An Insider’s Guide to Public Transportation in Boston

The following is a list of tips and tricks to help you prepare for using public transportation in the Boston area. These are just a few of the little eccentricities of the system, the silent rules, the faux pas moves, proper etiquette and secrets to make your T or bus ride more comfortable.

Yes, Dollars and Pennies are accepted.

You might note that along the above ground subway routes there are signs tacked to the giant posts there which state the fare of the ride as well as a declaration that “No dollar bills accepted”. I believe there is also some sort of indication of that, and no pennies too, once you get on the train, by the token taker. Well, for those of you who are new to the area, no need to worry when you are stuck at a T stop with no commerce nearby and therefore no means to exchange your dollar bills for change. The sign is pretty much one of those rules that everyone who rides the T knows is not to be taken seriously. There is a slot for dollars in the train, for one. Two, the fare is $1.25 and it is true; many of the stops along the Green Line do not offer any easy way for T goers to obtain change. Not to mention that this rule has been silently dismissed for years and years now, with train drivers not only allowing passengers to use bills, but also go so far as to help them insert their dollar bills in the slot with the assistance of some cramming device which is designed strictly for, what do you know? Dollar bills! I have seen maybe one instance where a T driver refused to let someone on with a dollar bill and I wish I would’ve taken the time to write the MBTA. This should not be happening, everyone knows that that rule is long gone history and if any T driver has the nerve to play such games again, they deserve to be reported. If this happens to you, get the train number and if possible, the drivers name. Pennies are allowed too, but not encouraged for obvious reasons. You might spend your whole bus ride trying to insert them all.

Automatic Door Rotation

If you are on any of the Green Line Trains or any bus, you should note that sometimes the back door doesn’t open at a particular bus stop. This is often because the driver simply forgot or didn’t see you back there. The proper way to handle this is to yell firmly, but not rudely, “Back Door Please!” or “Rear Door”! On the bus lines, you will probably get results. However, one thing to look out for is in regards to the back doors on the Green Line T when it goes to the stops above ground. See, once any of the Green Line trains (B, C, D, E) get above ground and are going outbound, anyone who gets on to travel in that direction gets their fare waived. Therefore all doors open and you should have no problem with the back doors. However, if the train is traveling inbound, that is, toward the city, above ground, the driver really can only open his or her front door; otherwise it would be hard to tell if the passengers are paying. So, if you are going inbound on the green line and are above ground, get ready to push your way through the crowds and haul butt to the front door before your stop comes so you don’t miss it. The back door in this case are not going to open. I see people who don’t know this get stuck very often.

Give up your seat.

It may be old fashioned but it is the right thing to do. Men, and even younger, fit women should always offer their seat to an elderly or handicapped person. This should go without saying no matter where you are originally seated, but in the very front of the subway cars and busses, there are seats designated specifically for people who have a harder time moving around, much less having to stand on a shaky, rickety train holding on for dear life as the thing twists them right and left all over the place. Also, give up your seat if someone is juggling a lot of bags or a large suitcase, no matter what their age or stability status. It’s just considerate. And so many people are not, why not be the one that actually cares? I must say, with this one, that I’m not sure how I feel about the children’s side in all this. I have yet to decide whether or not I feel they deserve a seat. Usually they are rambunctious, jumping around and not really interested in sitting still anyway, so do you really want to give up your seat for someone that doesn’t appreciate it? I’d say when it comes to the kids department, use your own judgment.

Help with baggage

If you are physically capable of helping someone lift their stroller up onto the bus or train, by all means, do so. This also means help them go back down the steps to get out. You’d be amazed how many people just stare at such a scene and do not even consider helping. If you are unable, that is understandable, but if not, please help. You know people find that a very attractive quality in both men and women; the gesture might even get you a hot date. These rules also apply to people with large suitcases or tons of shopping bags. Sure, they are annoying as hell with their stuff in your space falling out all over, but if you don’t have a car to drive to the market, what are you going to do?

