Whining about my commute, which was actually sort of amusing

People waiting for the shuttles at Park Street, BostonI don’t usually whine about my commute, and there are many many MBTA riders, indeed, entire blogs, devoted to this pursuit. But today’s was amusing enough to whine about.

Preamble: apparently a Red Line train caught on fire and the MBTA bussed people between Broadway and Harvard (basically, the entire stretch of the Red Line that most riders use).

When I found this out at South Station, rather than fight the hordes, I decided to walk to Park St, take the green line to Hynes, and get a #1 bus to Harvard. But when I got to Park St, there was one of the shuttles right there, and when I heard the driver lean out the door, and — I think — say that they were going express to Harvard, I decided to jump on. It was full, but not as crowded as it could have been, presumably because it was going express.

Except, when the closed the doors closed, the driver turns around and says, “OK, does anybody know how to get from here to Harvard Square?”

Now the chances of someone knowing the way are pretty good (but not 100% because a lot of Red Line riders are suburbanites who just take it to Porter Square to catch the commuter rail). But the chances of a Red Line rider knowing the best way to go, especially the best way at 6:30pm during rush hour, are low. People generally take the Red Line specifically so they don’t have to know. The chances that someone who knew the best way would be in earshot of the driver on a full bus are just about zero. And indeed, we ended up not going express to Harvard, because we got lost in Beacon Hill and ended up at Charles MGH, and just took the normal Red Line route and made all the stops from there (which meant that it quickly went from full to overcrowded).

But honest to goodness, where did the MBTA dig this driver up? It wasn’t just like he had no idea of how to get out of Boston, he seemed to have no idea of where the Red Line actually goes and where it stops. After a while, it gets easy: you just follow Mass Ave and stop at every big “T” sign you see; and because there is no subway, there will be huge crowds of people standing outside and waving to you. But this proved too difficult for this guy. People actually had to tell him to stop at Central.

I sound indignant, but mostly I felt bad for him. He was clearly asked to do something he had no idea how to do, and everybody’s been there at one point or another. Luckily most of us don’t have to do it when we’re driving a huge piece of machinery, crammed to the gills with sweaty, tired people.

That said, my fellow commuters were taking it in stride: there was the same kind of jovial whatcha-gonna-do solidarity that is usually reserved for the first big snowstorm of the season.

I made it home by 8:15, which made the trip about double my usual commute time.

6 thoughts on “Whining about my commute, which was actually sort of amusing”

  1. Bus drivers know the routes they know — you can’t expect them to understand other routes, especially when they’ve just been reassigned with no notice, possibly from a surburban route. The worst disaster in the history of the NYC subway back in 1918 happened when the PHBs assigned a dispatcher with only two days of motorman training to run a train as part of an attempt to break a motormen’s strike. He took a 6 mph curve at over 45 mph, jumped the track, and killed 97 people, not including himself. The incident was so traumatic that the very name of the Brooklyn street where it happened was changed from Malbone St. to Empire Boulevard.

    On a lighter note, it’s said that a new Manhattan bus driver was assigned to the 14th St. run in the old days before Metrocards (buses do still take coins). On the first two days, everything was nominal, but on the third day he came in with three times the normal amount of cash in the fare box. Summoned to the front desk for an explanation, he said, “Boss, I could see that 14th St. route would never pay, so I switched to Avenue B. Boy, is that street a gold mine!”

  2. At least public transportation is a viable option where you live. For the longest time Austin only had a local bus system which, while not bad, did not meet the needs of people living on the edges of town or outside the city limits. I used to ride the bus for many years but it’s no longer feasible for me to do so.

    After over a decade of referendums, pro and anti campaigns and legal handwringing Austin is just now getting a light rail system; a single line that runs north to south between Leander to downtown Austin. It’s tentatively scheduled to begin running in late fall 2008 but I haven’t seen a route schedule posted yet. Hopefully it will be heading northbound at a convenient time for me to get to work. Even if it’s not convenient for me to ride maybe enough Leanderthals will take the train and clear up some of the congestion on the highway.

  3. You’re a better man than I am. I watched 3 buses refuse to take on passengers at Kendall before deciding to queue up at the cab stand behind the Marriott. No good-natured shrugging for me. I just bloody wanted to be HOME.

  4. Trixie, I was secretly hoping we would pick you up at Kendall, that’s how much I miss seeing you on public transit unexpectedly!

  5. Oh, and John, I love the story about the Manhattan bus driver. It’s as if Adam Smith’s invisible hand itself was driving the bus!

    That said, Boston roads may be confusing, but it’s really not a big city, and not knowing how to drive up Mass Ave to get to Harvard Square is sort of like not knowing how to get from way downtown Manhattan to Times Square. You might have to do a little shooting in the dark but unless you are utterly without a clue, once someone gets you to Broadway, you should be able to take it from there.

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