MBTA’s Communications: Better, but not perfect

In a previous post, I identified one of the MBTA’s main problems as their poor public communications. I gave examples of how they failed to inform the public about issues such as the slow zones on the Lechmere Viaduct, the aftermath of the Orange Line Shutdown, and the Blue Line Harbor Tunnel closure. Although I stand by the facts and sources in that post, I have since changed my mind about the quality of their communication.

Rather than litter the old post with tons of notes about the changing circumstances, I decided to write a follow-up post to share my new position on these matters.

The T impressed me with how they handled the communication around the Red Line shutdown. They were clear, timely, and transparent about what was happening and what they were doing to fix it. In this follow-up post, I will share some of the positive aspects of their communication and suggest some areas for improvement.

Readdressing previous subjects

First up, the Lechmere Viaduct. In that post, I explained how the MBTA repeatedly shut down and upgraded the East Cambridge Viaduct for the Green Line Extension, but failed to deliver the promised speed and performance. I’m happy to report that, as of this week, trains are now operating at 25 MPH over the viaduct! Slower than the 50 MPH speed the viaduct was designed for, but a major improvement nonetheless.

Next, I covered the fiasco that happened after the Orange Line shutdown. Not much has changed regarding communication about what actually happened during the shutdown – according to Eng, the agency did accomplish alot during the shutdown, and addressed a large chunk of the maintenance backlog, however, it’s still not abundantly clear why the slow zones weren’t lifted.

Finally, I explored the repeated communication failures during the blue line shutdown in April 2022. I’m more comfortable leaving this in the past, as it doesn’t have as large of ramifications on the T system like the orange line shutdown. The main point I was addressing – how Baker staff were meddling in the T’s communications, and preventing crucial information from being released to the public – seems to be fixed now.

Gantt Chart

One of the promises Phil Eng made as soon as he joined the T was that he was going to immediately release a work plan for eliminating the slow zones plaguing the network. Coming off the heels of the disastrous (communications-wise) orange line shutdown, I was rightfully skeptical that the work plan would ever come to fruition. Fortunately, I was wrong. Eng released the Gantt chart a few months ago, and it’s beautiful – it’s exactly what I and so many others were hoping for!

The MBTA’s 2024 track improvement program, released November 9th, 2023

By releasing this chart, the T not only improved their transparency significantly, I’d argue they single-handedly beat every other transit agency at their own game. I can’t think of another agency that announces minor shutdowns over a year in advance.

Red Line Shutdown

Last October, in testament to how much the agency has grown under Eng, the T, the MBTA shut the Ashmont branch of the red line down for 16 days to facilitate maintenance & fix slow zones that plagued the line. Unlike the orange line shutdown, (I promise this is the last reference) the T lived up to and delivered on their promises. Promptly at 5:00 AM on October 30th, the red line was back to operating at near-design speeds. Additionally, the T gave riders much more advanced notice, as compared to the 2 week notice given prior to the orange line shutdown, which left Boston city officials scrambling to make sure things kept moving smoothly.

Final Notes:

Fortunately, the T’s opaque-at-best communication seems to be a thing of the past. Communication is at exactly where I hoped it would be in the prior post, and it a huge step forward for the agency towards fully repairing the public’s trust. Though I don’t forsee any transparency issues going forward, It would still be nice to see the T address its backlog of iffy communications and set the record straight.

Apologies for the content hiatus. No, I haven’t abandoned writing posts – just shifted my attention to other parts of the site 🙂

Thank you so much for reading!

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