Tales from the T: MBTA-0001

The T, greater Boston’s transit system, is one of the quickest, cheapest ways to get around the city — but it can certainly be confusing for first-time riders. Maybe you’re from the suburbs and are too used to driving everywhere. Or maybe you’re from outside the U.S. and are too used to trains that actually run logically. In any case, here’s a brief, by no means comprehensive, guide on how to use the T. 

First, there’s the issue of getting on. The most convenient way to pay your fare is with a refillable CharlieCard, which you can get for free from red-shirted T agents at Park Street (and many other downtown stations). Simply load your CharlieCard at a ticket machine, then tap it on the turnstile and go! If you don’t have a CharlieCard yet, you can buy a paper CharlieTicket at the ticket machine, or, if you’re taking the bus, pay with exact change. Subway fare is $2.40 and bus fare is $1.70. If you transfer between a bus and subway (or vice versa) within two hours of first getting on, however, you only need to pay $2.40 (and if between bus and bus, only $1.70). 

Now we need to understand the T map. The T has 4 subway lines the Red, Orange, Green and Blue lines that meet at a quartet of transfer stations in downtown Boston: Park Street, Downtown Crossing, Government Center and State. Stations indicate directions based on these four stations: “Inbound” means towards downtown and these stations, while “Outbound” means away from downtown. Train directions are indicated by the train’s last stop, as some lines split into branches. One application of this: to go from Davis to downtown via the Red Line, take the Ashmont- or Braintree-bound train inbound; to get back, take the Alewife-bound train outbound. Another application: the Green Line notoriously has multiple outbound branches (B, C, D and E); make sure you check the train’s last stop on its signs so you get on the right train and branch! 

The MBTA, Boston’s transit agency, operates several other lines alongside the T. There’s the aforementioned buses, whose routes connect to most communities not on the subway. There’s the Silver Line, whose SL1 branch connects South Station to Logan airport (like the Green Line, check the last stop!). And there’s the Commuter Rail, pricier but great for longer-distance travel as far out as Providence, Worcester and Rockport. There’s plenty of apps, like Google Maps or Citymapper, that can help plan your journeys across all these lines for you, while also providing arrival times and other useful information (Not sponsored, although if Google’s marketing team wants to help me pay for groceries, my inbox is open). 

Lastly, some general tips. The subway stops running at around 1 a.m.: Be prepared. Plan your trips in advance, especially on weekends when construction occurs. When boarding, move inside the train, away from the doors. Keep your CharlieCard filled. Be considerate of others, and enjoy your ride!


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