Cable fire on the Green Line, dead trains on the Red Line

Bostonians had their choice of venues for standing around this morning, such as Andrew. Photo byBostonians had their choice of venues for standing around this AM, such as Andrew. Photo by Chris Wright.

Fire on the inbound tracks between Arlington and Copley around 7:40, Jay Joynes tweets. At first, the T shut Arlington station because of heavy smoke, but shortly after 8 a.m., it shut down all Green Line service downtown. And shortly after 8:30, the T began evacuating trolleys stuck in the tunnel near Hynes and Copley stations.

The T eventually sent in some shuttle buses between stations to the west and downtown, but many commuters didn't wait. As Gracetopia tweets:

I now feel like one of the army of the commute, as I walk from Kenmore to downtown with my fellow MBTA refugees.

Lindsay Douglas, though, was one of the people who stayed behind at Kenmore:

I've never seen chaos like this. Coldest day of the year + the MBTA shuts down the green line. Yelling+angry people.

And because misery loves company, an inbound Red Line train died not long after at Charles/MGH, Rob Grover tweets. Later, another train died at Porter. Around 9:20, another train died, inbound at Andrew.



Free tagging: 


And once again, Secretary

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And once again, Secretary Napolitano smugly sighs a sigh of relief that it was gross infrastructure underfunding, and not a bomb, that brought another MBTA rush hour to its knees.


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If we upgrade our transportation infrastructure...THE TERRORISTS WIN!!

Ok, what preventive

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Ok, what preventive maintenance would have prevented these problems, and when did the T propose it but get turned down for funding?

Using Silver Line Buses.

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I was wondering why what looked like a Silver Line bus was going down Comm Ave. Traveling through Kenmore, there were throngs of people huddled at the Bus station.

On another note, commercial vehicles and buses are not supposed to use Comm Ave, and should use Beacon Street.

I noted a couple of SIlver Line buses

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in shuttle service at the intersection of Tremont and Stuart, anlong with three regular ones.

And I found it interesting that all the Green Line shuttle buses I noted had no destinations on the signboards (wasn't that the idea with going to electronic boards on the buses in the first place - that the messages could be changed to reflect situations like this one).

Alas, spotted a few RTS buses

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Alas, spotted a few RTS buses (324, 308, et alia) displaying the infamous "CHECK FILE". So in roughly 18 years of service, they never got the Green Line/other subway shuttle codes programmed into them?

But at least the heat was in good working order!

I was on one of the trains

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I was on one of the first green line trains to be stopped. Luckily I wasn't on the train just ahead of mine - it got stuck in the tunnel leaving Copley. My train stopped in Copley and we were all told to get off and figure out another way to get to where we were going. In other words: walk. By the time I was passing Park Station there were 2 shuttle buses being organized.

I was on one of the trains

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I was on one of the trains that was evacuated, between Hynes and Copley. My second time being evacuated on the Green Line. Like the first time, it felt quite dangerous walking over the opposite rail bed, dealing with track, rocks, and metal protuberances of all kinds, in dim light.

Then I had to deal with overcrowded shuttle busses (gave up), a cold walk to Back Bay station, and then massive crowds trying to get on the Orange Line.

Like Gracetopia, I joined the

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Like Gracetopia, I joined the MBTA refugees marching from Kenmore to downtown. I'd probably be sitting in traffic still if I'd waited for a bus. And there I was, thinking I'd get to work early! Silly me.

Well, at least it wasn't 9 degrees outside this morning.

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Oh. Crap. Sorry.

The new revenue cannot come fast enough.

With respect to Saul's comment above, I'd agree if I had any confidence that Homeland Security money would be redirected to transporation infrastructure projects. Unfortunately, I have none.

Of course it's all symbolic.

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Of course it's all symbolic. We're "only" talking about a few million here that goes towards the bag checkpoints, not enough for even a new full-length T train.

It's the symbolism that we have a federal agency spending any money performing completely ineffective searches that violate the spirit of the Bill of Rights, to ward off a non-existent threat, while trains and signals continue to break down at every rush hour.

I sincerely believe that if a broken switch caused two trains to collide at speed, maiming scores, Secretary Napolitano wouldn't lose any sleep. Because in the administration's warped collective mind, "security" is all about keeping the "bad guys"* and their bombs off the rails.

*Yes, "bad guys" is official TSA-speak.

"The visible deterrent is making a presence known at the station, getting on the train, talking to passengers, lettings the bad guys know that we're here, and letting the passengers know that we're here, and working with law enforcement to really tailor our Viper teams to their needs," TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said.

