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Chat transcript with MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas

MBTA GM Daniel Grabauskas answered questions today from Boston.com readers on new resources for commuters, improvements for Greater Boston's transit system, and construction schedules for existing lines.

Daniel_Grabauskas: Hi everyone. Thank you for joining me today. Thank you Boston.com for giving me this opportunity to talk to my customers. I'm sure everyone will have a number of thoughtful questions and I look forward to a productive dialogue this hour. I have with me a number of staff people who can follow up with any specific questions or concerns we might have.

Daniel_Grabauskas: Let's take our first question.
redliner: I was wondering why the T doesn?t seem to be doing much in regards to the recycling of what seems to be tons per day of newspaper materials. Granted riders should show some personal responsibility (many don?t from the slobs I observe), but so should the T.
Daniel_Grabauskas: After 9/11 we eliminated recycling bins but you should know when our trash is picked up we do recycle the paper. In addition last year we began installing new recycling bins (they are big, green and yellow) at a number of stations. Today we have over 65 of these bins and have recycled over 18 tons of paper. If one of the bins is not at your station keep a look out in the near future.
mike: Hello - can you please provide any information on the Ashmont Station construction? Specifically, it's projected completion date and if the Radford Lane entrance still exists in the new plans?
Daniel_Grabauskas: Ashmont Station is under construction now and we expect it to be completed by Fall of '08. Radford Lane is currently closed for construction and we are working with the community and neighbors to decide what will happen.
Tony: Every Commuter Rail train that I ride on is overcrowded with people standing throughout the whole train and you expect us to pay more for that? especially 25% more. Do you think that is a good idea since gas prices are steadily coming down. don't you think more and more people will skip the T and continue to drive with these outrageous fares that you charge and overcrowded trains.
Daniel_Grabauskas: Last year we added 33 bi-level coaches to our fleet. This added almost 6000 new seats to our capacity. We are looking to add coaches as quickly as we can to meet our growing demands.
Daniel_Grabauskas: As to the fare increase, unfortunately rising fuel costs also affect our costs to deliver service. Last year our fuel cost rose by almost 20 million. This is just one of a number of costs that we have to deal with to deliver service. My hope is that the money we spend investing in new stations, the major renovation to North Station, new coaches and the like demostrate to you that we are investing your fares to improve service.
Jasper: I, and many people I know, are wondering when the next phase of the Silver Line will be designed and constructed. I understand that the project was put on hold late last year, so when will it get going again? Is there a scheduled date for service to begin?
Daniel_Grabauskas: The silver line application for funding is currently being reviewed by Federal Government. If everything went perfectly smoothly with funding and design service will begin sometime after 2015.
Happy_rider: Hello Dan! You've got a big task ahead of you to change the T but I can already see some of the improvements. I take the bus and Red Line on a daily basis. The trains and stations seem to be improveing, what about the bus service. I'm aware that the T purchased quite a few CNG buses a while back and they are great. But the others are aging. A couple questions: Is there a plan to buy more new buses? Is the supposed to be routine maintenance on the exisiting buses? On our route through Arlington, many of the buses old buses can hardly make it up the Route 2 hill. Can we make maintenance more of a priority for these buses. Otherwise, it seems like you are making good progress with the system. Thanks.
Daniel_Grabauskas: Actually this month the MBTA is beginning to take delivery of 155 new buses which should help to improve service generally. With these new buses we are looking to retire the oldest buses we have. For instance the buses on the Arlington routes will be the very buses that will be replaced with the new buses between this month and next spring.
AngryOrange: What is wrong with the Orange Line? Why are there switching problems constantly at Oak Grove? Is this going to be permanently fixed anytime soon?
Daniel_Grabauskas: As you know the Orange Line signal project has been underway for a number of years. But the end is in sight. The project should be completed by around the end of next year. A number of the problems you have been experiencing is due to the testing of the new system. I apologize for the inconvienence it has caused you but utimatly the new signal system is going to make the system better.
ajr1021: Thank you for taking time for the chat. I have a bus service question. I understand traffic creates problems, but I'm still uncertain (and frustrated) when two or three #1 busses will clump together on Mass Ave, meaning a much longer wait for another bus heading in that direction. On the 39 route, I've seen two 39s leave Forest Hills at the same time. What is the T doing to more appropriately space out this service?
Daniel_Grabauskas: We are working to install a new system on our buses that will allow us to better monitor the locations and movements of our buses in real time. In simple terms we will do a better job spacing our buses because we will have a better awareness of where they are on their routes. This system is being installed now and will be rolled out to the entire fleet over the next couple years. In the meantime staff attempts to space buses that are in traffic as best we can.
MRB: Daniel, thank you for taking the time for the chat. The new fare/card readers on the buses significantly slow down the boarding process. Is this something you are working to correct?
Daniel_Grabauskas: We are making changes to increase the speed of the machines on the buses for people who are using the Charlie ticket or paying with cash. The big change comes in January with the Charlie Card. It is a smart card with a chip in it which will allow you to tap and be seated it won't even take seconds. More information on how to get a Charlie Card will be on our website www.mbta.com soon.
tim: The busses in Dorchester are notorious for being "no shows", especially the 201/202 out of fields corner. Several times a week customers are left stranded, often times in extreme heat or horrendous winter weather. We "write to the top", but only get form letter responses. Who will take accountability for this BS and when will it stop???
Daniel_Grabauskas: I am unaware with a problem of these two routes other than the construction at Fields Corner has caused delays for our customers as it boards both sides of the station. I invite you to contact Deputy Chief Operating Officer Kevin McGuire at kmcguire@mbta.com.
