Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Adventures in Public Transportation

This is totally off topic, but I had to share the experience and the absurdity I found on a recent "commute" to Boston via public transportation.  I normally work from home in Lowell, MA, but I had to go to the Longwood area of Boston for work, so I thought I would be virtuous and use public transit.  Here's how it went:

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6:00 AM

I left home and drove to the Lowell parking garage.  No traffic, got there in about 10 minutes or so, and I was feeling great!  As I drive in, I roll down my window and stick out a hand to take a ticket. The guy at the entrance greets me with an open hand, too.  Oops, he's looking for a $5 bill to cover my parking for the day!  At that hour, there were lots of spaces, so I was quickly in the terminal, looking for the ticket office for the commuter rail train to Boston.  No office, so I bought a Charlie Card for $30 in the machine there, figuring that was the way to buy my ticket.  
I am struck by the fact that I have to go up and down several flights of stairs to get to the platform from the garage.  It would be incredibly slow and inconvenient to do this with a rolling suitcase or in a wheelchair as the elevators are not fast or easy to get to.
Cost so far: $35

6:18 AM

The train leaves Lowell for Boston on time!  Great start, so far.  I settle in with my bagel and coffee and prepare to eat breakfast while waiting for the conductor to pick up my ticket.  When she comes around I offer my Charlie Card, only to find that it doesn't work on the train, only in the subway (so why sell them in Lowell?).  I have to buy a paper ticket (no surcharge because the ticket office hadn't opened yet) for $8.75, cash only.  The conductor is really nice, though, and she tells me about an app for my phone that I can use to buy a ticket for the commuter rail and just flash when she collects.  I make a note to use it on the way home.
Cost so far: $43.75

7:05 AM

We roll into North Station and I head down into the subway (green line, E route).  To do this, you have to actually EXIT the station, down a short flight of stairs, and then go into a subway entrance about 50 feet away.  Again, if I had a rolling bag, this would be a pain, as the escalators are busy and narrow.  There are 3 different flights.  And this is a new station!
Once I'm down in the station, I head for the turnstile brandishing my brand new Charlie Card.  When I tap in, I discover that for my $35 I got a hunk of plastic--it doesn't actually have any stored value! Wish they had told me THAT up front!  Off to the machine to feed the card $20 so I can use the subway.  Once I do that, now I can use the subway, and off I go to find the Green Line train.
Cost so far: $63.75

7:35 AM

Miracle of miracles, I arrive at my destination.  I am supposed to meet my co-workers and the client at 8:00, so I have time to get more coffee (I finished my original cup on the train).  Nice to be early, and the worst I endured was a crowded train.  Expensive, but a good experience.
During the day, I download and install the Commuter Rail pay app that the conductor told me about, and so that is installed on my phone. I ordered up a ticket for the trip home, so that is all set as well. That's another $8.75.
Cost so far: $72.50

5:00 PM

I dash out of my client meeting to catch the 5:00 Green Line trolley back to North Station so I can catch the 5:30 train to Lowell. I get the trolley (using the Charlie Card again to pay), but it is delayed, so I arrive in North Station at 5:33 and the train is gone.  RATS!  Next one is at 5:50, so there's nothing to do but wait.  On a beer related note, there is a Paulaner Bier "Garten" in the station waiting area, and it is open.  Hefe can wait, though. Exhausted, I opt not to get one so can get some work done on the train home and not fall asleep. 

5:50 PM

The train departed on time--Yea!  I spent the ride home watching recorded lectures for course I'm taking, and after 7 stops, I arrived at the Lowell station again.  It is 6:40pm. I reverse the process of parking and hop in the car to go home!

6:55 PM

I'm home.  Tired and hungry, but home.  It has been almost 13 hours since I left. I resolve never to take a job that requires me to do this every day!
The total cost for the day:
  • Parking: $5.00
  • Commuter Rail: $17.50 ($8.75 each way)
  • Charlie Card: $30 (sunk cost, this never expires, but has to be reloaded)
  • Subway fares: $4 (note that I loaded $20 on the card, so I have $16 left)
Out of pocket expenses are $72.50, but only $27.50 was for actual transportation ($16 still on the card is still available).  For $27.50 I could park all day in Boston, but there would be more wear and tear on me (and on my car), fuel cost, etc.  I do feel slightly virtuous (but dirty) because I took public transportation, so there's that.