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The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) is "a body politic and corporate, and a political subdivision" of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts [1] formed in 1964 to finance and operate most bus, subway, commuter rail and ferry systems in the greater Boston, Massachusetts, USA area. It replaced an earlier agency called the Metropolitan Transit Authority, or the MTA, as immortalized in the popular Kingston Trio folk-protest lament "The MTA Song". It is known by the locals as simply The T because of the logo it adopted in the 1960s, that of the letter "T" in a circle. In 2004, the entire system averaged 792,600 one-way passenger trips each weekday.[1] The subway averaged 598,200.[2] The Green Line of the T is the busiest light rail system in the country.


Main article: Boston Subway

Commuter railEdit

The MBTA Commuter Rail system is a suburban rail network that shares its tracks with freight trains. As of 2005, there are 11 lines, three of which have branches, and a 15th branch provides access to Gillette Stadium for events. Seven of the lines converge at South Station, with four also passing through Back Bay station. The other four converge at North Station. Amtrak uses two of the south-side lines and one of the north-side lines for long-distance intercity service. There is no passenger connection between the two sides, although there have been proposals to fix this with the North-South Rail Link. The opportunity for such a connection, in association with the burying of the Central Artery in the Big Dig was passed over. Currently, passengers must take the Orange Line between Back Bay and North Station, the Red and Orange Lines between South and North Stations, or take a bus or taxicab. An additional south side commuter rail line, the Greenbush Line, is currently under construction; a south-side branch to Fall River and New Bedford is in the planning stages. Trackage exists to extend the Middleborough/Lakeville Line to restore passenger service to Cape Cod, formerly part of the Old Colony Railroad lines. The Commuter Rail system has used the color purple on train cars and system maps since October 8, 1974, and consequently it is sometimes called the "Purple Line."

Each line on the Commuter Rail is divided into up to 8 fare "zones" (previously 9 on some lines), numbered 1a, 1b, and 2 through 8. Every station is designated as belonging to one of the zones. Riders of the Commuter Rail are charged based on the number of zones they travel through. Tickets can be purchased on the train or at designated ticket vendor locations near major stations. If a local vendor is available, riders must purchase a ticket before boarding to avoid a surcharge. Fares currently range from $1.25 to $6.00, although the MBTA has proposed fare increases of up to 25% in 2007.

The MBTA was formed partly to subsidize existing commuter rail operations, provided at the time by three private railroad companies — the Boston and Maine Railroad, the New York Central Railroad (via the Boston and Albany Railroad) and the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad — with the B&M running the north-side lines and the NYC and NYNH&H (both merged into Penn Central in 1968, and taken over by Conrail in 1976) on the south side. The MBTA soon began to subsidize the companies, and acquired the lines in stages from 1973 through 1976 amidst large cutbacks in service and coverage area. Since then, many of these lines have seen service return, most notably the Old Colony Railroad (NYNH&H) lines to the South Shore.

Buses and ferriesEdit

The MBTA bus system comprises over 150 routes across the Greater Boston area. The three Crosstown Buses, labeled CT1, CT2 and CT3 provide free transfers to the subway, as do a few services intended to replace removed rail lines. Many of the outlying routes run express along major highways to downtown. The buses are colored yellow, but are rarely called the "Yellow Line".

The Silver Line is the MBTA's first bus rapid transit service. The first segment, replacing the 49 bus, which in turn replaced the Washington Street Elevated section of the Orange Line, began operations in 2002, with free transfers to the subways downtown. It runs along the street, partly in special bus lanes.

The next section opened at the end of 2004, and connects South Station to South Boston, partly via a tunnel and partly on the surface. These buses run dual-mode, trackless trolley in the tunnel and diesel outside. Service to Logan Airport began in June 2005. A third fully tunneled section is planned to connect the two, but is controversial due to its high cost and the fact that many do not consider Phase I to be adequate replacement service for the old Elevated.

Current plans include more bus rapid transit routes, including the Urban Ring, intended to replace the Crosstown Buses.

Four routes to Harvard still run as trackless trolleys; there was once a much larger trackless trolley system.

The main part of the bus system came from the Boston Elevated Railway, originally providing streetcar service throughout the inner suburbs. The outer routes to the north and south were bought from the Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway in 1968, and the west suburban routes in 1972 from the Middlesex and Boston Street Railway (note: both of these companies had long since ceased running any streetcar service). A few routes to the north were taken over from Service Bus Lines in 1975, and one in the south in 1980 from the Brush Hill Transportation Company. As with the Commuter Rail system, many of the outlying routes were dropped soon before or after the takeover due to low ridership and high operating costs.

The MBTA boat system operates several ferry routes around Boston Harbor, including service to Logan International Airport.

