With the holiday season imminent, the MTA, operator of New York City's subways, buses, commuter railroads, bridges, and tunnels, has announced their nostalgia trains that have now become an annual holiday treat. These nostalgia trains offer tourists and natives alike the opportunity to step into the subway's past by riding in well-preserved retired rolling stock, like vintage Lo-Vs and R1s. For a few Bostonians, every commute is a nostalgia ride on the Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line, one of the last lines operating with original PCC streetcars in true revenue service. A couple of historic streetcars also sit unceremoniously at the unused northbound tracks at the Green Line Boylston Street. I suggested opening this up as an active museum exhibit to the GM at the round table the day before his appointment and he expressed interest in the idea.
Could opening a transit museum/exhibit in the heart of Boston and/or running one or more nostalgia trains be the key to raising civic pride in the system? It'll definitely fill in another piece of Boston's history, add another weekend activity for residents and tourists alike, and provide the MBTA with another revenue source.
However, it's unlikely that it will assuage the many frustrations expressed daily by riders on Twitter (and in real life). Only better service through capital and operations improvements can solve the negative rider experiences that haven't already been 'solved' with the availability of realtime information the MBTA has recently begun to offer. After all, the primary function of the MBTA is to transport people quickly, conveniently, and efficiently.
Ultimately, running nostalgia trains, offering tours of their facilities, and opening a museum shouldn't be high on the MBTA's agenda, but these would be valuable contributions to the greater history and culture of Boston, an aspect that is sorely lacking. As Brian Kane of the MBTA Advisory Board noted at the GM round table back in March, the MBTA has a story to tell and they could tell it better.
Update: An audit in 2007 actually found that the MTA operated the nostalgia trains at financial loss, though the MTA maintains that the maintenance and operation of the historic vehicles is important to the State's heritage. No doubt the MBTA would face the same dilemma with the added operations and the MBTA's tight budget would require serious evaluation of the financial benefits from those operations.