August 20th, 2006 by Judith
Now that I am taking the train (T) to work these days, I finally understand the brouhaha about the new T-pass changes made by the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority). I kept hearing an undercurrent of complaints about the new system which supposedly automates the fare system with smart cards instead of buying tokens from a human being. I paid this no mind as I was driving to work at the time and didn’t concern myself with public transit issues. Well, now that I am back to taking the T and have been converted to the new smartcard system (aka “Charlie Ticket”), I have a new appreciation for all of the complaints thus far and even have a few of my own to add to the list.
I pulled out and old T-Pass from 2005 to compare with the Charlie Ticket. At first glance, the Charlie Ticket is a fun homage to the old Kingston Trio song “Charlie on the M.T.A”. But as far as using the thing, it is kind of a pain because you always have to be concerned with orientation to make sure the train conductors can read the card and make sure that a) the card is for the current month, and b) to make sure you have the right zone or fare for the ride. So if you are fumbling for your pass you not only have to dig it out, but make sure you show the correct side, whereas with the old pass, you didn’t have to care about the orientation because all of the pertinent information (April 2005, Zone 1) is on the front as well as on the back of the card. So the cute Charlie illustration gets annoying real fast because it takes up space and has no useful information. The old cards have oodles of useful information about fare rates, including information about admitting a free guest on weekends, and which other modes of transportation the pass is valid for. The designers of the Charlie Ticket apparently thought this information was unnecessary enough to omit it from the design.