Emissions Testing; another reason to doubt the reports

A few weeks ago, I wrote about one of several buses that emitted clouds of smoke from places other than the tailpipe.  I noted observations about one particular bus and recalled that it was not an isolated occurrence.

In an interesting twist, at a recent MBTA Rider Oversight Committee meeting (which are open to the public), Eugene Benson of TRU-ACE gave a presentation in which he mentioned that the T has published the results of an emissions monitoring program online.  The test results themselves are stale and the most recent is from January 2009.  (Halfway is better than not-at-all, I guess.)  In addition, Eugene didn’t mention it, but in an unexpected twist, the diesel buses rarely fail their tests!  Sparkly clean!  Ten MBTA buses required repairs in the most recent six-month report, and only one diesel bus (#293) made the list.  Only the clean-fuel CNG buses required remedial work.  If you believe the reports, I suppose you might conclude that the clean-fuel buses are nastier than the diesels.  Who would have guessed?!?

But can you believe the reports?  Remember, the reports presumably were generated by the same MBTA mechanical supervisors that recently were dismissed for allegedly fudging their record-keeping.

MBTA emissions testing apparatus that fails to detect emissions from undercarriage  (click to see report)

Well, here’s another reason to doubt.  The MBTA included a diagram in its robust report explaining the emissions methodology.  The report explained that the T uses an elaborate visual detection system that scans the tailpipe on the roof of the bus.  When the emissions come out the tailpipe, the computer analyzes what is left and gives a result.  What happens when emissions come from the undercarriage and not the tailpipe?  Those emissions, dear reader, do not exist.  Poof!

Even the most credulous among us would have to admit that the detection system that is depicted will not determine whether the exhaust system on a bus is compromised and leaking.  And if the exhaust is leaking then the bus will not be flagged as having an emissions problem.  Wow.  That has to be a flaw that even an overworked, ethically flexible MBTA maintenance manager could appreciate.

It’s a leap to wonder whether, at the same time that T maintenance supervisors were revising mileage logs to avoid required servicing, were they also circumventing the emissions testing program by … simply allowing leaking exhaust systems to keep on leaking?  Discuss among yourselves.

New Historical Railroad and Trolley Maps Added to Resources Page

The transit rights-of-way page has been updated with some great railroad and trolley maps circa 1910 and earlier.  The trolley map is particularly striking; today we are told that rail electrification is infeasible, but the map shows that nearly every main street in eastern Massachusetts had an electric trolley in 1910.  Amazing.

Move That Bus

Crowd waiting for rider to drive inactive bus

The 57 bus.  What can I say?  Forty-five stops in five-and-a-half miles of Brighton, Allston, Newton, and Watertown.  One stop for every 650 feet.  In traffic.  It isn’t exactly the kind of ride that anyone really looks forward to.

But the 57 gets riders.  Lots of riders.  One might think that would prompt the T to emphasize frequent, reliable operations.

Why then, does the T allow excessive numbers of riders to accumulate at peak hours, waiting for that bus?  The T’s foot-dragging seems doubly strange when there is both an inactive bus and a driver waiting at the 57’s origin in Kenmore Square, just waiting … waiting … waiting for … I’m not sure, just waiting.  Ten minutes, fifteen ….

This picture was taken on a Tuesday evening at 9:15 p.m., at Kenmore square.  This was the scene for perhaps 20 minutes (that I personally saw); I would guess that the earliest arrivals were waiting at least 40 minutes.  The group in the picture (which continued to form for some time) is actually quite large; the people are standing right up to the edge of the curb, and not exclusively for the view of the inactive bus directly in front of them.  The erstwhile bus driver was sipping a latte, taking it all in.  And this was (according the the Red Sox recap) about an hour before the end of the game.  This was not part of the post-game rush.

The run at 9:12 p.m. run obviously was dropped.  It seems very doubtful as well that the 8:52 p.m. or 9:00 p.m. routes ever left the station either.  If they occurred, they certainly failed to accommodate everyone who was waiting for the bus at those times.  At least two other empty (or nearly empty) buses went through the station while the group was waiting.  One was “Out of Service,” and the other was running a route that no one apparently was riding.

Eventually the loitering bus driver restarted the bus, marked it as the 57, and pulled it to the curb.  The driver must have been scheduled for the 9:24 p.m. run.  Never mind that the three preceding runs of the 57 bus never happened.  It was a cozy ride with the large group that had gathered to wait, made more unpleasant by the over-earnest warnings of a second T employee who urged packed-in riders to stand behind the yellow line or else.

In another context, for another agency, this would be a sign of part of an organization headed in the wrong direction, unable to motivate employees to provide critical services in an appropriate manner.  But for the T, unfortunately, it is another night of business as usual.  At least on the 57 bus.