On the first of the month, the T trusts only in God; all others pay cash

Jason reports on his futile effort to put a monthly pass on his CharlieCard on the Orange Line this morning, starting at Green Street:

... I made it to Ruggles and tried to buy my pass there. The machines at Ruggles were also not taking credit/debit. I asked the CSA what the problem was. She told me I shouldn't have waited until 2/1 to buy my pass and that the system was "overloaded" on the whole system. Translated: "You should have known that the MBTA would not be able to make this work and are an idiot for assuming it would. You are more of a fool for asking me about it, and I am going to treat you like shit because you deserve it for assuming that the MBTA or its staff should do their jobs." ...

He also has some advice on whom to call if you can't get into a station because of the problem.



Free tagging: 



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The T likes to force thousands of commuters who typically would buy a monthly pass to instead put cash on their pass that they'll likely never use. I certainly won't be using the $10 I had to put on my card this morning as I buy the unlimited monthly each and every month. Thanks MBTA!


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I'm so glad someone else noticed. I love how the CSAs just let you wait in line to find out for yourself that the machines aren't taking cards. (It usually takes me a couple of rounds of standing in line, waiting for 2 or 3 machines to figure out that NONE of them are working. I'm not very quick in the morning.)

This morning, the woman in front of me asked the CSA if any of the machines were taking credit cards, and the CSA made this sweeping gesture to her left. The woman says, "oh that machine over there works?" and the CSA replied, "no, I was saying you should go through that gate over there because none of the machines were taking credit cards."

As we walked through the gate I said to the woman who had been in line with me, "gee, maybe if she has used words in the first place, we might have understood."

Another day of missing out on lots of fares, MBTA! Good thing you're not in debt or anything.

Same at Symphony

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Same problem at the Symphony Green-Line stop with the same *stellar* customer service. As the attendant watched us struggle with the machines, we had to yell for help for help as she was in her little booth just looking at us inside the gates - then ask to be let through since obviously the machines were not working.

Unpopular and Possibly Stupid Question

I get my pass through my employer so I always have it early. Please pardon moi if my questions are ignorant as a result.

Do the machines sell these passes before the first of the month? If so, why do people wait until the first of the month and then end up plunging off the cliff with the other lemmings? If you pass through a station every day, why not buy a pass when they are first available or the night before and beat the insanity?

Not that the T would ever screw up on a non-rush day, mind you ...

One reason: not everyone

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One reason: not everyone gets on and off at a stop where a vending machine is available. I get on and off at street stops on the Green line, and those stops don't have vending machines.


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I also get my pass from my employer, but my theory is a lot of people are waiting for that first-of-the-month paycheck to be able to buy their monthly passes.

I usually do this, but

I usually do this, but occasionally it's slipped my mind, and I've run into the same problem several times since the Charlie cards were introduced---so unfortunately, this is nothing new.

I usually do get them early

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But I can see why others don't always. I board on a street stop and get off underground. Which means I can buy my monthly pass when I'm rushing to get to work of when it might delay me in catching my train home. I try to make sure I do it, but some days I don't until the last day of the month. If I boarded at a station where I could buy a pass, I could see deciding just to buy it the next morning.

You can expect that there will be a wait to do this. The problem with the T is that far too often, they just don't process credit cards on the first of the month.

why should the T get a free

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why should the T get a free loan from me every month? It starts on February 1, I buy it on February 1, that is simple.

If I buy it a week ahead every month, that is an $840, 3 month loan the T gets interest free from me. No thanks

Isn't your time worth something?

When I had to buy my pass at a station, I got it the day or night before - no "loan" time, no rush to get to work on time, lines were tolerably long, and my card worked.

I am on salary, but my husband is paid by the hour. Every hour not spent in line or in traffic is worth a fair amount of money.

Double counting

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"If I buy it a week ahead every month, that is an $840, 3 month loan the T gets interest free from me."

Even a zone 8 pass doesn't cost $840, so I assume you're counting the total amount of all 12 passes over all 12 weeks of lead time. You're counting the same thing two different ways and multiplying them together. It's a $70, 3 month loan in the aggregate.

No better days early

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At least not on the commuter rail. I went to buy my pass 3 days before the end of the month, just so I could avoid the rush. I get into line and see more than 30 people in front of me and only a single window open. Finally someone comes and opens a second window and the first register has an error and goes out of service.

The worst part is that the

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The worst part is that the machines validate credit cards by sending a request for the transaction, and then if they don't receive a response in X amount of time, you get the "transaction could not be completed" error. However, sometimes the transaction request still makes it through the processing server, your card gets charged, but since the kiosk has already canceled your transaction, your charlie card never gets updated. I've seen five or six months where this has happened and I have been double charged for monthly passes. MBTA is useless in refunding the money... I make sure to pay with my amex so I can chargeback the bad transactions.

Luckily, I now get my card from my employer.

This is what really burns me

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I tell the kiosk to charge my card. That request goes into the MBTA network somewhere to get charged through their machine to my credit card company. Their BRAND NEW system can't handle every kiosk asking to charge a credit card at the same time?

Are you kidding me? Have you ever seen a large retail store at Christmas time?? What in the hell did they think they were doing by instituting a system that can't handle peak usage???

A road cone can undermine their toll gates, they can't handle a bunch of credit card purchases on the first of the month, they can't figure out how to charge people on the back doors of a green line train, they can't meet their own bus schedules, they can't tolerate a 5 minute interference in their commuter train schedule without throwing the day into disarray, they can't even get their own card system working on every line of transportation, they can't get you between Brighton and Cambridge in less than an hour, they can't overhaul a station in under 2 years, they can't run a subway car 24 hours a day...