Then you're missing the point

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Because in the administration's warped collective mind, "security" is all about keeping the "bad guys"* and their bombs off the rails.

The bad guys are already on the train.

We're the bad guys.

Acknowledgement and acceptance of the risk is the key.

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I think that the underlying notion here is that you are, as I am, willing to accept a certain amount of terrorism risk associated with riding public transit, and are not happy to spend a lot of money trying to mitigate that risk (particularly as you think that the measures are ineffectual anyway).

I think this is a totally reasonable position, even if I might disagree slightly on the level of effectiveness (I don't think it's high, but I don't think it's negligible either).

One thing that I think is not true is that the risk or threat is "non-existent". There have been several bombings of subways in recent years (Tokyo, London and Moscow come to mind immediately). The risk may not be high, particularly in Boston, but it is not non-existent.

I think that this matters only because if the idea is to get people to just accept the risk without spending tons of $$$ on trying to defend against it, the credibility of that idea requires that the risk be accruately reported so people can make informed decisions.

And you are absolutely right about TSA speaking like that. I worked closely with TSA personnel for a couple of years, and they really do sound just like that. It's not just in the press releases.

The threat

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And in the '90s, the Paris Metro and Tokyo trains were attacked. And in 1994 a guy firebombed a NY subway car. And a year earlier a guy shot up a LIRR car and killed six. And earlier that year the WTC was bombed.

(Wow, the early '90s were a really dangerous time! Good thing we devoted tons of money to put in place warrantless searches to put an end to the danger!)

So is there a threat that someone might bomb a T train? Sure there is.

And this weekend an Athens mall was bombed.

Pretty much any place where more than one person congregates has been bombed over the past century, somewhere around the world.

So I ask: what makes the T any more special than Quincy Market or Copley Place or the Pru, or Boston Common on New Year's Eve or the Esplanade on July 4? Why don't we have federally-operated checkpoints going into the Pru. I mean, there is a risk, so something has to be done, right?

Security AND Transportation

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Wanted to bring this back to transit and the T, but HAVE to start with something on the security issue. Saul and others are on track (ahem): any place where people gather is, potentially, a terrorist target. Deal with it. And while we would excoriate Homeland Security for not doing ANYthing (even if in the name of safeguarding our rights), it's the height of provincialism to suggest that they need to give the terrorist threat in Boston weight equal to the threat in NYC or LA or DC. Terrorists don't care about second-tier cities; they want symbolism and headlines. This is the same parochial thinking that has kept the Hancock Tower observation deck closed to the public since September 2001.

Now, back to the T. When the 55 bus didn't arrive this morning (which I'd thought would be my clever work-around for the Green Line shutdown) I ended up sharing a cab partway to the Back Bay. Boylston Street was at a virtual standstill, busier than Ive ever seen it at rush hour (we gave up, got out, and walked eventually). It appeared that at least 1/4 of the street area was occupied by buses.

My conclusions:
No one likes what happened this morning, but the T does appear to have turned out extra buses in large numbers. When they have set up shuttle service for Riverside Line track work, those shuttles work very well. Let's not forget this was a totally unplanned emergency...and cut them some slack.
This was a brilliant demonstration of the need for the governor's new transpo program, with its taxes. The city can't afford NOT to have a working transit system, and a lot of the new money is targeted to vehicle upgrades and repair. I am happy to pay higher taxes in return for better (more reliable, newer, more comfortable, more frequent!) service. This morning was an unnerving glimpse of the future Boston faces if the legislature DOESN'T do something to fix transit funding. If they can't come up with their own plan, legislators should pass the one the governor has proposed.

Shuttle buses

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It looks like nearly every 57 bus was kept at Kenmore and used for shuttles. Hence the 45-plus-minute headways (at least as shown on NextBus) when the usual rush hour headway is eight or so minutes. Turn nearly every other bus that serves the area into a shuttle, and there are your buses.

I am not so sure that a rider in Brighton who was waiting a half-hour for his 57 bus would be so sanguine about the magical appearance of the Green Line shuttles.

I actually give the MBTA pretty high marks

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for how they handled the situation this morning.

Got the alert well before arriving at North Station (so I knew what to expect). Lots of announcements in North Station subway as well.

Although the Orange Line trains were more crowded than usual, they were running them on about a four minute headway.

And they were even short-turning some trains (like the one I finally got on) at Community College and running them in southbound (nee inbound) service starting from North Station.

As I noted in a previous post, they seemed to be running a number of shuttle buses as well.

I normally start work at 9 am. Got in the office today at 9:15. Considering the morass the system bogged down into today, I don't consider that to be an unreasonable delay.


