Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Handicapped seating

Sorry to harp on this point, but I think that it's an interesting opportunity for me to get a look at the T from a new perspective.

On August 23rd I slipped and fell while hiking across a stream in the White Mountains with my son. I landed with my left elbow twisted behind me, and broke it in two places. I've had to keep my arm in a sling ever since, on my doctor's orders.

So I've had a chance to see what it's like to be a semi-handicapped passenger on the commuter rail.

It sucks. Mornings are okay, but over the past month ridership on the Franklin #715 train has increased notably (again). And they have often shorted the train consist; for a while it was five doubles and two flats, but now it's often only one flat. The difference is notable; in early August I was able to get a seat every time I boarded at Ruggles, but for the past three weeks I have almost never been able to get a seat until the Norwood Central stop, nearly half an hour into the ride.

Mind you, there are seats; many of the three-person seats only have two people in them. But they inevitably push towards the opposite ends of the seat, and generally places their bags in the space between. As I walk down the aisles, being careful not to bump my sling against passengers (more because my arm hurts like hell when bumped than because of any great courteousness on my part) many of those passengers in the three-person seats have a classic reaction; they catch sight of me and then quickly look away, out the window or at their suddenly-engrossing reading matter.

As a matter of stupid pride, I never ask them to make room for me. Still, I have to admit that it sticks in my craw; whenever there's an injured person, a parent with children, or a pregnant woman standing I have always been the first to stand up and offer them my seat. But now that I'm injured, only one person has ever offered me a seat. I declined with thanks (I was some distance away, and it was crowded), but it was nice of him to make the offer.

It's a strange issue. I guess it's human nature for passengers to spread out and claim as much space as possible. Should conductors encourage passengers to store their bags in their laps, or in the overhead racks, rather than beside them on the seats? I've heard that announcement once in a while, but it's very rare. Should I speak up and demand a seat? To be honest, I can't jam myself into the middle of a three-person seat; pressure on my arm really does hurt.

As it is, I've been sitting on stairways instead. I can't take a chance on falling down, and it's both painful and difficult to take a secure hold and stand with only one working hand. I have to keep a watch behind me and move at most stops to let people use the stairs, though.

Oh, one more note of interest: fare collection is way down on the Franklin #715 again. I don't recall being asked for my ticket once in the past two weeks.

Hot Cars

As I mentioned in the previous post, I broke my elbow while hiking, recently, and so haven't been able to take the train as often as I used to. Nonetheless, I did run into a few hot cars.

On 8/29/2008, the Stoughton #917 train had a hot car: coach 507

On 9/3/2008, the Franklin #715 train had a double coach without working AC (the first I've ever seen in which the AC was disabled throughout): coach 716. It was horribly hot. I didn't have a thermometer, but I feel quite safe in saying that the temperature was approaching 100°. The coach had the usual effect, too; people jammed into the adjoining coaches, crowding them dangerously. Since the Franklin #715 coach has been getting more and more crowded lately (and they've been shorting us a coach fairly often, too) this was a real problem.


This morning the Franklin #708 train was exactly one-half hour late.

It's unusual for the train to be that late. But it's even more unusual for the train ever to be actually on time.

For the past few weeks I have been tracking the performance of the Franklin #715 train. I board it at Ruggles at 4:19 in the afternoon, and in theory it should arrive at Franklin/Dean College (the next-to-last stop on the line) at 5:10 PM. But here's the actual performance:

Sorry it's an image instead of a table, but Blogger doesn't seem to like my tables. A few notes of interest:

1. All arrival times were taken from my cell phone, which is set to automatically synchronize and update. The time was taken at the moment the train made a full and complete stop at the station.

2. Sorry that the data isn't more complete; I broke my elbow hiking the the White Mountains about three weeks ago, and as a result I haven't been taking the train every single day. It's also a lot harder to check arrival times when you're trying to wrestle a backpack and the train door with one arm.

3. The first column is mislabeled; it shouldn't be called "Late", but rather "Date". Freudian slip, sorry. This data reflects every day that I rode the Franklin #715 and was able to record the time (nine times out of ten, at least), and I have not eliminated ANY data. I wouldn't want anyone to think that I had left out data that improved the results (from the T's point of view), because I haven't.

Nonetheless, the average time late is six and two-thirds of a minute, so far. Multiply that time by the number of passengers on the train, and you're talking about hundreds of wasted person-hours per week. And that's just for that one train! Unless it's the only regularly-late train in the fleet (something that I doubt very much), that means that system-wide many thousands of person-hours are being wasted on a regular basis.

Now, six minutes might not seem like a big deal. And it isn't. But what I find remarkably startling is this: on every day that I recorded an arrival time, the train never ONCE met its official 5:10 PM arrival time.

Not once. Isn't that strange?