Legislators want clarity, better communication on the trolley situation

The Mattapan High-Speed Trolleys woes continue to concern elected officials whose constituencies depend on the vintage line.

State representatives Dan Cullinane and Bill Driscoll Jr. met with MBTA management two weeks ago for a briefing on recent delays, disabled trolleys, and winter weather complications. Cullinane, who has expressed frustration in the past month with the MBTA’s level of communication regarding the line, sought the meeting for clarity on its status and on the $7.9 million slated to be invested in keeping it functional while a study is under way assessing options for the route.

“It was imperative for us as elected officials to fully understand mechanically what caused such an unexpected service disruption, but it was equally important for us to ensure that the MBTA heard the frustration of our constituents,” Cullinane said in a statement. “Commuters are absolutely angry over how much time is added to their commutes when they have to rely on shuttle buses instead of the trolley but were perhaps even more angry at the lack of information coming from the MBTA during this prolonged service outage.

“It is clear the MBTA needs an aggressive and multi-lingual communications plan to consistently get information to its Mattapan Trolley customers to avoid this in the future and that is what we are calling on them to produce,” he added.

Over the past few weeks, the trolleys have been replaced or augmented with shuttle service along the line several times. In the case of inclement weather, the MBTA proceeds with an abundance of caution, as a few inches of snow on the tracks can render the trolleys immobile.

After the snowfall last Saturday overnight, shuttles again replaced the trolleys, a “pro-active step to protect the 70-year old trolley cars from weather-related damage,” the T said.

Cullinane, Driscoll, and State Rep. Dan Hunt asserted that the shuttles used to ferry commuters from Ashmont to Mattapan when the trolley is disabled are not sufficient for many riders. “It’s encouraging that the T is willing to work with the delegation, but they have to understand that shuttle buses are not a suitable substitute,” Hunt said.

Keeping passengers informed is a major issue, the representatives said. They made several requests of MBTA officials, including the creation of multi-lingual information on signing up for T alerts; clear trolley stop and shuttle pick-up and drop-off signage; a map of the shuttle route, which tracks a slightly different path than the trolley; and easily shareable social media graphics pertaining to any service disruptions.

The trolleys are operating with a small fleet at the moment, after a winter collision between two cars took them out of commission. Other trolleys with long-term propulsion issues were already sidelined, and fluctuations in the line’s power distribution disabled others last week.

According to MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo on Wednesday, “during the peak commuting periods, four trolley cars are providing service with headways of approximately 6 1/2 minutes.”