WESTWOOD (CBS) – As soon as the train stops at the platform, the doors open, and the race begins.
Passengers on the MBTA’s Providence/Stoughton commuter rail line quickly spill into the Route 128 parking garage in Westwood.
Even though it’s the end of the work day, many people have stored up the energy for a final dash home. During several visits to the parking facility, the WBZ I-Team watched as people sprinted to their cars.
When asked why he was running, one man yelled, “To beat the traffic!” Another commuter told the I-Team he sprints to his vehicle “every (expletive) day.”
People hustle to their cars, hoping to be the first ones in line at the exit gates. If they take their time, drivers know to expect delays.
“Every night it’s horrible. At least 20 minutes to get out of here,” a woman expressed as a car honked from behind.
Customers told WBZ the issues started a little more than a year ago, just as MassDOT rolled out all-electronic tolling (AET) on the Pike.
According to MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo, the switch to AET made the EZPass system inside the garage obsolete, requiring an upgrade to the equipment technology.
At the time, the transit agency announced the transition would “improve reliability and customer experience.”
Pesaturo explained that since the old technology automatically opened the gates any time the machine read an EZPass transponder, many customers who already paid with a credit card were double-charged. The process created an “astronomical number” of refund requests, he said.
The garage serves roughly 2,000 people per day, including Amtrak customers. It is the only MBTA parking facility with EZPass technology.
Under the new system, drivers needs to show their tickets at the exit, and then select whether they would like to pay with their transponder or credit card.
Customers repeatedly told the I-Team the extra step has only created extra stress.
“It’s terrible, especially when you have to pick up the kids,” an out-of-breath driver running to his car said.
All too often, commuters said the technology malfunctions, closing exit lanes and causing gridlock.
Stuck drivers have vented on Twitter about traffic “standstills” and “nightmares.” On January 3rd, one customer wrote, “Hey fyi @MBTA the parking ticketing system at rt 128 garage is impossibly garbage.”
On a night when the I-Team took a test drive, the exit gate would not open after reading the vehicle’s EZPass. Several other drivers seemed to be having a similar problem.
After attempting to leave in another lane, the I-Team eventually summoned a parking garage employee and paid with a credit card instead.
Ian Bowles, the state’s former energy secretary, uses the garage on a daily basis and calls it remarkably inefficient.
“They’ve added this level of delay for no really good reason,” he said.
Bowles noted the irony that as the tolls came down to ease congestion on the Pike, the public transit garage in Westwood seems to have moved in reverse. He pointed at cars sitting and idling as exhaust fumes filled the air.
“The whole point of taking the commuter rail is that not only is it environmental, but it saves time,” Bowles said. “Driving from here to Boston is worse. But if you tack on waiting 20 minutes in the garage, that advantage of saving time is gone.”
The I-Team asked why the garage doesn’t dedicate one lane to credit card payments and the remaining lanes to EZPass transactions, eliminating the need for every customer to show a ticket at the exit.
Pesaturo said the MBTA is reviewing that idea as an option.
Meantime, he also said the agency is working with its technology vendor to improve the reliability of the system. Finally, the vendor who manages the garage, Republic Parking, is beefing up staff training to ensure that issues are resolved faster.
For now, commuters choose to run…or pay the price.
“I miss things all time, like my kids’ performances,” a woman lamented from her car. “It’s a nightmare trying to get out of here.”
Ryan Kath can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.