To the editor:

I am a Salem resident who uses my CharlieCard everyday. I am not poor or otherwise disenfranchised. So I was surprised to read that CharlieCards are only just now available in Salem and troubled by the limited understanding of how people actually use the MBTA (”CharlieCards now available in Salem,” Aug 22).

CharlieCards were first introduced in 2006 to replace an antiquarian token-based payment system with one that’s more modern, efficient and accessible (and yes still plagued by disinterest and underfunding). So, the fact that CharlieCards are now available in Salem seems to me less newsworthy than that it took more than a decade for Salem residents to gain access to them. Why’s that? (CharlieCards have long been available from select T stations and retail locations throughout the metro, as well as from T personnel who often carry an allotment.)

I was especially troubled to read that, according to your sources, the sole physical location where the cards, which are free but come without a balance, can be activated is not one of the three locations they can be acquired (how efficient!), but Shaws Supermarket on Traders Way, two miles from my home in downtown Salem in a development designed for cars, not people who don’t use them. Why’s that?

According to your reporting, in order to activate their new CharlieCard, a new Salem resident like me who’s opted to move to our community because of its walkable density and good transit access should take a long walk on crumbling infrastructure or pay a surcharge to take an infrequent bus to an outdated strip mall. (This scenario is true too for many existing Salem residents just looking to buy fresh, affordable groceries in our city.)

More likely, they’ll probably choose to go online and add some money to their new card via the MBTA website. Unfortunately, what they won’t learn from Salem News reporting is that those funds won’t be available until 5 a.m. the next day and only after tapping a “fare gate.” “Fare boxes” found on buses and trolleys won’t work. There are no “fare gates” in Salem. Why’s that?

I agree with Mayor Driscoll that increasing access to more modes of transportation and liberating ourselves from the stranglehold of the automotive industry is essential to confront many of our society’s most serious challenges: climate change, social decay, and public health, among them.

However, touting “new” access to a 10-year-old tool while failing to investigate the very real inefficiencies MBTA users confront every day is a far cry from the transformative conversations and creative investments we need to maintain the most basic functionality of what is in reality a world-class system that makes our communities work.

If only we had the imagination and commitment of our forebears.

If only we spent as much time and money talking about transportation as we do parking.

Jonathan Simcosky


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