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Don't ignore the ripple effect on buses.


Photos from frozen Green Line hell

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Red Line sure was a mess

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I missed a train at Broadway at about 8:55 and (despite the arrival time signs saying the next trains will arrive in five and seven minutes), was in the crowd on the platform for the next forty-five minutes. The first train passed through at 9:35 and another seven trains passed through, all packed to the gills, before I could board.

I got to Quincy Center at

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I got to Quincy Center at 8:30. Hundreds of people were waiting. The sign said a train would come in six minutes--then that status didn't change for another 15 minutes. Eventually an outbound train came, so I took it to the end of the line and it became an inbound train. The ride in took more than an hour, but I was just glad to have a seat and be warm (although we "stood by" at every station, with the doors wide open.)

It gets cold in Boston. Every year. It's not a surprise. Why can't the MBTA be prepared to deal with it?

They are prepared

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At least as well as they can be with equipment going on 40 years old, and 10-15 years’ worth of deferred maintenance so Beacon Hill could give $25/year back to taxpayers and tell them how good they are at cutting spending.

How well is your car going to run if you don’t give it the regularly scheduled maintenance and oil changes? When the engine goes, how much more is it going to cost to buy a new car vs the well spent money taking care of upkeep on the old.

Thank politicians who found places that cut spending that weren’t immediately recognizable as mandatory, and them skipping town before the ill effects set in.

Education, Infrastructure, the MBTA; all were hit hard to give back trivial tax breaks and build political resumes.

A Modest Proposal

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What was the tab for Irene? $50 Million? Perhaps everyone in that corner of MA with its low population should each be sent an official looking bill for $500 to pay for it.

Then, maybe, that Asshole State Senator in Amherst who pretends that he is somehow subsidizing Boston if they fix the MBTA crisis will get the message when angry constituents start calling him about having to pay for their own goddamn roads!

I had a bus driver last night

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passive-aggressively refuse to open the back door for me like she did for numerous other people. And as I went out the front door she sarcastically said 'good night'. WTF is wrong with these people? Are they all on drugs or something? They are the angriest effing people around.If you hate your job that much...GET ANOTHER JOB. They're MANY people who would love to have their T job.

Many MBTA employees don't

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Many MBTA employees don't care about their jobs. It is all about the pay and benefits. The MBTA is an employment agency first and a transportation agency last.

Hit or Miss

I agree, but some of them are fantastic. Beside one exceptionally grumpy driver, the 85 route has some great drivers. They're friendly, patient, and professional.


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No, thats the TPA.

The MBTA does need some reform as far as employees go. But overall, most of the time, I’ve neevr actually had an issue with them. It’s always been the bad apples that stick out.

Customers could do more to help offset the bad too. If you have a pleasant expereince with a good employee, thank them, grab their ID and write in to management. Unsolicided praise from the otuside to the better workers can go a long way to moving the better people up, and changing the culture. Likewise, report the massholes.

Good MBTA/MBCR employee's of the day:

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Was on the Fitchburg express yesterday heading West and there was a woman upset and on the phone talking about an issue (sounded like the pipes above her apartment burst and most of her stuff was a complete loss. She wasn’t used to the train schedule for that time and was on the express that doesn’t stop in Waltham where she was trying to get off. Didn’t realize until the train flew by a few prior stations.

The conductor took her to the engineer and they stopped it for her, since it was an emergency type of situation. Took all of 20 seconds, but it was nice of them to do so.

I understand

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that said, the level of 'attitude' and misuse of resources and personnel is off the charts. The MBTA still operates like it's the 1970s or something. My impression is most MBTA employees who deal with the public have very limited job descriptions and expectations. They perform one specific task, maybe another of called on especially if it involves O.T. Yet, too many still act very cocky and smug. The vast majority of American workers don't work in such an environment and their employer expects and demands more from them. They wouldn't get away fro too long with the kind of behavior I see frequently on the MBTA. And of course MBTA management is shitty,too. Not to mention the British owned company that operates the commuter rail. How did they get their contract renewed? We whine about the front line employees [some of them] but the real fault lies with hidden management [MBTA and union], politics.

I work LONG hours, from 6AM until often late in the evening. I take the MBTA to and from work. Guess what? I'm human, and I'm tired by the time I'm on that train and bus going home. I'm quiet and mind my own business. People like me, there are many, don't need or deserve 'attitude' for God knows what reason, perceived slight or whatever. I may not be super friendly and all smiles when commuting, but neither am I deliberately rude. I can't deal with passive aggressive behavior from people [T employee or otherwise] who feel maybe I slighted them somehow. People myself included just need to professionally do their jobs. That's asking the minimum.

