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Dan Grabauskas must go

Globe: Commuter rail delays are worst in a year; T, train company, unions swap blame

The Outraged Liberal writes that stories like that explain why it's actually past time to send Grabauskas back to Ipswich (by limo, presumably, since he doesn't like riding the T):

... It's hard to comprehend why the Patrick administration, in moving to oust old-time GOP hacks like Steve Tocco and Mass. Turnpike Authority Board members, has left Grabauskas in place. ...

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Comments

It's long past due to get rid of someone who laughs and says he never takes the train to work, when thats the ship he's helming.

This guy needs to go, and the next guy needs preformance clauses written into his contract.

As for the union, they need to make some concessions too. Should a guy pullin a lever, with little more then a HS degree, be makeing 50K a year and be able to retire 15 years early? (and thats without notng the horrible, horrible customer service when called upon)

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All management employees of the T should be required, as part of their contracts, to ride a randomly selected route starting at 7:30 to 8:00 am at least once each month. They will be docked pay if they don't arrive in the office by 9:00.

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"All management employees of the T should be required, as part of their contracts, to ride a randomly selected route starting at 7:30 to 8:00 am at least once each month. They will be docked pay if they don't arrive in the office by 9:00."

That's a good idea, SwirlyGrrl. How about making all the politicians ride the MBTA to and from work also?

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about this latest set of articles regarding how poor commuter rail service has become is they're all finger-pointing. No-one has said anything along the lines of, "Yes, these delays are our fault, and here's what we're going to do to improve service". I ride the Framingham/Worcester line every day. It's always late, with one or two exceptions the people operating the trains are at best surly and disagreeable, and rapidly becoming far, far too expensive for what semblance of "service" the MBTA/MBCR offers.

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Jeff Egnaczyk writes that if the Metro story about commuter-rail workers being on a "working strike" since September is right, then the workers have blown it:

... Instead of making their grievances public, alerting potentially sympathetic riders, the union has taken it out on the riders. Now instead of directing my ire solely at the MBTA, the MBCR and CSX, MBCR employees will have to take some of the blame. There are many riders, myself included, that I believe would support these employees. Many riders take the train because it helps the environment. While this doesn't mean you are necessarily a strong supporter of labor rights there is a strong correlation. The main reason to support the workers though is that poor working conditions are an obvious cause of worsening customer service in just about any industry.

Knowing this beforehand would only increase my anger with the MBCR. Instead, I've been left in the dark, made to think people were working hard to get me home in reasonable time. I was not given the information I needed to make other arrangements. I was, quite literally, left out in the cold. ...

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While the Metro headline takes the slant that this is a "silent strike", what the unions are really doing is called "working to rule". That means that they aren't going to go out of their way to bust their tails to make up for deficiencies in the system that their employer refuses to fix - like understaffing and poor maintenance and delayed trains.

Do people really think that workers should sprint between trains? Work through their breaks on long shifts? Run trains with minor safety deficiencies? Work mandatory overtime?

I think the final paragraph of the article says it best:

Before all this nonsense we would cut corners to make service better. We would run from one train to another. Not anymore. (snip)
Now we say "there's a problem with this light and we aren't moving until it is fixed". Legally it's what we should have been doing anyway.

Could be worse ... we could be in France ...

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So let us know! I don't want people that are providing me with a service to be over worked or unsafe. It's bad for them and, more selfishly, bad for me and the product/service I'm paying for. We as riders can't put any pressure on the MBTA/MBCR if we don't know what's going on. Instead of deciding to screw us over without our knowledge the union should have enlisted us as allies.

And, if we lived in France, I'm guessing our train riding experience would be much better.

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France is in the eighth day of a reeeally nasty rail strike, part of a much larger walk out by all sorts of government employees.

Of course, I agree that the union should have gotten the message out about working conditions and the expectation that they cut corners to cover up for deficiencies much sooner.

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I see. You were talking about their proclivity to go on strike. I was simply pointing out that Europe has better train service that the United States. Point taken.

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the trains should run even if there's a missing light or two somewhere. Things like that can be fixed during the weekend when there is less demand for equipment.

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Aside from minor repair issues, however, I think the recent slip in performance has revealed some much larger problems.

The "work to rule" is making it clear how much of the on-time performance prior to the fall was being taken out of the dedication of the employees and their willingness to bust their butts to keep things running right.

The operator felt entitled to more of that above and beyond hustle to cover for all of these other problems as they added a new line. Meanwhile, they ignored repeated reasonable requests for restrooms, took away decision latitude and removed scheduling flexibility. Now that the employees are doing what they are paid to do, we are finding out exactly how much extra stuff the workers have been doing to cover the arses of the managers and keep passengers happy.

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It doesn't do much good if nobody knows about it. All the unions have succeeded in doing is in getting commuters angry at the MBTA without giving them a channel for that anger. Stupid move.

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Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!

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While there are some conductors with bad attitudes out there, most are extremely popular with their regular riders. I'm surprised they haven't been more forthcoming about the delays until there was an attempt to blame them for just doing their jobs.

I remember the ad-hoc North Station meet-and-greet for the Lowell line the night after that horrendous accident last summer. People weren't just getting on the train, they were filing past the line of conductors and taking stock. Tears! Hugs and handshakes! Relief and concern. Reports on those injured and updates on how they were doing.

