Do you speak MBTA-ese?

Have you ever wondered how to communicate with an organization as unwieldy as the MBTA? I have. I’ve tried a few approaches; I’ve emailed. You need to be patient with that approach. Three months is roughly the average response time. I’ve spoken with station agents. Many are friendly and eager to help; others aren’t and still others are difficult to find. Results are uneven and often dissatisfying. I’ve organized and written well-reasoned letters. It’s a lot of work, and sometimes it seems like more trouble than it’s worth.

Well, I think I’ve found a far more efficient way to communicate with the MBTA. It’s simple. Here’s what you do: stand in front of whatever happens to be the problem, and take a picture. This morning I took two pictures. Well, in fairness I took about ten, but they were only of two things.

Warning sign on disabled=

An escalator on the Red Line, unit No. 504, was condemned by an inspector a few weeks ago and it has been out of service ever since. It’s been about three weeks. So I stood at the top of the escalator and I took a picture. And elsewhere on the Red Line, beneath South Station, a message board that ought to be announcing trains has instead been spewing garbled nothings. As if the MBTA is trying to speak to passengers in some unknown alien language. I took a picture.

Train arrival message board under South Station

Gibberish on a message board at the South Station subway

Apparently nothing focuses the MBTA’s collective mind like the prospect of jpeg-based public humiliation, no matter how mild. Twelve hours later, the message board, although not fixed, was not displaying gibberish. And the escalator was running. That has to be the fastest response time ever! So, in the course of trying to snap a picture of what I assumed was the the MBTA’s language– the gibberish– I inadvertently began communicating well enough to be understood!

One thought on “Do you speak MBTA-ese?

  1. Today, there was an incident on my bus in the morning, that I had to report to the MBTA. The bus driver began harrassing elderly man, who is not fluent in English,
    for not paying enough. As he fidgeted in his pockets for change, the driver shouted at him, “That’s not enough! You need 20 cents more! You do this every day. You are making us late.” She stopped the bus and demanded that he get off. I gave him the 20 cents, that she was yelling that he needed to pay, and when he paid it, she said it was not enough and yelled for him to get off. I went to the bus driver and asked how much his fare was. She said $1.50. I put in 50 cents and gave him four quarters. He gave me a dollar. But he did not pay.
    He began to talk to me and showed me his senior citizen ID. So, when I got off, I asked the driver what he needed, besides his senior citizen ID. She looked guilty and she said, “He does not need anything else, he just needs to show it”. She had been yelling at him, “You do this every day.” So she knew who
    he was and that he was a senior. She was blaming him for making the bus late, but she had come at least 10 minutes late.
    I called the MBTA and they said the driver was wrong, but did not know if they could do anything, even though I knew the time and route of the bus, because they said I needed the bus number.

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