I just saw one of the shuttle buses, broken down on Mem Drive

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On Memorial Drive, eastbound, at the leftward curve right before Mem Drive passes underneath the Longfellow Bridge en route to the Cambridgeside Galleria neighborhood. This was at 11:15.

It was an MBTA bus with "Shuttle Bus" on its front display screen, stopped with its hazard blinkers on, straddling between both lanes of Memorial Drive. Traffic (including me) was able to eke by on one side.

Does not seem to be going well for MBTA riders today.


When do we hit "enough is enough?" What's the breaking point? What will it take to make the MBTA to get their act together? I expect we'll soon see more instances of people losing their tempers and lashing out at each other or MBTA employees.

Are any UHub readers employed by the MBTA? I've heard rumors of corruption and money skimming, but I'm usually skeptical of conspiracy theories. However, I remember a report last year about discrepancies between income calculated by the fare boxes, vs the income reported by the MBTA (I've probably got the specifics wrong, but something didn't jive). I wonder where the money DOES go. Clearly it isn't going towards fixing tracks, wiring, signals, trains, etc.

My fare went up, but I seem to be late to work more often. I'm pretty sure my manager is tired of hearing my excuses about train delays. Monday I was late because of red line delays, and again today. If I ever have a must-attend meeting nowadays, I have to make sure I give myself at least an extra hour.

Like most state agencies for

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Like most state agencies for various reasons MBTA overpays for many basic things, has a lot of dead wood in management, and an encyclopedia of work rules which create costly staffing issues. The blatant money skimming and corruption largely ended when Billy Bulger left office and General Manager Mulhern shifted to a cushy union position.

There used to be a lot of money blown on the benefits/retirement packages, but that was curtailed in recent negotiations to have more realistic retirement and employee contributions.

The state also has a habit of dumping debt and deadwood on the MBTA placing it in more precarious positions than the agencies internal leadership would like.

Paying people not to work

Really, what am I missing? Is everybody who works for the T Jesus Christ? What incentive does the MBTA have to make a remaining lifetime's worth of annual payments to people who aren't working?

In my line of work, if I take a vacation, somebody else gets paid to host my events for me. I don't work, somebody doesn't give me money. It's that simple. If I have a problem with that (which I don't), hundreds of people would gladly do my job (although they wouldn't do it nearly as well as me.)

What's the difference between the best trolley operator and the worst one, and is it so vast that it's really necessary to negotiate pensions into their contracts?

Retirement benefits are a

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Retirement benefits are a standard part of the public-employee social contract: MBTA workers, teachers, cops, firefighters, state hospital employees, judges, and elected officials all get public pensions so I'm not sure why this particular instance offends you so.

Also, they don't do paid vacation and sick leave in your line of work?

Oh, no, all instances offend me

I view pensions as an antiquated practice that should go the way of slavery.

And I'm in show business. There's no such thing as paid vacation or sick leave. And that's fine by me. I'm satisfied with my compensation for the actual work I do.

Agree w.r.t. pensions

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When a government entity signs a labor contract with a long-term pension component, the entity is committing to a long-term payment stream. Normally, there's a pretty high level of legislative or voter approval required to issue bonds or otherwise borrow money; it has always struck me that long term pension commitments are an end-run around restrictions on borrowing authority.

I have nothing against generous benefits -- but they should be paid for and accounted for honestly. Want to give generous pension benefits to the staff? Fine, but pay for it now, show it on the books now, and be accountable for it no; don't just kick it down the road. Deposit the money in your current employees' 401(k) accounts and be done with your liability; don't issue promises.

At its worst, 90% of employee costs for the railroad industry, for example, were payments to former employees, not current employees.


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But that's mainly because the government won't be going bankrupt soon, and can't jettison it's obligations like so many private businesses have done in the past.

Hostest being the most recent example, where they were either going to break their obligations through negation, or just do it through bankruptcy court (which was a much smaller pie for them).

The thing I keep coming back to is this country is the wealthiest country on the face of the planet, and has created the most wealth ever seen in the history of man.

Yet we are "broke". We can't pay for a middle class. We can't pay for infrastructure. Real wages are going down, even as productivity and hours worked are increasing.

Something is going horribly wrong with Capitalism if that's true, and frankly I'm not blaming the workers, who are working harder than ever. The fact is everyone from Will to the people at the MBTA are getting screwed, and shouldn't be tearing each other down.

They should be asking why they're being expected to take a pay cut for their work, even as they're more valuable to the entrepreneurial class (who is taking more and more of that wealth for themselves).

