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Stuck in Sullivan Square, and several CharlieCard woes

Posted by Nichole Davis  July 2, 2012 12:00 AM

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Back at it again to start off the week. I hope you had a wonderful weekend and got to see the Tall Ships! I did ... through traffic cameras! Not quite the same experience, but still very cool. Also met some very nice sailors from around the country.

A quick point before I jump into the mailbag - I'm prone to error from time to time, and now, I believe, is one of those times. In this entry I accidentally reported the weekend Commuter Boat service on the F2 between Quincy and Boston would be eliminated with the July 1 service cuts. It's been brought to my attention that is not the case. Weekend service, according to the MBTA, will be running on the F2 through October 8th of this year. I apologize for the misinformation.

(Hey, more time to get out there and try to see some whales while enjoying a relaxing ride into the city.)

Now, let's see what we've got for this round of questions...

I commute into Charlestown on 93 south every day and have noticed recently that the traffic getting off exit 28 at Sullivan Square has gotten worse and worse. I have adjusted my schedule a couple of times thinking that the timing of buses leaving the Sullivan Sq stop might be the issue, but it seems to be a problem, no matter what time of the morning. On several mornings lately it has taken at least 20 minutes to get from 93 to the rotary by the Schrafft Center! Do you know what the issue is, or if it will get better anytime soon?
Stephanie, Burlington

I see these delays both morning and afternoon, Stephanie, and they look awful! The issue has to do with the construction on the Alford Street Bridge, which takes 99 into Revere. The bridge is down to just one lane in both directions for the ongoing repairs. Construction crews have the tunnel closed that would normally carry Rutherford Avenue northbound after Bunker Hill Community College over the bridge. That’s forcing all the traffic that would normally just cut through Sullivan Square toward 99 into the rotary by the Schrafft’s building, which is then causing complete traffic bedlam, as you’ve seen.

The (somewhat) good news is that the bridge is scheduled to be done in under a year - and this also helps to answer a question that Lenny from Everett asked me a little while ago … city and state officials say the whole project is scheduled to be done by the end of May 2013. They’ve already finished one side of the bridge and are now in the process of finishing repairs on the other.

The bad news is, well, the possibility of the traffic getting any better until then is slim. The lane restrictions on the Tobin are keeping things slower than usual through there, too, as people try to find another way around. Once that project temporarily wraps up in November, we may find a slight reprieve around Sullivan Square.

Yesterday, I learned that they are out of new Charlie Cards system wide. I've tweeted @mbtagm twice asking about it, to no response. I just emailed customer support, but I don't I'll get any answer there. Any way one can get to the bottom of this? I'm stuck because my old Charlie Card expired (something I wasn't aware they could do) and now I'm paying extra on a Charlie Ticket because they are out of Charlie Cards. Also, I lost whatever balance I had on my old card when it expired. Awesome. Anyhow, wondering if you can get to the bottom of the "system is out of new Charlie Cards" issue. Thanks!
Tom, West Roxbury

Just a quick response to this, because I’m still trying to get to the bottom of it myself. However, Tom, I placed a call over the weekend to MBTA Customer Service, as soon as I got your email. They did confirm that they are “waiting on an order” of new Charlie Cards to “be distributed to the stations”. The representative did not have a timetable for me as to when they’d arrive, but he said he thinks in the next couple of weeks. I’m hoping to hear from the T in the next day or so and I’ll have more information for you.

However, when it comes to the expiry of CharlieCards, there’s been plenty of you writing in. Take, for example, MaryAnne’s story...

I want people to know that CHARLIE CARDS EXPIRE!! I did not know this and found out the hard way. If your card doesn't have an expiration date printed on it, you can find the expiration by checking the card status at a payment kiosk...I am a not terribly frequent T rider, work outside the city, and need to go in for work a few times a year and for personal reasons another few times. I have a Charlie Card that I add funds to so that I can use it when I need to... I logged onto and added $20 to my card so that we could all use it at Oak Grove... When I got to Oak Grove the next day and attempted to use my card at the turnstile, it flashed "card expired." I tried to get some information from a fare machine, and got nothing but "card expired" there, either. I looked around for some help, and there was no one. My sister attempted to buy a Charlie Ticket using her credit card and got the message "This card not valid for this transaction."... The next day, I starting trying to figure out what to do about my expired Charlie Card. The information on says "General public CharlieCards have 5 to 10 year expirations."

Certainly a frustrating situation, and one I wouldn’t want to find myself in. UniversalHub covered this pretty heavily back when the problem started making itself known back in late 2011. CharlieCards first showed up on the scene in 2006, with a five year expiration date, as was the industry standard at the time. So, by the time late 2011 came around, residents kept finding themselves with expiring cards -- especially those who didn’t use the card often.

Many are still dealing with that problem today, including tourists that may have come back to town, or those who use public transit very sparingly, such as MaryAnne. If you’re not sure if you have an expired card, you are probably better off waiting until you get to the station that you are boarding the subway at to load cash onto the card. There, at least, if you have an expired card, you will know and your cash won’t be in limbo - and (once they’ve arrived back in stations) you can receive a new card to put your balance onto.

To get an initial idea if you have to worry about it - older CharlieCards have brown numbers on the bottom, and those generally expire sometime between 2011-2013. Newer CharlieCards have black numbers and are set to expire anywhere up to 2020 and beyond. Part of the reason there's such a big difference is because the newer cards apparently have different RFID chips which can extend the life of an individual card.

To check the status of your card, tap the card on the receiver and touch "Card/Ticket Information." You'll see the stored value currently on your card, and if you have any passes, those will show up as well. The expiration date on your card will be at the top of the screen.

Do you think you have an expired card? The MBTA has put together an FAQ on their website, and you can check that out here. MaryAnne, I’m going to check into why that happened with your card, and see if it was just a glitch.

(FYI - I get that credit card message all the time. Paying with credit cards can be pretty finicky in the fare machines. More than once I’ve had to have an agent help me out with this - the trick, I’ve found, is to slowly insert the card, let it sit for a second, and then yank it out quickly. It’s still not a 100 percent success rate but it’s a start.)

That's all for this round. I'll be back later this week with your transportation headlines, and in the meantime I'll be searching for more answers on this lack-of-Charlie-Card scenario. Let me know, though, in the comments - did you ride the T yesterday, on the first day of service changes and fare hikes? Will you be cutting back your ridership?

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Nichole Davis is a Boston-based traffic reporter and news anchor. She’s been seen and heard on television and radio airwaves across New England since 2003, providing commuters with all the More »

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