Navigating Boston’s MBTA “T”

2006 > America

Just be sure you’re on the right “bound”

cash flow
Spare a quarter, Mister?
more cash
Mind if I make change?
soon, death
Can you say “lawsuit?”
music to my ears
Ending on a good note
Dear Boston Tourist:

If you believe that your journey from Logan International Airport into Beantown via the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, or “T” as it is known locally, will be easy and quick, I am here to disappoint.

First off, that MBTA T Map you are looking at is deceiving you. Your exit from Logan will not be on a clan and modern subway train. I know, that line around the airport may seem to be signifying a train, but its really a bus. A bus you’ll need exact change for.

You’ll need that exact change, an exact annoyance, not because an automated system requires it, but because Boston bus fare requires you to put coins in a automated coin machine and these much more valuable dollars into a money box straight from 1956.

Or 1856 for that matter, as the cash box is nothing but a metal box with a hole in the top. While the bus is relatively modern, with luggage racks and all, I am fascinated that it requires riders to actually stuff cash in a box to ride the bus. That and for all its modern styling the bus is driven achingly slow.

Once you cross into the city, the bus pulls into its own track and magically becomes a subway car when it glides along underground roads. While this process takes yet another five minutes of my life, it is very cool to witness for a transit buff like I.

Then I am confused. I am standing in South Street Station, on my way to Harvard and I have two choices – Inbound and Outbound. I think to myself, “I am headed out to Harvard so I must be Outbound.” That would be incorrect, my dear tourist friend. In the Boston T, you need to take an Inbound train to get to Harvard because at Park Street the train magically switches from Inbound to Outbound.

Where do the other lines make this switch? I do not know. I only know you need to keep aware which “bound” you are.

I do know that the MBTA, like Washington DC’s WMATA does not allow Cingular Wireless customers like me to make phone calls when underground. No I have to wait until the train crosses the Charles River to text Google for the phone number to Hotel Marlowe, my hotel, and then call the hotel for directions.

After that first trip, I felt myself a competent rider on the Boston T that is until I tried to make a Red to Green Line transfer. Someone at MTBA was drunk when they designed the Park Street station. There are more multiple alleys leading to multiple platforms servicing multiple lines than a massively multiplayer role playing online game.

Then, when you get to a platform, you might have to cross it in front of a tram to catch your train. Can you say “liability?” I see a slip, fall, and decapitation in waiting. You, as a new rider will not see the T map. It’s not large and near the door, showing all the lines and all the stations. No, it’s above the door, a short strip map detailing just that line’s path. Good luck in figuring where you’re going with that pseudo-map.

While you’re wandering lost, you might take a moment to appreciate the good point of this system. For all its confusion and warts, it still delivers 800,000 riders to their destinations each and every day. Then, in a fit of brilliance, it allows musicians to sing on brother, play on drummer. Not bad for a crazed ass system that still runs on dollars stuffed into cash boxes!