The people who ride care about the people who run the trains.

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"While there are some conductors with bad attitudes out there, most are extremely popular with their regular riders. I'm surprised they haven't been more forthcoming about the delays until there was an attempt to blame them for just doing their jobs."

That's because we were trying to keep it in the family, so to speak. We could've gone to the press at least a year ago, but it ultimately wouldn't have solved anything and made matters worse. O'leary needs to go; not because the Unions don't like him, but his conflict of interest. He's in very tight with certain MBTA senior managers. Don't let all this finger-pointing fool you. The fix was in for MBCR to get the contract from the T 4+ years ago, and O'leary is positioning himself to run the Commuter service with his own company.

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Stephen Laniel gets disgusted at the part-owner of MBCR (the company running the trains) just citing a litany of excuses, including the Red Sox winning the World Series:

... I would like to say to O'Leary: This is your job. You knew what was coming long in advance. The Red Sox playoff schedule is a matter of public knowledge. You should have prepared for the possibility that they'd win the Series. Why didn't you? If you needed to get extra trains into service, but couldn't because of capital shortages, say so. But then the problem isn't the Red Sox victory, but rather the budget. ...

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O'leary certainly didn't know that if MBCR got the unions to agree with a schedule change that the disgruntled employees would act on their own and disrupt service. MBCR did exactly what they should have done. They had to change the schedules around to accommodate Greenbush. They proposed a new schedule to the union. The union negotiated with MBCR and came to an agreement. Then the employees cried and decided to disrupt service to spite everyone. A pretty short-sighted move.

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As someone who has worked in & out of the MBTA and EOT for the last decade, I have had the opportunity to meet and deal with many senior managers. The challenges facing Massachusetts transportation are huge and the MBTA has, frankly the biggest challenges. The reasons are many and there's hardly a day the agency isn't in a headline. But make no mistake, the agency is modernizing, the GM has brought in a host of talented people and the 5,000+ staff are slowly, sometimes glacially, recognizing that past practices are not sufficient. Is the public going to wake up one day and see things are much better, absolutely not! To turn around a system takes years as does undoing botched procurements like the CharlieCard, the Breda cars & new Blue Line cars. All of these, I might add, were already in design or production prior to the GM coming onboard in 2005...He gets the blame but never had a chance - the train had already left the station

Yes there are some relatively simple and cheap improvements that should be done ASAP: installing electric sliding doors at station entrances (the old doors are torture!); telling people the next Ashmont train is 5 min away, Braintree is 8 minutes and while we're at, let's do it for the Green Line too - just like the rest of the world; instituting pressure washing of station platforms, walls and glass;

As I see it, assuming the State provides some additional operating revenue AND debt relief, the MBTA will in 3-5 yrs be far better than today. But this assumes some major overhauls in the following areas:
Design & Construction: Dept desperately needs a new design manual AND far better construction / contract oversight. The T is continually at the mercy of A&E firms & contractors. The results are maddening delays, costly change orders and infinitely more complex long-term maintenance needs. BTW, does anyone do post-occupancy reviews?

Procurement & Stores: Procurement of systemwide equipment is utterly broken but few want to admit it. The Charlie system and PA/VMS work are great examples of failing to write the RFP correctly, then half-arsed prototyping and forgetting to conduct multiple rounds of user testing. Many of the problems and annoyances should have been anticipated and or caught in prototyping. Further it seems impossible to repair things in a timely fashion or before failure. Honestly, why do broken lights or tiles go months before repair...does anyone manage inventory?

Vehicle design: The current COO, has overseen various vehicle procurements and none have turned out that positively, from either a mechanical reliability or customer standpoint. New buses screech as much as the old ones and have narrowed aisles & spaces that barely fit strollers or small wheelchairs. The new Blue Line cars are essentially the same old cars...2 doors per side which guarantees the continued glacial boarding times downtown. - Did we not learn something from the newer 4 door Red Line cars that are far easier & quicker to board...apparently not! And the new commuter rail coaches still even lack onboard displays of the next stop, let alone display estimated time of arrival.

Real Estate/Transit Realty Associates: In many ways, the mix of in house and external management of real estate has some value but it is increasingly clear that there are vast disconnects between the rest of the MBTA & RE/TRA. Is it fixable without rolling heads, maybe but when one also looks at long-term planning - it looks less likely. These departments have dual and often conflicting roles, maximizing non-fare revenue and ensuring the T protects its assets for generations to come. The sooner this gets some attention, the better.

Yes, the GM is not perfect: his temper is volcanic at times (though it is often warranted!); he is never out riding the system; he does not yet understand the value of real time information for the next 2-4 trains; he still thinks putting up more signs equals wayfinding; and he has kept on or promoted some senior people that frankly are often internal road blocks to change or don't believe in customer service. But even they are getting the message, albeit slower than some of us hoped.

They get it because Dan keeps focusing on the customers...and I'd take Dan any day over any MBTA GM I've known and worked with since the early 90's. When Dan decides he's had enough, we the riders and MA taxpayers will have lost a strong friend. Let's hope whenever that day comes, the politicos will have the brains to hire someone from the outside, who like Dan, can see the need for systemic change and the engagement of all riders.

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