Editorial, Opinion

STAFF EDIT: T needs a rude awakening

In 2005, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority teamed up with Dunkin’ Donuts to promote, of all things, a little courtesy and civility on the T. But even free donuts couldn’t keep Bostonians from being cranky commuters. Now, the MBTA is back at it with another courtesy campaign to clean up Boston’s filthy mouths and dislodge stubborn riders for the sake of older ones. And though the campaign is an honorable one, T officials again miss the point: The reason T riders are often so hot and bothered has to do with the T’s service ‘-‘- or lack thereof.
‘ The new program, which borrows the tag line ‘courtesy counts’ from prior politeness campaigns, consists of 600 subway cars and 400 city buses plastered with posters driving the point home. The initiative hopes to end such uncouth behavior as fare evasion, loud cell phone use, foul language, hogging seats reserved for the disabled and elderly and pushing oneself on the vehicle before others get off. It’s hard to imagine the MBTA without these charms.
But again the MBTA is missing the point with its campaign. T service hasn’t exactly been commendable in recent months. The authority can’t expect commuters to be jovial, upstanding riders when their bus is 20 minutes late. And any commuter can appreciate the annoyed attitude of some T operators, who have to deal with the same poor conditions as the passengers.
Furthermore, in the MBTA’s current fiscal crisis, pointing the finger at passengers for the negative vibes on the T is little more than an obvious veil over a tough issue. And from a financial standpoint, spending any amount of money on the thousands of posters and distributing them is never wise when there is not any money left to spend.
If the MBTA is serious about improving rider morale and manners, it must first stabilize its finances, so it can work on the real problems. Construction-projects-to-nowhere notwithstanding, the biggest difference in ridership quality will come from improvements to scheduling, basic maintenance and employee morale.
When was the last time the rapid transit lines ran on any sort of predictable schedule? How many times have two, three or even four 57 line buses been caught bumper-to-bumper on Commonwealth Avenue? Some buses are run back-to-back during rush hour, but some simply end up jammed together when one falls behind schedule. Keeping to a consistent schedule would be a boon to commuters and would help alleviate the T congestion that results in long stretches without service of any kind.
Of course, courtesy counts. But courtesy counts everywhere. It isn’t the responsibility of the MBTA to remind us all to consider others in public. It is their responsibility, however to run an efficient, consistent transportation system.

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