Transit system Web site crashes put officials on defensive

A series of major Web site crashes that added to storm-related commuting chaos has the leaders of Boston's transit system promising improvements, while the site's webmaster has been reassigned to a presumably less high-profile position.

The site suffered outages lasting for several hours each on Jan. 12, Jan. 27 and Feb. 2 as Massachusetts commuters dealt with a trio of snowstorms the likes of which had not been seen for 15 years and which prompted state officials to urge everyone to use public transportation.

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"When we had our first crash I was concerned,'' Richard Davey, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, told the Boston Globe. "But when we had our second -- well, our second and then our third -- I was very frustrated.''

So, too, were those looking to the MBTA's Web site for train and bus schedules, as well as up-to-date information about delays and cancellations.

"We need to make sure that we are getting customer information right 100% of the time,'' Davey told the Globe. "Because if we know there's always going to be some issue with service, we need to be in a position to be able to convey that information. ... My expectation is that the Web site will be up and running all the time -- in particular in critical situations.''

In response to the problems, the MBTA has already instituted a number of Web site and database upgrades and promised to have an employee monitoring the site throughout the duration of future storms.

However, making sure these changes do the job will not be the responsibility of the site's now former webmaster, who was not named in the Globe story, as he has been reassigned to another position within the MBTA.

This isn't the first time that Boston's transit system, known locally at "the T," has found itself in the headlines over technology-related matters.

In August 2008, the MBTA went to court to stop three MIT students from revealing security flaws in its Charlie Card ticketing system at a Defcon event. Backed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the students eventually prevailed in court.

An accident caused by a texting train operator put the MBTA at the center of debate and legislative action over the practice of texting while operating a vehicle.

And, last summer, a commuter's Twitter picture helped police nab a flasher.

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