Court rules MBTA doesn't have to reimburse commuter-rail riders for missed rides in the winter of 2015

The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled today the MBTA didn't break any implied contract with riders when it cancelled or delayed scores of commuter-rail trains in the the Winter of Our Discontent.

Raquel Rodriguez had filed a class-action suit against the T for the trains she was unable to take or which were severely delayed when her Zone 1 trains were cancelled and delayed repeatedly as the snows piled up that winter.

Rodriguez claimed the problems in January, February and March of 2015 broke the T's implied contract with riders to provide "timely, reliable commuter rail service" and that the real problem was not the ceaseless snow but years of "MBTA mismanagement and a culture of indifference."

But, the court ruled in upholding a decision by a Suffolk Superior Court judge to dismiss the case, Rodriguez showed no evidence that even if the T were promising such service, that the promise actually meant anything specific, especially in really bad weather.

We agree with the judge that the complaint does not set forth the material terms of the claimed contract. It is silent regarding the source of the contractual obligation, the scope of the MBTA's expected performance in these circumstances, and the rights of its customers in the event of a breach. Moreover, the obligation to provide "timely and reliable service" is too indefinite to create an enforceable contract.

Rodriguez's lawyers relied heavily on a precedent set in an 1867 case to prove that by purchasing her $182 (at the time) pass, Rodriguez was entering a contract with the T and that that brought with it certain contractual obligations.

But the court said the two cases were fundamentally different. The 1867 case involved a man sued when the Eastern Railroad held a train for nearly two hours to accommodate other passengers who wanted to leave later at night one day and did not receive "reasonable notice of the change."

By contrast, here, the MBTA changed the train schedule because of severe winter storms and published a new schedule. Significantly, the changes were not made for the convenience of the MBTA or other passengers. Rather, they were made as the MBTA attempted to manage a weather emergency. In these circumstances, we agree with the judge's assessment that "[the 1867 case] is sufficiently factually dissimilar to the instant case that it provides no support for [Rodriguez's] contention concerning the terms of the contract."

The court concluded:

The winter storms of 2015 wreaked havoc in and around Boston. To be sure, commuters were frustrated by the MBTA's inability to transport them to work and back home. Even the MBTA acknowledged the inconvenience caused by its failure. However, the purchase of a monthly pass on the MBTA is not a guarantee of performance according to its published schedule in these extraordinary circumstances. Because the complaint does not set forth the material terms of the claimed contract with sufficient precision, we discern no error in the dismissal of the breach of contract claim.



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    A big problem with the suit (per opinion)

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    The plaintiff seemed to think that the delays were based purely on snow removal. Sorry, Ms. Rodriguez, but the problem was with the engines and cars malfunctioning in different ways. If the problem were snow removal, they wouldn't have run any trains.

    It was an interesting defense and decision. The T did promise service, and technically, except for a few days, did provide service. Sure it was crappy service, but the trains did run. And by the trains I mean "some of the trains."

    I do have to say that service

    By on

    I do have to say that service on the trains I rode was really, really awful. They didn't even come close to following the reduced schedule. For several months past the last storm. I typically waited 45 minutes to an hour past scheduled time for the train to show up. And the apps/electronic station signs were not at all accurate, so I had to stand in the cold until it actually showed up.

    The T never explained what happened. The official word was that they came up with the reduced schedule based on the number of working trains they had. So then why was the reliability so abysmal even for the trains they did have?


    But a train showed up

    By on

    Eventually. Which means that technically service was being provided.

    Look, I'm not saying that things went well in Winter of 2015. I'm just saying that the justifications she used in her lawsuit were bad.

    Now, if the T were running similar service this week, I think a class action lawsuit would be in order. That said, if you didn't know why the train schedules were out of whack back then, you weren't even trying to pay attention to the news. I'm not even a commuter rail rider, and I can tell you that the new passenger cars were having issues, the brake lines were giving out in the cold, and the older engines were having similar problems related to snow getting in the motors that us strap hangers were dealing with.

    Not helpful

    By on

    Not helpful if you lose your job or don't get paid because the T f****d up.


    Act of God, my friend

    By on

    And I think an employer would be a bit more understanding in this case compared to a typical T snafu (which are well documented here)

    Plaintiff didn't lose her job, so the point is moot.

    I followed the news closely.

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    I followed the news closely.

    I don't understand why they determined how many trains they could run, and then those trains ran about an hour late. Every single day. Not just during a storm or the next day or two, but months later.

    A given train is either fully working or it isn't. When the train finally showed up, it didn't creep along at 10 mph -- it ran at full speed. But there never was any explanation why the schedule was so meaningless.


    I don't think you did follow closely

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    Adam was really good at posting things about the meltdown. The schedules were modified to account for the lost equipment. Eventually, more equipment came back online, and eventually a full schedule was resumed. Since the issue was mainly the trains (signals were affected in the short run, but that was easily resolved) the speed of the working trains was not an issue.

    Yes. And I mentioned all of

    By on

    Yes. And I mentioned all of those facts in my posts above.

    I also said how the trains I rode did NOT stick to the reduced schedule.

    My point was the trains they were running were going full speed -- they were not limping along due to mechanical issues. So there was no obvious reason why they should have been more than an hour late every single day, but they were.


    By on

    More people looking to get on fewer trains means more time at each station. We had this on the Orange Line, too. They went full speed when they were going because they did not have mechanical issues. The other engines were out of service, not going anywhere at all until their mechanical issues were resolved.

    Ok, that could be a valid

    By on

    Ok, that could be a valid explanation.

    It would be nice if the T had acknowledged this. It would have been nicer if the alerts/app arrival info had been accurate. It would have been even nicer if they realized that the recovery schedule was wildly unrealistic, and had adjusted it so trains weren't showing up about an hour late every day for months. Or looked for ways to solve the problem, like adding more cars and conductors.

    Monthly pass

    By on

    Assuming she's buying a monthly pass, it doesn't really matter if she's waved on by indifferent personnel. Costs her the same whether she shows the pass or not.


    True that

    I was suggesting that at a different point in her lifetime, she may have been paying by the ride.