In Boston, All Aboard Googly-Eyed Trains


Demonstrators marched to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Boston headquarters in April with a single, deeply researched demand.

Put googly eyes on some trains, they said. Two months later, their demands have been met — at least until the decals wear off.

The campaign was organized by two recent college graduates who cast the effort as an attempt to improve commuters’ spirits and promote empathy for the metal contraptions that transport them.

“When T trains are delayed, people can at least look into the eyes of the train when it finally arrives, and feel some love and understanding in their hearts,” the organizers wrote before the march to the Transportation Authority’s headquarters.

“The T doesn’t want to be late,” they wrote. “It feels bad being late.”

The organizers said the Transportation Authority also had “a responsibility to improve the lives of Bostonians.”

If the city’s trains can’t be reliable, they wrote, at least they could bring a smile to riders. The system averages about 766,000 riders on weekdays.

To make things easy for the authorities, the roughly 20 demonstrators who participated in the march brought their own googly eyes.

Philip Eng, the authority’s chief executive, said in an interview that he was receptive to their demand but saw a safety concern: The googly eyes could fall off in transit.

The solution? Stick-on decals.

On June 14, Ryan Coholan, the authority’s operations chief, grabbed sets of decals of googly eyes and headed with a colleague to the nearest maintenance facility. Mr. Coholan stuck the first set of decals to the front of a Green Line train.

“We handed out a few more and said, ‘Let’s make these trains googly,’” Mr. Coholan said.

Workers put eyes on five trains, including four from the Green Line. It wasn’t long before Bostonians began to spot the googly-eyed trains and posted photos on social media.

Arielle Lok, a co-organizer of the march, shared a photo of one of the trains, along with a screenshot of an email from the Transportation Authority informing her of her victory.

“Today, the @MBTA and us saw eye to eye,” Ms. Lok wrote.

Ms. Lok, who moved to the United States from Canada after her recent college graduation, told that she was inspired by the public transit system in her hometown, Vancouver.

During the Christmas season, buses there are adorned with red noses to represent Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. The noses stir up an enthusiasm among Vancouver riders that she felt was missing in Boston.

Ms. Lok did not immediately respond to an inquiry on Saturday. A co-organizer, John Sanchez, could not be reached for comment.

Ms. Lok’s idea for googly-eyed trains, she wrote, was just one in a list of more than 100 “misc ideas to do” that she maintains. She started a lettuce head-eating competition at her university in Canada, for example.

Once the Boston authorities figured out a way to prevent the googly eyes from falling off moving trains, Mr. Eng and Mr. Coholan saw no downside to the decals, just an easy way to brighten a commuter’s day.

The cost of printing the nine-inch decals was “couple of dollars each,” Mr. Coholan said.

“And the beauty of a round decal is that I can make the eyes point any way I want them to,” he said. “It’s not relying on the train rumbling around to make the eyes move.”

It’s unclear how long the eyes will stick around. The agency said it had no defined plans for their future.

But Mr. Coholan said there were six other sets of eyes inside an envelope at his office, waiting to one day greet Boston commuters.

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