MBTA General Manager Answers Your ComplaintsBy Kate Merrill

BOSTON (CBS) – Few people complain as colorfully as those who commute on the MBTA.

“It’s miserable. If you have any other mode of transportation, I recommend taking it,” griped a construction worker waiting for the orange line at North Station at the end of his shift.

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“There’s too many people. You feel like the train is going to burst out,” said a student waiting for a Green Line Trolley along Commonwealth Avenue.

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak is no stranger to criticism. He was happy to address some of the complaints and questions posed to WBZ-TV, when Kate Merrill rode the 34 bus with him to work from his home in Roslindale.

“You can never rely on the T.”

That was the complaint from a rider waiting along Commonwealth Avenue. Poftak admitted reliability is the complaint he hears most often.

“We are making billions of dollars worth of investments in the system in an effort to make it more reliable,” he said.

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak answers question from WBZ-TV’s Kate Merrill. (Image: WBZ-TV)

Just this week that figure was bumped up to $10 billion for new trains and buses, as well as much-needed infrastructure improvements. Many of those projects will take time, but something that is happening right now is improvements to the bus system.

The T recently launched the Better Bus Project. It’s an ambitious undertaking that is altering 47 bus routes, adding new bus drivers and making improvements to street infrastructure.

“Our buses operate in the same traffic that everyone else is in, and as everyone knows congestion has grown over time making our buses slower,” Poftak said. “We are trying to make our buses faster and more reliable.”

One of those changes was evident as the 34 bus sailed down Washington Street on a busy Monday Morning. That route has a dedicated lane for buses only.

“As someone who takes this route regularly, the bus lanes made a huge difference,” Poftak said.

The ride may be faster, but bus-only lanes take cooperation and money from communities. Right now Boston, Cambridge, Arlington and Everett are having some success with the dedicated lanes, and Poftak hopes to see more in the future.

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Not Enough Buses

The need for more buses is also a common complaint. We ran into a woman at the Forest Hills stop who was afraid she was going to miss an appointment in Downtown Boston because the bus she needed wasn’t running often enough.

The T is hiring 45 new drivers in order to add more buses, but that won’t help much during rush hour. “We have constraints,” Poftak said. “We simply can’t run any more buses during peak service.”

Jarred Johnson of TransitMatters, a nonprofit advocacy organization, says problems on the commuter rail and the subways are well-documented, but bus customers make up a third of the MTBA’s trips. “Making our bus service work better is really one of the best ways to help the widest range of people and it particularly helps people of color and low income,” he said.

MBTA bus (Image: WBZ-TV)

Collect The Fares

Several people on Facebook and Twitter reached out to us complaining that the MBTA does not do a good job of collecting fares and a lot of people are cheating the system.

Doug on Facebook wrote: Lower prices by making sure EVERYONE pays. Sick of paying $5000 a year to take the commuter rail meanwhile others get by for free.

Chris on Twitter wrote: Why do you do nothing about fare evasion? Everyone at Field’s Corner goes through the gates for free. Alarms blaring, employees do nothing.

“The idea that someone else is getting a free ride is incredibly frustrating and I understand that,” Poftak said.

In an effort to tackle that problem on the commuter rail, fare gates will be added next year at North Station, South Station and Back Bay Station. Those gates will eventually be tied into an MBTA-wide automated fare system that Poftak says is still a few years out.

Not everyone we talked to complained. A man from South Florida said he loved the T because, where he comes from, there is very little public transportation. A young woman who took the bus back and forth to high school said she also had few complaints.

“We think people are really going to start to see results in terms of increased reliability, Poftak said.

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That’s a promise that T riders are not likely to forget.

Kate Merrill