Fare collectionEdit

As of July 1st, 2016 the fare on the rapid transit (subway and the Silver line) is $1.70 with a CharlieCard, and $2.00 with a CharlieTicket or cash on board (Part of the Silver line is a different price). Free transfer from subway to bus with a Charlie Card or Ticket.

Monthly passesEdit

Monthly passes on swipable plastic cards, for unlimited travel, have been in use since the late 1980s, a decade ahead of New York City's Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Bus and trackless trolley faresEdit

Basic bus fare is currently $1.50 with a Charlie Card and $2.00 with a Charlie or cash on board. Free transfer from bus to bus, discounted transfer from bus to subway; this includes the Silver Line on Washington Street, but not the Waterfront service from South Station to the airport and South Boston, which charges subway fares. Since December 1, 2000, [2] free transfers have been available between buses (with a maximum of one transfer per trip), as well as between the Silver Line and the subway lines downtown; transfers are not valid on some express buses. Some long-distance buses charge multiple fares for full trips; free transfers are only valid for one zone. Additionally, free transfers are available from subway to bus and with an extra $.35 from bus to subway at all crossings of the Crosstown Buses and the subway, as well as between the 1 and the Orange Line at Massachusetts Avenue (Washington Street Elevated replacement service) as well as between the 39 and the Green Line at Copley, as well as the Orange Line at Back Bay (Arborway replacement service).

New fare systemEdit

Subway fares have long been paid with tokens and bus fares with exact coin change, however in 2006, a stored value card was installed in the system (it does not work on the Commuter rail or ferry service) . The stored value smart card is called the "CharlieCard" in honor of the unfortunate hero of "The MTA Song". A magnetic-stripe "CharlieTicket", intended for short-term use was deployed for the transition period. It is compatible with older fare equipment when used as a monthly pass, but not when used to store a declining balance. The system will be completely automated, with new ticket vending machines and new fare gates. Fare collectors will leave their bulletproof collection shelters and become roving Customer Service agents.

Unfortunately, the new electronic faregates installed with the CharlieCard system have proven even easier to exploit than the aging and ineffective turnstiles they are replacing. Since both exiting and entering riders use the same gates, it is possible for an accomplice already in the platform area to trigger the faregates to open, allowing riders who have not yet paid to enter free of charge. Additionally, the faregates remain open for roughly two seconds after they have received payment, allowing multiple riders to enter on a single fare payment.[3] Though MBTA stations are monitored by MBTA officials, closed-circuit TV, and undercover police, the multiple entrances and exits at many MBTA stations, along with high volumes of foot traffic at rush hours may make punishing fare jumpers extremely difficult.

Pre-payment stationsEdit

As built, many of the key transfer stations were prepayment stations, in which free transfers could be made between surface streetcar lines and grade-separated subway or elevated lines. This was made possible by the operation of all services under one umbrella; suburban services that operated over the same tracks used different areas outside fare control. Some of the streetcar levels were later converted for bus or trackless trolley operation; others have been closed. Free transfers were eliminated outright in October 1961 except between subway routes, returning in a limited capacity in 2000. The CharlieCard will enable their full return in 2007. Prepayment stations included Andrew (still in place), Arborway, Ashmont (still in place), Broadway, Dudley, Egleston, Everett, Fields Corner, Forest Hills, Harvard (still in place), Hynes Convention Center/ICA, Kenmore (still in place), Lechmere (still in place), Maverick, Ruggles (built for buses, still in place), Savin Hill, Sullivan Square, Watertown (only served surface and surface-subway streetcars) and Wood Island (built for buses).


The MBTA operates park and ride facilities at many of its outlying stations, with a total capacity of almost 46000 automobiles. The number of spaces at stations with parking varies from a few dozen to over 2500. The larger lots and garages are usually sited near a major highway exit. The parking fee for a day ranges from $2.00 to $5.00 — substantially less than the cost of an hour's parking in downtown Boston. Lots often fill up during the morning rush hour. There are some 22000 spaces on the southern portion of the commuter rail system, 9400 on the northern portion and 14600 at subway stations. Most stations also have parking racks for bicycles.

Organizational historyEdit

The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) took over operations from the Boston Elevated Railway in 1947. On August 3, 1964, the MBTA succeeded the MTA, with an enlarged service area. The original MTA district consisted of 14 cities and towns — Arlington, Belmont, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Malden, Medford, Milton, Newton, Revere, Somerville and Watertown. The MBTA covered an expanded area of 78 cities and towns, with a 79th (Maynard joining in or before 1972 and leaving in or after 1976). The district was expanded further to 175 cities and towns in 1999, adding most that were served by or adajcent to Commuter Rail lines (again including Maynard). The MBTA did not assume responsibility for local service in those communities, some of which run their own buses.

