By Ryan Kath

WESTWOOD (CBS) – The MBTA has implemented changes to improve traffic flow at one of its busiest parking garages in Westwood.

The improvements come after a WBZ I-Team investigation, which illustrated commuters sprinting to their cars to avoid getting stuck in garage gridlock.

Emails the I-Team obtained reveal agency officials knew about issues at the parking facility in April 2017. However, the MBTA and its vendors did not spring into action until WBZ broadcast video of commuters spewing frustration while hustling to their cars.

The problems stemmed from a change to the exit process at the garage. When MassDOT rolled out all-electronic tolling on the Pike, it made the EZPass technology at the parking facility obsolete.

128 improvements 2 MBTA Garage Improvements Kicked Into High Gear After I Team Investigation, Emails Reveal

Worker installs upgraded equipment at Route 128 parking garage in Westwood (WBZ-TV)

Under the new system, drivers need to show their tickets at the exit, and then select whether they would like to pay with their transponder or credit card.

But all too often, commuters told the I-Team the technology malfunctioned, closing exit lanes and causing massive delays at the end of the work day.

Emails obtained via public records request show deputy director of parking services Bruno Lopes first tried to alert the MBTA’s vendor to “EZPass reader issues” last April.

It’s unclear what transpired between then and January, when Lopes posted a social media preview of the I-Team story and raised the urgency level.

The morning after the WBZ story aired, Lopes wrote, “We’ve reached a critical point where we need to either fix the problems or do away with the technology all together.”

Further conversation among MBTA employees and vendors described the garage dilemma as a “top priority,” with an action plan needed “ASAP.”

Within a few weeks, workers installed upgraded equipment and tweaked the technology to prevent communication breakdowns between EZPass software and parking equipment. The MBTA also arranged for an adjustment to the traffic light just outside the garage, which the agency said has also helped improve egress times.

runner 1 MBTA Garage Improvements Kicked Into High Gear After I Team Investigation, Emails Reveal

Woman running to car in Route 128 parking garage (WBZ-TV)

“While it did require some time and effort to develop an effective corrective action plan, the MBTA is pleased that it was able to implement solutions that addressed customers’ concerns,” spokesman Joe Pesaturo told WBZ.

Daily customers like Ian Bowles, the state’s former energy secretary, say they have noticed an improvement to traffic flow and the reliability of the technology.

However, with all-electronic tolling collecting payment from vehicles traveling 60 mph on the Pike, Bowles wishes the MBTA used a similar system inside commuter parking garages.

garage traffic 1 MBTA Garage Improvements Kicked Into High Gear After I Team Investigation, Emails Reveal

Traffic leaving Route 128 station parking garage in Westwood (WBZ-TV)

“They could take that technology here to the garage and it would work like a dream,” he expressed. “But for whatever reason, they’ve gone backwards to this 1980s technology.”

The emails indicate the MBTA and its vendors did consider the option of using EZPass-only lanes where a ticket wouldn’t be required. However, they ultimately punted on that idea.

Pesaturo said the current system ensures an accurate count inside the parking facility. The old system also resulted in frequent refunds because customers who had already paid via credit card were double-charged on their transponders, he said.

Commuter Sarah Molinari told WBZ she hasn’t seen individual lanes break down recently, so the improvement is evident. But she also would like to eliminate the ticket and parking gate system.

“I guess in the age of Apple Pay and automatic tolling, we’re all just impatient for a little machine to do its thing, slowly, one painful car at a time,” Molinari expressed.

Ryan Kath can be reached at rkath@cbs.com. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.

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