Don't blame the 'T for your bad decission

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I have to go with what a few others have said. There is no reason not to buy the pass the day before. Even if you accept the interest free loan argument, I can come right back at you with the congestion pricing argument. The lost interest (a few cents a year, btw) is the premium I pay to avoid the first of the month mob scene. If you choose to forgo that extravagant cost, the 'T is under no obligation to establish a service capacity tailored to all the cheapskates and forgetful folks.

Other systems....

I believe some public transit systems give (or at least once gave) a grace period for the morning of the first day of the month. so people could travel to work and buy a pass -- using the previous month's pass. Of course, you needed a new pass (or at least a tioket) to get home.

That's even worse!

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So the suggestion is that if people can't be responsible enough to use the 10 day window available before the pass expires, the T should expand the window into the following pass period? So, what happens then? Will we see complaints about processing capacity on the 2nd of each month? There is plenty of time to buy the pass and plenty of opportunity. It's not as though there aren't hundreds of non-MBTA locations that sell passes. It is convenient and there is plenty of time, so anybody who fails to buy the pass before the first has only themselves to blame.*

* I make some allowance for the issue of paychecks arriving on the last day of the month, but even if you are waiting for payday, all you have to do is get direct deposit. Then the funds are available on the same day, which is to say the day before the problematic first day of the month.

But if everyone goes the day

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But if everyone goes the day before wouldn't we have the same problem of overloading the system?

we should have a staggered approach where some people buy them on the first of the month, the 5th of the month, and so on. then the t doesnt have to develop a system that can accomadate all of its customers.

That is the dumbest thing I

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That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard. Why the hell shouldn't we expect the machines to work as they should?

Except that ...

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Anonymous stated "the 'T' is under no obligation to establish a service capacity tailored to all the cheapskates and forgetful folks"

Perhaps not, but if, historically, the highest volumes of pass purchases have occurred on either the first day of the month or the last day of the preceeding month (which has probably have occurring been since the pass program was introduced over 25 years ago), it's only common sense to design your system to accommodate this peak demand - epscially when the technology to do so is readily available and it's relatively inexpensive to implement it properly.

And if you happen to get it wrong (as the T obviously has), you should attempt to fix the system instead of saying to your customers "oh, it only happens once a month, deal with it".

Further, to imply, as T management seems to be doing, that the customers are at fault when their (IMHO) poorly designed system breaks down simply because the customers choose not to change their purchasing habits (perhaps for any number of legitimate reasons) is very lame.

As others have pointed out, department stores cope with these types of peaks, as do other transit systems as well.

From the MBTA Dictionary

Intermittant = an event which can be predicted to or relied upon to happen on the first of every month.

Every month for 14 months

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And NOW they decide to start talking about maybe doing something to try to fix it?

Sure, its "intermittent". It only happens when people try to pay for their fares. Why would the MBTA try to prepare for that eventuality?

It happens every month, and

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It happens every month, and has been for a year. Theres usually a post about it here. Why is it a surprise?

1) Buy it the day before
2) Pay cash. Thats what you did last year.

1. It happens every month?

1. It happens every month? Really? How come nobody's noticed it before now?

2. It happened New Year's Eve (the 31st) when I tried to update my pass for January. Yeah, the gates were open, but I didn't want to take the train for free, I just wanted to pay for my January pass. Thwarted.

3. My wife tried to buy me a February pass at the 7-Eleven near her office last night. The only staff on duty were some numbnuts that had no clue how to do it. She wasn't going to pass through a T station last night (nor today), so she figured to get it today, but ...

4. ... she tried to buy my February pass at the 7-Eleven today, when knowledgable staff were on hand. The system was down. I'm assuming this is connected with the overall problem outlined here.

(She, at least, gets her pass through her employer. I'm retired. I probably shouldn't even pay for a pass every month, since I don't go out every day, but we both feel it encourages me not to stay in the house. At least in another year and some I'll qualify for Senior rates - if they still exist then, who knows?)

Oh, for a second, I thought you were going to say:

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It happens every month, and has been for a year. There's usually a post about it. Why hasn't the T done anything about it? Why isn't the Globe writing about it?

1) They don't care
2) They don't care

It was ugly at Harvard Square

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Schwerpunkt was there:

... The amount of passengers – perhaps to you today "customers" - stranded, having to rush to cash machines, not being helped or guided by your staff (unless those boobs in purple at Harvard Station are outsourced and not BMTA employees) backed up the platform and made for unsafe conditions and a malcontent population. ...

Double charged

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After reading stuff like the above, Amy felt kind of smug because she'd bought her pass the day before. But then she checked her bank account and noticed two charges from the MBTA.

My small $.02

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I'm pretty much echoing what others have said here. I usually try to buy my pass well ahead of time (a week or so) but this month I forgot. My experience was a bit better at Davis - there was someone who I believe was a T employee who let me know of the problem and let me in with his pass. When I got to Alewife (I hate paying so much to go only one stop but have no other option). I tried to buy a pass but the system was still down. There was no helpful T employee here, so I had to spread the word.

I was glad that they at least disabled the Credit/Debit option, instead of double-charging folks, as in previous months. (I see someone got double-charged anyway, that's just ridiculous!) I was able to buy a pass that evening, and I suppose it doesn't matter to the T that I got a free ride because I paid for the month anyway. Still, if they are expecting an influx of purchases, their systems should be ready to deal with it. Customers who are unable to pay will either have to dig for cash or will otherwise try to sneak on for free, resulting in lost revenue.

I try to buy my pass well ahead of time for MY convenience, not because I care about the T or its policies. I don't see why I should have to change my buying practices just to suit their decrepit *new* system. They are shooting themselves in the foot.

I've also heard of bad experiences where purchased passes don't transfer properly or mysteriously disappear, so I always carry the receipt with me.