Keep a schedule handy

The bus arrivals and departures at various locations are always changing one way or another that we can never be exactly certain when our transportation is going to come. The best way to gauge the time, though, is to obtain a physical schedule of your bus number route or print one out from the MBTA.com website. It only lists times for the major stops, of course, but if you can sort of gauge how far your stop is from one of them listed, you can get at least an estimated clue about when you should expect your bus. Another option is to call the MBTA and ask for Operations. Simply ask them when the next bus will arrive at (your specific stop) and they will be able to give you an answer to the minute. The only thing about this method is that sometimes it seems like the operators get confused about whether you are going inbound or outbound and give you the wrong time. So beware of this possibility.

Know your Curfew.

If you live further away from the city, be sure you know when your bus or train stops running in the evening, particularly on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Sometimes, the busses stop running as early as 10:30pm on a Sunday and if one doesn’t anticipate that they could end up stuck at the T station. Also keep in mind that sometimes they do construction on the site and transport people via shuttle from stop to stop. This must be considered in your planning because again, you don’t want to get stuck at a desolate T station at 3am.

Always keep a cell phone with you late at night

This is not to promote cell phones for every single member of the public, but I do think if you are traveling late on public transportation it is a good idea to have one in an emergency. Record the contact information for your favorite cab company in there as well, so that if you do miss your bus or train, you have an option to get home.

Ring bell for stop.

Once you get above ground the Ts do not necessarily stop at every single station. Sometimes when it’s crowded they will, but it should be a given that whenever you are above ground, ring the bell right before your stop comes up. The bell is a white or yellow strip on the walls of the train in between peoples seat separations. Or it also maybe a metal semi-loosened cord that you just press. Either way, you should hear a beep after you pull or press or you may instead hear a “stop requested”. If you don’t you might want to make your way up to the driver and verbally ask him or her to stop for you, as the bell might be broken. The drivers are supposed to announce each stop, even when they don’t go there, but most of them either flat out do not or they speak with such an accent that you can’t hear them on the muffled speaker. So that means you have to know landmarks and street names (landmarks safer though) that appear before your desired destination so that you know when exactly to press the bell.

Always always hold on, unless you are a PTP (that is- Public Transportation Pro).

There are tons of potholes in Boston and the railroad tracks for the train wind so sharply sometimes that even if you are holding on tightly, or seated, at that, you are bound to fall out. It can make for some rather embarrassing moments and possibly multiple injuries. There are few things on the T and bus less annoying than having a tourist fall into you as the vehicle halts abruptly because they thought they were beyond holding on. So do it no matter what. If you are afraid of germs, bring disinfectant spray with you and apply it when you get off of the bus or train. But trust me. It’s worth the extra trouble to avoid the result.

Hidden Seats

If the train is absolutely packed to an extent that it will no doubt make you feel claustrophobic if you get on (which happens often), try to find the secret seats. The secret seats are pretty much the seats all the way in the back of one of the train cars. It doesn’t matter which one, though I’d go for the one that looked less full anyway. But way in the back there is a handicapped seat right by the stairs that is practically on top of two more seats right next to it. Those are the winners because there is no view, well, you are on top of someone else practically, and one might tend to feel very isolated and out of touch back there facing backward mind you. So there is the first option. The last resort option is the stairway. Trust me. When you get on that T packed full of Red Sox fans say excuse me excuse me excuse me all the way to the back by the stairs where you then stand or sit on the stairs like the rock star you are. People might get slightly annoyed at your persistence to get to the back, well sure, but once they see that seat you scored, they’ll envy you like crazy. If you are worried about getting your clothes dirty, either stand or put something below you when you sit. Either way, there’s spacious room to read or do work without having to hear someone’s entire break up conversation with their boyfriend on cell phone or having to smell someone’s nasty armpit as they raise it above you to grasp the pole.

Reap the benefits if ya can:

Monthly T passes are fairly expensive. Certain people may be eligible to get theirs at a discount or totally free. If you are disabled, you can get a disability T pass that will only make you pay 25 cents each time you take the bus or T. I believe the same goes with the elderly individuals. Also, if you are a student, most schools in Boston have a program you can sign up ahead of time and get passes for a year, through your school, at a discount price. Finally, many employers will offer free T Passes. Many times you just simply have to ask them.

These are only a few of several ins and outs of the T Boston subway system. At a later date, perhaps a sequel will be published. Oh, the possibilities.

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