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Riders slow to warm to CharlieCard

Riders complained that some CharlieCards did not work and monthly passes were not received. (Photo illustration/Patricia McDonnell)

CharlieCard woes and wobbles rained down on us all week from readers after CharlieCards and the new fare increase combined to form a huge storm of frustration.

Cards did not work, monthly passes were not received, and, if they were, they were the wrong kind. As a result, even though the complaints were in the low double digits via, riders quickly came to the conclusion that the entire automated fare collection system was a big disaster and that this column was the mouthpiece for a transit organization of swindlers and thieves.

Applesauce. Though T officials couldn't explain some of the problems, others appeared to be a part of the steep CharlieCard learning curve.

"My name is John and I live in Brighton. I am being harassed by the T!"

John wrote that he uses the D branch to get to work and has a monthly pass that wouldn't work at fare boxes last week.

"The drivers are demanding I pay the fare even when I explain that I have a monthly pass," he said.

When he got on at Reservoir last week, "I was told that I am a liar when I said I had already paid for a monthly pass," he said, adding that T personnel (nicer ones, apparently) helped him prove his monthly pass was working at a nearby validator machine.

"They said they were having trouble reading some monthly passes issued in December on the trains and recommended that I get a paper ticket ON EACH AND EVERY RIDE," he wrote. "I don't want to continue being harassed on the trains and called a liar but I don't think it's realistic for me to get a paper ticket each and every time I want to board a D train."

Deep breaths, John. If the validator machine said you had a monthly pass, then use the validator machine to board the D branch at the middle door, where T officials should be checking validator receipts or scanning CharlieCards. Simple. We talked to John later and learned he had his pass scanned by a handheld scanner prior to entering the trolley, where he had tried to use the fare box and failed. This may have caused the problems.

We took his problems to T officials, but they said they had had no reported problems with D branch fare boxes rejecting monthly passes.

There was also talk of CharlieCards dying this week after four days of use. We again took the matter to the T, where officials said it was the first they'd heard of it (and they don't tend to lie when we ask). Still, something happened.

Then there was Tim of Brighton, who said his first few days with a LinkPass on his CharlieCard were fine.

But he boarded the Green Line below ground twice, got off above ground, and tried to get back on a Green Line trolley only to have the fare box say he had no money on his card and ask him to pay $2, which we don't understand.

"If I get on a subway later, why does the card not recognize the LinkPass?" he asked.

We have no idea, and neither did the T. The only scenario officials could come up with was that the system had timed him out, but this would only occur if John tried to board the same trolley he exited at the same station.

Ironically enough, Joe Kelley, the head of the automated fare conversion for the T, said the T received fewer complaints last week than any other week he's worked on the project. With service updates generated every two hours, he also said there were no reported service problems at fare boxes.

Strange, which makes us conclude that this is part of the Charlie learning curve. Here's some help.

The T's Customer Service Center at Downtown Crossing is now open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday to solve problems. We know it's not the easiest thing to do. But here you can add the value from a CharlieTicket to a CharlieCard (saving money), transfer tokens to a CharlieCard or even buy a monthly pass. Lines have been long, however.

T officials said they can better address problems like those mentioned above via e-mail at If you can provide your CharlieCard's serial number and other information about a glitch, T officials swear they will help. And as always, keep us posted.

Pay when you leave?
'Have you heard the grumblings that it is now T policy that all express buses from Waltham are pay as you exit?" wrote Janine of Waltham. (Until receiving her e-mail , we had not.)

"I couldn't find anything about it on the T website. On Tuesday, the driver of the bus told us that it would now be pay as you exit (because of the different zones on the route). Wednesday, the driver told us it was pay as you get on. Today, it's back to pay as you get off. I'm not sure which is worse, the multiple stops with people paying as they get on, or the one stop at the end where 20 to 30 people are all getting off."

Here's the change. On all Turnpike, Interstate 93, and North Shore express bus routes, customers will pay their fares when exiting the bus in the inbound direction and when boarding the bus in the outbound direction.

If you're traveling just a few stops , you pay when you enter.

Jets plummet
Their quarterback's first name is Chad. They play in New Jersey but say they're from New York. Enough said.

If you're going to the Jets-Pats playoff game this afternoon (1 p.m., you lucky ducks), the T wants to take you there.

Tickets are $10 (cash only) and the train leaves South Station at 10:50 a.m., Back Bay at 10:55, Dedham at 11:10 and Norwood at 11:15. Arrival at Gillette Stadium scheduled for 12:05 p.m.

The Providence train leaves at 10:50 a.m. as well, with stops in South Attleborough (11 a.m.), Attleboro (11:10) and Mansfield (11:20).

Don't bring your CharlieCard. It won't be honored. No backpacks or coolers on the train, which heads home 30 minutes after Chad's season ends. As our 4-year-old says a la Speed Racer: "Go, Tom Brady, go!"

Can't get there . . .
I-93 south will close at Exit 23 (Purchase Street) 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Saturday morning.

The Essex Street onramp to I-93 south will close 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Saturday morning.

Three lanes of I-93 south approaching and through downtown will close 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Saturday morning.

Two lanes of I-93 north from South Bay to Charlestown will close 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Saturday morning.

Exit 26 (Storrow Drive) off I-93 north will close 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Thursday morning.

The Essex Street onramp to I-93 north will close 8 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday morning.

Exit 23 (Government Center) off I-93 north will close 11:30 p.m. Thursday to 5 a.m. Friday.

The Atlantic Avenue onramp to I-93 north will close 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Thursday through Saturday morning.

The ramp at Exit 20 (Pike west) off I-93 north will close 10 p.m. Thursday to 5 a.m. Friday. Access from Exit 20 to South Station will remain open.

The Pike east between Exit 22 (Copley/Prudential) and South Boston will close 11 p.m. Monday to 5 a.m. Tuesday. Direct access to the Ted Williams Tunnel from South Boston will remain open.

The onramp from Congress Street to I-93 in South Boston, and Exit 24 (I-93) off the Pike west will close 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Thursday through Saturday morning.

The Frontage Road Northbound onramp to the Pike west at the Broadway Bridge will close 10 p.m. Thursday to 5 a.m. Friday.

The Congress Street onramp to I-93 south and the Pike west will close 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Wednesday morning and Thursday through Saturday morning.

The Sumner Tunnel onramp to Storrow Drive will close 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Thursday morning and Friday through Saturday morning. Sumner Tunnel access to Haymarket will remain open.

Route 1A north near Logan Airport will close 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Wednesday.

Complain to us at Don't forget to send us your hometown. Outside the paper, the column can be found at with daily updates on the Starts & Stops Blog at Our mailing address is Starts & Stops, P.O. Box 55819, Boston, MA 02205-5819.

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