Why are people taking pay cuts?

Simple: Supply and demand. And as the population grows, the demand for jobs will increase. I'm not cutting anybody down, I'm just pointing out the reality of the working world in 2013. I mean, the T already holds a lottery for many of its jobs. That should make it clear to any thinking person that a) the T doesn't hold certain jobs in high regard as they relate to skill level and b) people still beg for them.

One way to fix this is to reduce the number of births. I'm still waiting for a politician to run for office on a birth control platform, one that creates incentives for the use of condoms and the pill, and also pays people for vasectomies and abortions if it's cost-effective for society. America's growing...we're just beginning to agree less on how X shares Y. X needs to be reduced, because I don't see Y getting bigger very quickly.

Totally off-topic but...

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Too juicy a fallacy to pass up...

Simple: Supply and demand. And as the population grows, the demand for jobs will increase.

And as population grows, the supply of jobs will also increase. More people means more stuff needs to be made for them. More people means more services need to be provided for them. More people means more jobs.

If that weren't true the economy would have destroyed itself in some Malthusian-like catastrophe long ago.

It may seem like there's not enough jobs right now but that is a temporary condition due to the financial recession/crash of 2008.

There are plenty of good reasons to support access to birth control. Protecting a "limited supply of jobs" is not one of them.

Will if you were that good of a host.....

You could charge a bar $100 a night, and if you can't make it, still charge them $100, but pay the replacement $50, since he shouldn't be expected to do the same job you can.

Or you could make the bar pay you by the year regardless of whether you are there or not. If you are that good, the bar might not want to lose such a great trivia host, and agree to pay you a set rate. Or maybe the bar doesn't want to risk not having trivia one night if you decide you don't want to host it that night.

And I'm only half joking here. If the MBTA wants to have qualified workers they are going to have to pay for them.


Is everybody who works for the T Jesus Christ?

I hope not. Things didn't turn out well for him.

Speaking of the MBTA

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blowing money, how about:

Installing automated station announcement systems on trains and buses when they have staff on those trains and buses that are perfectly capable of making the announcements.

Or an automated fare collection system that actually provided greater opportunities for fare evasion.

Or a smartphone payment system that only works if you have a certain type of phone and is not useful for subway or bus transfers.

As for the state dumping the debt and deadwood, let us not forget that the MBTA management in charge at the time agreed to the deal.

Automated Train and Bus Annoucements are an ADA requirement

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Federal law requires that all new trains and buses and stations use automated voice announcements. While operators can make announcements, the reality all voices, inflections, accents are different and some are easier to understand than others.

Automated announcements create one uniform voice that is easier to recognize and comprehend. And frankly, the cost of installing these systems is neglible. It's not like there is one guy at the T control center speaking into a microphone everytime a bus/train reaches its stop/station.

Nope, sorry. Federal law

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Nope, sorry.

Federal law requires announcements at train stations and major bus stops. They don't have to be automatic, even on new vehicles.

Um, the old fareboxes used to

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Um, the old fareboxes used to destroy all the bills put into them making the revenue unrecoverable. There was also no accurate way of counting ridership and no fare collection on the green line at outbound surface stops. Whatever revenue is lost on evasion of the new system, comparable to every other fare collection system in the modern world, pales in comparison to what was lost sticking with a 19th century token system.


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It is a well known fact that when temps go under 20, trains enjoy going on strike and not working, to protest their outdoor yards.

Shuttle buses should be ready BEFORE it happens, not launched after. We all knew thered be dead trains everywhere. Should have been 5 shuttle buses ready to go up and down the system.

Fires and cold weather...

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Not generally associated with each other (well, besides heater-caused fires, which this wasn't).

I presume you've got the cash to staff all those shuttle buses so they can stand by in case of breakdown? I would approximate it at about $100 per hour per bus.

Its a little less Now lets do

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Its a little less

Now lets do some math.

$80 an hour x 3 hours x 50 buses


$20 an hour x 1 hour x 10,000 (lost wages, economic impact)

Id say its worth it.


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$80 x 3 x 50 = $12,000. Now take the $12,000 x 365 days a year because you never know when things will happen = $4,380,000 (at least, depending on the hours necessary) annual expense a practically broke transit system can't afford.

$20 x 1 x 10,000= $200,000.

You would have to guarantee that emergency situations requiring shuttle buses would need to occur more than 22 times a year for it to be worth it.

You were saying...

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You would have to guarantee that emergency situations requiring shuttle buses would need to occur more than 22 times a year for it to be worth it.