Prior to July 1, 2000, the MBTA was reimbursed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for all costs above revenue collected (net cost of service). Beginning on that date, the T was granted a dedicated revenue stream consisting of amounts assessed on served cities and towns, along with a dedicated 20% portion of the state sales tax (i.e. one dollar out of each five dollars collected under the Massachusetts 5% sales tax). The MBTA now must live within this "forward funding" budget.

Future plansEdit

As of 2005, there are a number of plans for MBTA system expansion and improvement. Some are in progress, some are in the planning stages, and others have been advocated by citizens groups. All new and rebuilt stations will be handicap accessible (as required by state and federal law). In 2005 the Mitt Romney administration announced a long range transportation plan that emphasized repair and maintenance over expansion.

Projects underwayEdit

  • Construction is being finished on a commuter rail line to the Greenbush section of Scituate, the third branch of the Old Colony service.
  • Several stations on the Blue Line are being rebuilt to allow six-car trains. New cars are on back-order.
  • The Charles Street Red Line station and the Kenmore Square station on the Green line are being rebuilt.
  • A new station at T. F. Green Airport in Warwick, Rhode Island, 13 miles south of Providence that will allow expansion of MBTA commuter rail to that airport and Wickford Junction (Funded in 2005 federal highway bill; work is expected to begin in 2009). Amtrak trains could use the station as well.

Big Dig remediation projectsEdit

Massachusetts agreed to build several transit projects as remediation for the environmental impacts of the Big Dig. Some have been completed, but three have not been started and many believe the Commonwealth is trying to renege on these commitments:

The last two projects are controversial:

  • Owners of historic building near Charles Street have expressed concerns that the excavation required might damage their foundations;
  • Some Jamaica Plain residents and merchants object to the restoration of streetcar service, on the grounds that it would create traffic snares on busy main thoroughfares (vigorously disputed by other residents), and be accompanied by the probable elimination of on-street parking in an area with no garages or large parking lots.

In 2002, the MBTA formed the Arborway Rail Restoration Project Advisory Committee (ARRPAC) to provide community oversight of the new design and construction for the return of streetcars to Jamaica Plain. In February 2004, after two years of planning and with station designs nearly complete, the MBTA stopped communicating with ARRPAC members and halted the planning process.

In late 2005, the MBTA proposed moving forward on the Green Line northward extension but replacing the other two projects with increased service and new stations on the Fairmount Line, originally a community-originated proposal called the Indigo line, and building an additional 1000 commuter rail parking spaces. Planning and work on some Fairmount modifications has begun.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection agreed to this plan, and public comment was taken from November, 2005, to January, 2006.

In March 2006, the Boston Globe reported that the Conservation Law Foundation's lawsuit against the state could proceed to trial. The suit claims that the state failed to fund mitigation projects that were required for the construction of the Big Dig.

Other projects in active planningEdit

  • A new commuter rail line to Fall River and New Bedford. Possible future extension from Fall River to Newport, RI.
  • Extension of the Blue Line to Lynn
  • Capacity improvements on the Framingham/Worcester Line.
  • Replacement to the Lechmere Green Line station as part of the North Point Redevelopment Project.

Projects whose future is uncertainEdit


The website Bad Transit covers criticism of the MBTA.

See alsoEdit

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (official site)
Red Line AlewifeAshmont / Braintree ––– Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line: AshmontMattapan
Green Line LechmereBoston College ("B") / Cleveland Circle ("C") / Riverside ("D") / Heath Street ("E") ––– Arborway ("A")
Orange Line Oak GroveForest Hills ––– Charlestown ElevatedAtlantic Avenue ElevatedWashington Street Elevated
Blue Line WonderlandBowdoin
Silver Line Dudley SquareDowntown Crossing; South Station – various points
Buses List - Crosstown Buses - Former Streetcars - Trackless Trolleys - Key Routes - East Boston Area - South Boston - Urban Ring
Commuter Rail GreenbushPlymouth/KingstonMiddleborough/LakevilleNew Bedford/Fall RiverFairmountProvidence/StoughtonFranklinNeedhamFramingham/WorcesterFitchburgLowellHaverhill/ReadingNewburyport/Rockport - North-South Rail Link
Miscellaneous AccessibilityBoat serviceCharlieCardNomenclature
Predecessors Boston Elevated RailwayEastern Massachusetts Street RailwayMiddlesex and Boston Street Railway

External linksEdit


  1. Ridership. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Retrieved on 2006-11-13.
  2. Wall, Lucas (August 1, 2005). T ridership reaches low point of decade. Boston Globe. Retrieved on 2006-11-13.
  3. Kahn, Ric (July 2, 2006). No fare. Boston Globe. Retrieved on 2006-11-13.
  4. Daniel, Mac (August 18, 2005). MBTA puts hold on 3d, final phase of its Silver Line. Boston Globe. Retrieved on 2006-11-13.
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