murphdog: Love the new train announcements - but at some stations they are so loud (i.e. downtown crossing orange line to oak grove state street's blue line). I've gone to the MBTA site and sent a few emails, but to no avail. Can you please adjust the volumes?
Daniel_Grabauskas: We are in the process right now of experimenting with a brand new sound system for the subway. Our goal is a simple one-get rid of "Charlie Brown's Teacher"-and make our annoucements audible and inteligible. We are adjusting the volumn on a regular basis. I'll take a look at Oak Grove specifically. You can expect the complete new system to roll out by the end of next year.
Commuter: How will the conversion to the Charlie Card work for monthly pass holders? I receive my monthly pass in the mail through my employer. Will it automatically convert to a Charlie Card in January?
Daniel_Grabauskas: Yes, the monthly pass program in January anyone who is currently on our corporate program will be sent the same monthly pass but on a CharlieCard. Your empoyer will be getting information shortly regarding the transition to the new program. If you have more question please visit our website www@mbta.com
commuterRailRider: Thanks for taking the time to chat. I saw that you are working on revamping the mbta web site. Any idea when it will be done? Features that would let customers get email or text messages about serive interruptions would be great.
Daniel_Grabauskas: As you may know we are currently underway in revamping our website. This new website will include many new features not found on current site which we have heard from our customers they want. Thank many of you for your suggestions on the new website. A launch date expected by the end of the year.
Reservoir_Dawg: What can you tell us about the proposed re-construction of the Boston College Green Line Station, and how will it affect service?
Daniel_Grabauskas: We are in the process of working with Boston College and the neighbors in the area to design a station to meet improved service and accesibility.
northendmatt: MBTA doesn't have control over the tax rate of part of its revenue source (ie sales tax). This is in contrast to agencies like MWRA, which entirely sets its own rates. Is this part of the reason for fare increases over the last decade? How can this be addressed so that system can be maintained/expanded without further fare increases?
Daniel_Grabauskas: You are correct that nearly 70% of the MBTA's funding comes from the state-we get 1 cent of the 5 cent sales tax. Last year that was over $720 million but the sales tax has not been growing over the past several years that had been expected therefore the MBTA has been facing a difficult challenge to meet its bottom line, this is part of the reason for the fare increase.
Jonathan: Will Charlie card kiosks eventually be at every/most T stops above ground on the Green Line?
Daniel_Grabauskas: Along the Greenline we will have a combination of fare vending machines (kiosk) which will be at all stops along the B line. Throughout all the surface lines there will be deployment of retail sales terminals which are similar to the lottery terminals. These units will be able to provide all forms of media that we currently sell. They will be located at many of the retail outlets throughout the Greenline and busy bus corridors.
kpo: The idea around the Anderson station in Woburn was a good one but the frequency of trains at rush hour is limited. Are there any plan to increase the number of trains at rush hour? The traffic on 93 from the North is becoming unbearable and this might help.
Daniel_Grabauskas: There will be four inbound morning rush hour trains from the Anderson Station in Woburn to North Station. Additionaly there will be one new outbound express train from Boston to Anderson continuing to Lowell. A similar number of trains from Boston to Anderson are being added as well. In both rush hours you can catch a train about every 15-20 minutes.
virst: Why are so many workers at the MBTA always on phones when I enter stations??? Customer relations is lacking in a big way.
Daniel_Grabauskas: We do not allow the use of cellphones on buses or when people are working in stations. If you see someone doing this please contact me directly at gm@mbta.com. On board a bus or train this is safety violation which will result in a 3 day suspension. I take this concern very seriously. If you see this type of activity write me directly.
Mark_Richards: Why are the signboards at commuter rail stations continuing to fail? If I recall it was just two years after they were hastily installed that your spokesperson referred to them as outdated and needing to be replaced. Why not do it right the first time?
Daniel_Grabauskas: First a correction on an earlier response to Jonathan: we should have said D line not B line.
Daniel_Grabauskas: Now I will address the sign boards.
Daniel_Grabauskas: Similar to the activity in subway to update the sound system and add sign boards we are working to make the commuter rail sign boards give better information. The new system which we are working on will make next train announcements and count down for the next train as well as delay information. I share your frustration that the old system gives very limited information and sometimes not accurate. This project to upgrade is out for public bid right now and should be constructed within the next two years.
sboro: are the broken steps at the southborough train station going to be fixed. also there is a big depression in the sidewalk where you board the outbound train near the steps that is very dangerous.
Daniel_Grabauskas: There was some work done at the station last year if there is a problem with the stairs I will have someone today to take a look.
BlueLine: Not a question, but I think you did a nice job by moving the statue of Polish freedom fighters to MBTA property. It was a nice thing to do.
Daniel_Grabauskas: Thank you we invite folks to go to World Trade Center Station on the Silver Line to see the statue. (The Partisans)
Daniel_Grabauskas: I have time for a couple more questions.
bps: Has there been any planning done on attempting to get the Red, Orange, and Blue lines using the same cars?
Daniel_Grabauskas: We are currently adding new cars to the Green Line as you may know. You can expect to see new Blue Line cars next fall. In fact we are getting 94 new Blue Line cars which will allow us to increase the size of the trains from 4 cars to 6 cars. Orange and Redline new cars are a number of years away at this point.
Chris: Are there plans for the T to continue support the commuter boats from Hingham after the Greenbush line is activated?
Daniel_Grabauskas: Yes, we are. Water transportation has proven to be a great success this summer when there were problems with the tunnel in Boston in fact next month the MBTA Board of Directors will be extending one of the contracts for the next couple of years for service to Longwharf and Charlestown. If you are reading this and haven't tried boat service it really is terrific.
Bram_Y: If our questions have not been answered, should we e-mail them to you directly for a response?
Daniel_Grabauskas: If I didn't get to you in the last hour please feel free to write to GM@mbta.com. Thanks for reading and have a great day.

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