Tailpipe up high, but the exhaust leaks out below
Recently, I saw bus 0462 (marked in the picture for route 504) belching fumes. That itself is not remarkable. Some buses just stink. Bus this bus stunk in a peculiar way. See in the picture to the right how there is an exhaust pipe up high to the left of the bus, strategically above the passenger compartment and away from the curb? That is where one would expect the bus fumes to escape.
Instead, the fumes on this bus came out the bottom, apparently whenever the driver hit the gas, in a big gray plume. (The picture shows the bus idling).
I’ve seen several buses like this in the last year. Exhaust pipe on the top, heavy stinky exhaust cloud down below. When I’ve been unlucky, I’ve ridden on that bus and been made queasy by diesel fumes that perfumed the passenger compartment. Maybe it was the same 0462 bus over and over.
If the cloud of exhaust underneath the bus is indicative of a major leak in the exhaust system — the other possibility of a dummy exhaust pipe seems unlikely — one might wonder how the bus ever made it out of the shop. Ahem … make that “might have wondered,” i.e., wondered in the past. Turns out the bus maintenance people have been falsifying records to keep up the appearance that they could handle their backlogs of work. So far nineteen supervisors have been disciplined for faking regular maintenance of the buses.
Here’s guessing 0462 is overdue for its next checkup. Hopefully the T will have enough supervisors to deal with this problem soon.
How loud is that diesel (or natural gas) city bus? Too loud: about 93 decibels (peak volume) measured from a bus stop when the bus is pulling away from the curb. On the sound scale, that is more than four times louder than a vacuum cleaner (70dB) and more than twice as loud as an alarm clock (80dB). That makes the MBTA’s city bus Boston’s noisiest neighbor. No wonder why people have a hard time adapting to living near a bus stop. Just don’t open the windows.
The only thing louder? Interestingly, riding in the back seat of the bus is as much as four times louder than staying at the stop. My handy Radio Shack meter clocked a very impressive 112dB (peak volume) when the bus was accelerating at moderate to high speeds. That puts riding on the back seat of the bus on par with … sandblasting or attending a loud rock concert! Better change seats after 15 to 30 minutes; sitting in that back seat much longer could exceed OSHA’s daily permissible noise level exposure. Incredibly, standing ten feet away from an MBCR locomotive accelerating through an underpass did not beat that peak from the interior of the bus, although the locomotive may have sustained a higher average noise level.
It probably would not exaggerate much to guess that the MBTA’s diesel and natural gas bus fleet has become Boston’s de facto alarm clock. Of course, it didn’t have to be that way. Years ago, the diesels replaced whisper-soft trackless trolleys. Trolleys of the trackless variety still operate through Harvard Square on overhead lines, and still barely make a sound over the background traffic. Sure beats having a double-volume alarm clock for a neighbor.
I don’t begrudge the MBTA for charging fares for its services. Actually, I think it is very important that the T get its fare structure right.
Unfortunately, the T never has gotten one particular aspect of its fares right: monthly passholders pay full fare in cash when they ride on a higher-level service. A pass might be good for several dollars credit against the fare on one service, and not a dime on another. The T inexplicably fails to give passholders the full value across the entire system that they purchased for one particular service.
An illustration might help. There are two levels of express bus service, inner express and outer express. The outer express bus generally travels to more distant stops. An $89 inner express bus pass is good for the entire $2.80 inner express bus fare. Not surprisingly, the pass is not good for the $4.00 outer express bus; there is a more expensive pass for that bus. But here’s the riddle: if I offer an inner express pass good for a $2.80 fare, and the actual fare is $4.00 for the outer express bus, I only should have to pay an extra $1.20 cash, right? Not so, at least on the MBTA. Passholders receive no discount on the more expensive service. They pay full fare, even though they hold a pass that would entitle them to credit for all of the fare on a different bus. (And as an aside, there is an additional complication that the T charges different cash fares and prepaid pass/charlie card fares).
This has been a problem for years. It is most obvious with the flexible passes for the express bus, commuter rail, and boat, because there are multiple levels of service. However, “Link Pass” on the stored value card offers no solution, except to add a further technological hurdle to the administrative one. Fare-takers on the commuter rail and boat don’t have the equipment to verify that a rider has a valid “Link Pass” on their stored value card.
To their credit, T fare takers typically are generous when it comes to making accommodations to passengers to ameliorate this nonsensical no-discount policy. But wouldn’t it be better if the T used a more rational fare structure? A $4 fare, minus a $2.80 credit for a monthly pass, ought to result in a $1.20 cash fare.
The MBTA’s vaunted three-year-old electronic fare system keeps revealing its quirks. Last month I purchased an express bus pass from a vending machine and got a surprise. The machine does not sell a monthly pass into the contactless stored value card, but it will print flexible plastic passes that are electronically encoded and printed on their face with the fare or zone. So I tapped on the computer screen and paid with my credit card and I received a printed monthly express bus pass through the right-handed slot on the machine. And then I told the machine that I wanted a receipt and out of the left slot what popped out?
A second express bus pass, with an identical monthly fare! Two passes for the price of one!
Buy one get one free ... oops!
I was confused so I asked the station attendant what the second pass was all about. He said that I must have paid twice, and that the pass was indeed a second monthly ticket to the bus. He recommended that I write the machine number and return the pass to the monthly pass office at a different station, when the office reopened. He figured that I must have paid for the extra pass.
But surprise! Later I confirmed that the second pass was indeed a live monthly ticket and not a receipt — it is accepted by card readers on the express bus — and best of all, my credit card only was charged once — meaning I only paid for one of the two passes! I’ve heard that I’m not the only person who has experienced this “surprise;” I wonder how often the MBTA has done this unannounced two-for-one deal.
I previously had heard of stored value Charlie Cards that erroneously had some special unlimited access for unlimited time, and I’ve had intermittent problems in the past with the fare system. For example, once when the clock struck midnight on the last day of the month my monthly pass for the previous month no longer worked and my monthly pass for the subsequent month was not yet recognized. Stranded at midnight with two monthly passes but no train fare! Imagine.
But a whole free pass — very unexpected. This potentially is an $89 mistake by the T. Mistakes like that add up quickly. The T spent thousands chasing two MIT hackers who had devised some theoretical exploit to ride the T more than they were entitled. And then the T turns around and it prints extra monthly passes for free.
Is there a contractor somewhere that owes the T some money back? I wonder how much money the T has lost through this particular quirk.