In 1949, Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax Hawes wrote the song M.T.A. It was for a political campaign in Boston and if you’ve heard the song before, most likely the more popular version by the Kingston Trio 10 years later, you know it’s a staple in the Boston area.
Here are just a few lines from the song written 69 years ago;
Now, you citizens of Boston, don’t you think it’s a scandal
How the people have to pay and pay?
Fight the fare increase, vote for George O’Brian
Get poor Charlie off the MTA!
Or else he’ll never return
No he’ll never return and his fate is still unlearned (just like Paul Revere)
He may ride forever ‘neath the streets of Boston
He’s the man who never returned
First off, George O’Brian is a made up person. The real person was Walter A. O’Brien, who was a labor organizer and Progressive Party activist whose politics made him a target of the Massachusetts Commission on Communism in the 1950’s. The song was based on the 5 cent exit charge on top of the 10 cent fare which in 1949 was treated as poorly as the announcement this Winter that in 2019 another major fare increase will occur.
Now, I’m not writing this post on Boston Week to discuss the politics of our city and the connection to the T, that would go way over our heads. Instead, let me throw out a few examples as to why the current transportation system is still operating like its 1949.
For those patrons who join me on the Red Line at Ashmont every weekday morning, we have come to expect the unexpected. You deal with a variety of hiccups that can be minor (the train conductor won’t close the door and pull away from the station because people are holding the doors for those sprinting from the trolley up stairs and causes the cold air to push throughout the cars during the winter months). Or how about when one of the cars is not in use and everyone has to scramble and squeeze into the next available one, that’s always exciting. My point is, with the smaller inconveniences, we know that things can be much, much worse.
From DC, to Philly, NYC and here in Boston, each public transit system will have their issues and I’ve experienced some in all four locations. But it’s so bad in Boston that commuters will argue which line is worse than the others. Think about that for a second, Orange Line riders and Red Line riders debating on Twitter who has a worse experience. There is no clear cut solution because there are so many issues that people can point out.
Transparency might have been what people wanted at first and when they received a time departure screen at each station, that might have tempered some of those issues. Wrong, wrong! Now that we’ve come to expect when the next train will arrive and it’s not there at the exact time, the frustration builds. The extended delays that are announced as “experiencing moderate delays” can mean your next train comes in 5 minutes if you’re lucky or 20 and now you’ve missed your spin class.
How about when a train derails? I’ve often wondered does that train then get decommissioned? Signal problems, is that like when a red light just never turns green? It’s not 1949 anymore and yet we still react to these issues with shrugging shoulders, swearing under our breath and giving a cold stare to any MBTA worker who hasn’t fixed the problem. True story: I once waited for a train for more than 25 minutes and a woman next to me grilled a station manager about the extended delays, like it was his fault that the temperature caused track problems during the morning commute.
New trains would be a huge, major, important gift to each line on the T. Some of these cars that are still being pulled on the tracks are older than a majority of their riders. Fare increases are necessary but the 10% bump that is expected to be implemented next July, is most likely not enough to alleviate the major issues.
We city commuters are in a tricky place. Obviously the alternative to using the T is driving and quite frankly, F that. If you want to talk about an absolute cluster, rush hour traffic in Boston is what caused everyone outside of our state to call us Massholes. There’s nothing worse than a driver weaving in and out of bumper to bumper traffic just because they don’t enjoy sitting for more than 5 seconds behind the same car. But this is a whole other blog post entirely.
Poor Charlie never returned while riding on the MTA. He didn’t have enough money to see his sister in Chelsea or cousin in Roxbury and just continued to ride neath the streets of Boston. My name isn’t Charlie, it’s Mike. One of my sisters lives a few blocks away from me and the other lives in Weymouth, so I can drive there. The current issues for the Charlies’ that ride the T now are getting to and from work. I guess my solution is find a gig that allows you to work from home or you’ll never return.