterranean aesthetic. By Mike Miliard.
A sinking feeling: Leaky MBTA tunnels have been seeping Boston’s groundwater for years. Can a new plan prevent potential catastrophe? By David S. Bernstein
• State of hock: If the MBTA wasn't in debt, these items would be at the top of its new wish list. By Jason Notte.
• The Phoenix editorial: Is the MBTA on track?

When the T works, we usually don’t notice. But when it doesn’t, our reaction is swift and severe. Blood pressures rise; heads are buried in hands and hair is pulled out; anger and despair run rampant. And for those who seek a scapegoat, there’s an obvious choice: the guy who runs the damn thing.

For those who haven’t experienced this rail rage firsthand, here’s a case study. A few weeks ago, walking up the ramp to the Swampscott commuter-rail stop, I passed a woman walking down the ramp, toward the street; she was muttering to herself and seemed to be on the verge of tears. Up at the station, the LED message board suggested an explanation: the 7:25 and 7:55 am trains were both running about an hour late, and the former wasn’t taking any passengers. (Of course, this information would have been more useful if it wasn’t already pushing 9:30.)

The train finally came, everybody found seats, and a conductor entered my car. A woman sitting near me suggested that — since she’d been waiting an obscenely long time, and hadn’t been allowed to board the last train that showed up — she shouldn’t have to pay. The conductor replied, testily, that this passenger could fill out a refund request, but that she (the conductor) would lose her job if she didn’t collect every fare. After the conductor moved on, an impromptu gripe-fest ensued: this happens all the time! On a good day, it’s quicker to drive into Boston! Fares and passes cost too much! T Radio sucked! (More on that last one in a bit.)

Toward the end of all this spleen-venting, I mentioned Dan Grabauskas, the MBTA’s general manager. One of my fellow kvetchers shot me a dark look. “It’s his fault,” he said. “Any way you look at it, he’s responsible.”

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Related: Patrick's latest train wreck, Boston in the 70s: Part 3, Is the MBTA on track?, More more >
  Topics: News Features , Deval Patrick, Deval Patrick, Lee Matsueda,  More more >
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 See all articles by: ADAM REILLY

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