Obedience on the Job

(Photo: Jon Mountjoy)

On America’s first subway, Boston’s Green line, the middle doors stopped opening. When I asked the driver to open the doors, he said that he couldn’t: now all boarding and deboarding at the above-ground stops is through the narrow front door by the fare box. Ah, the MBTA: making up for the 23 percent fare hikes on July 1 with improved service!

Me: “The new policy slows the ride for everyone. Now passengers cannot board and pay their fares until all the deboarding passengers have left.”

Driver, shrugging: “It’s the new policy. I just do what my boss tells me to do. I don’t question.”

Me: “We could use some questioning.”

Driver: “Questioning isn’t part of my job. I just wait for my pay day.”

If the train drivers, who have the closest knowledge of the problem, aren’t questioning the policy, what chance do the passengers have?

Here’s an alternative, condensed from What’s the Economy For, Anyway?  by David K. Batker and John de Graaf (page 106):

Manager of a Dutch division of an American company, a week after arriving from America, calls assistant at home on a Friday evening: “Please call the other workers in the division and start getting ready for the shipment on Monday.”

Assistant: “Excuse me, sir, but I don’t work on weekends, and I don’t expect to be called at home about work when I’m not working.”

In America, home of at-will employment law, we spend many of our waking hours in service to an authoritarian environment. How will we learn to defend our rights and the common good, a.k.a. democracy?

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  1. LB says:

    Personally I found opening my mouth and using my brain to come up with new and better ideas or as other people might call them, complaints. I have found that not only to bosses not like that, I get put on the top of the short list to get my hours cut, let go, more projects, or worse a combination of all 3. I think if the train driver wanted to deal with it, he would at least ask his boss for the sake of customer service. I for one would at least ask my boss for clarification on the rule so I could state it to passengers, but then again I wouldn’t be in that situation because I can’t stand being anything but my own boss.

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  2. Roger Dooley says:

    The driver clearly doesn’t feel maximizing rider satisfaction is part of his job. (Not for failing to open the door against policy, but for his disavowal of thinking. The appropriate response would have been to thank the rider for the suggestion, and explain that it and similar comments would be passed on to the people who make the rules.)

    If management has failed to ask for feedback, or has punished those who make suggestions, then shame on them.

    Clearly, the MBTA isn’t Zappos.com.

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  3. Mickey says:

    The reason (as given by the MBTA) is that there are ton of fare evaders, which as someone that rides the green line, is very very true. On above ground service, when you enter the T you tap your card once you get one, but the card taping machine is only in the front by the driver. So if you get on in the middle, you have to walk to the front and tap there. But no one does this.

    They started to fix the issue with a worker at the middle door with a mobile taper, but my guess is his union wage is higher then any revenue collected.

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  4. Adam Bucky says:

    The driver was being perfectly rational. Given that managers don’t listen to train drivers (because of social status conventions), the driver would have been wasting his time attempting to pass on any complaints. The inefficiency is introduced not by the driver, but by managers who habitually ignore people with close knowledge of problems.

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  5. Meagan says:

    In my experience, when you have a change like this that negatively impacts customers, it doesn’t matter how many employees complain. What matters is the customers complaining. If enough call or write in, share their gripes via social media, etc, the company, MBTA in this case, has a reason to reevaluate. It isn’t good business when customers point out inefficiencies.

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  6. RJ says:

    The MBTA has done record numbers in riders these past several months and it still is in the red.Increase fares..still in the red.Make sure every customer pays..still in the red.Cut back on service..still in the red.The MBTA is managed by idiots.The driver knows this and he knows that if he brings up his opinion or customer complaints that no one will listen.So why should he piss in the wind?Does anyone think the driver wants to sit and wait for every customer to get out before the others get on?Or listen to complaints about this?Nope.But he knows he has no say in the matter of the doors.Knuckleheads came up with the idea in some morning meeting over coffee and bagels.Idiot 1″How do we prevent riders from not paying on the Green Line?”Idiot 2″I know.Keep the doors closed.Is that a sesame seed bagel?”

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  7. J says:

    Many Many years ago, (the 1990s, early 200s,) It was always a Front Door Only Policy when it came to the Green Line on the Surface Levels. So I don’t know why everyone is crying foul about this. Yes when a passenger pays cash, it slows the boarding process down, but thats the machine’s fault.

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  8. Griff says:

    Here’s a thought for you – on public transport in Vienna, Austria, NO ONE checks the tickets on boarding a bus, tram or entering a U-bahn station. and there’s one ticket to cover all of those – you buy it from a machine, validate and off you go.

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