The Boston Subway

How to Get Around Boston on the "T"

Boston subway - Red Line train car, photographed between Harvard Square and Porter Square stations / Boston Subway - www.boston-discovery-guide.com
The subway's Red Line, photographed between Harvard Square and Porter Square

The Boston subway - locally we call it the "T" - is the easiest way to get around the city, other than walking.

However, there are some important things that you need to know to get the most value from it:

- You can easily reach most tourist attractions by T. 

- Boston's T is relatively cheap - in fact, it's a bargain - compared with subways in other U.S. cities such as Washington D.C.

- You can get a 7-day ($18) link pass for unlimited use on the subway, local buses, Inner Harbor ferry, and Zone 1A of the Commuter Rail. 

 

Why to Take Boston's Subway

Later Weekend Hours in 2014!

Starting in March or April of 2014, the T (including the Silver Line) will run until 3am on Saturday and Sunday evenings, with the last train leaving the city around 2:30.  If lots of people use the late service, it could become permanent.

Additionally, the 15 most popular bus routes will also run until 3am.  These include routes 1, 15, 22, 23, 28, 32, 29, 57, 66, 71, 73, 77, 111, 116, 117.

Dating from 1897, the Boston subway is the oldest in the United States - and once you ride on it, this fact will not surprise you. 

Compared with newer subway systems in other American cities and around the world, our cornerstone of the Boston public transportation system is downright shabby.

Park Street Station on the Green Line level of the Boston Subway - www.boston-discovery-guide.com
Inside Park Street Station, waiting for the Green Line

But despite being old and quirky, Boston's subway offers benefits: 

  • Taking the T, when possible, almost always beats driving and parking in the city - unless you have lots of patience, a driver, and bundles of money to spend in Boston parking garages.
  • Even those neighborhoods without their own T stations, such as the North End, most of the South End, and parts of Charlestown, are just a short walk away from a station.
  • You'll love the great views of the Charles River when crossing it on the Red Line

And once you get used to its quirks, the T is actually easy to use. 

 

Boston subway map - plus more essentials  

The T's five color-coded lines - Red, Green, Orange, Blue, and Silver - serve many (but not all) Boston neighborhoods plus parts of Cambridge, Somerville, Revere, Malden, Brookline, Newton, Milton, and Quincy. 

Boston subway map  / Boston Subway - www.boston-discovery-guide.com

As you can see, the western end of the Green Line has several branches (B, C, D, E - that's right, no A - don't ask!) and the southern end of the Red Line has 2 branches (Mattapan and Braintree).  If you're taking one of the lines with branches, be sure to check the sign at the front of the first car to verify the destination.

Boston subway Silver Line bus, photographed on Washington Street in Boston's South End / Boston Subway - www.boston-discovery-guide.comThe Silver Line of the Boston subway consists of 2 sections, with 2 routes each. 

One section (SL1 and SL2) provides service from South Station to Logan Airport (SL1) and from South Station to several points in South Boston, including the Black Falcon Cruise Terminal and the Institute of Contemporary Art (SL2). 

Because the SL 1 and SL2 buses travel partly underground as well as on surface roads, MBTA classifies them as part of the subway system.  Most Bostonians call them buses, because that's what they are.

The other two Silver Line sections (SL 4 and SL5; and no, there's no SL 3) use buses and only above-ground roads, and MBTA considers them part of the bus system, which makes sense.  The SL 4 and SL 5 routes provide service between South Station and Dudley Square in Roxbury, traveling along Washington Street in the South End.

Boston subway Green Line trolley, photographed on Huntington Ave in Boston's Fenway neighborhood / Boston Subway - www.boston-discovery-guide.com
Boston subway's Green Line Trolley, photographed on Huntington Ave in the Fenway neighborhood

All of the Boston subway lines have some above-ground stations.  As you might imagine, this slows the progress of the trains, especially the Green Line, as cars and pedestrians cross the tracks in front of them. 

Actually, only the Red, Orange, and Blue lines have subway cars that are trains.  The Green Line has trolleys, considered light rail. The Silver Line uses regular buses and duel-fuel (diesel and electric) buses.

Most of the time, Boston's subway system is fairly efficient, except for when breakdowns or other delays occur.  A fast, heavy snowstorm, for example, will bring above-ground sections to a halt.

As you can see from the MBTA map, additional lines weave in and out among subway lines.  Some are bus routes, and some are commuter rail lines.  The blue lines on the right side of the map represent ferry service in the Inner and Outer Boston Harbor. 

 

LinkPass - Perfect for Boston Visitors

If you're visiting Boston, you can save money by getting a Daily, Weekly, or Monthly LinkPass, which provides unlimited use of the Boston subway, local bus, Inner Harbor ferry, and commuter rail Zone 1A (which includes the stations in and very near the city). 

The $18 Weekly Visitors Pass is by far the best deal if you're going to be here more than a day but less than 4 weeks.  One-way T tickets cost $2.50, so if you're planning even a couple of T rides per day during the course of a week, you can save a lot of money. 

You can also get a regular stored value card called the "CharlieCard" which gives you a 20% discount.  

However, you'll save more money with the LinkPass if you're planning to make more than 9 1-way trips in a week.

You can buy LinkPasses at the fare vending machines in T stations, or at the full-service T store at the Downtown Crossing Station (M-F, 8am-5:30pm). 

To get a CharlieCard, ask one of the station attendants for the card, and then go over to a fare vending machine and added money to it (choose $5, $10, or $20 - cash and credit cards accepted).

You can find more - much, much more - information about fares on the MBTA website.  The best page for finding an overview is:  Fares and passes  

 

Where to Find the MBTA Map and Info Online

You can access the MBTA map and related information about the subway system on line at the MBTA website.  Bookmark this essential link that you need for T information:   MBTA map   

Rather than repeat information that you can easily find on the MBTA map, I'll give you a quick tour of the most useful bits, and also point out what you can safely ignore.

Click on the MBTA map.  See the tab near the top marked "Interactive Street Map"?  Click on that, zoom in, and you can get street map views.  Find a specific address or neighborhood, and you can determine the closest subway, bus, and other public transportation options. 

Now, located the colored bars labeled "Red Line," "Orange Line," and so forth near the upper right corner.  Click on these to get station-specific information, including connecting bus lines, accessibility information, and parking information.  If you need accessibility, please note that a few stations are still not accessible.  

If you need to print a map, you'll find links to .pdf (printable) versions in the upper right corner.

You'll also see links to schedules in the upper right corner.  If you're visiting Boston from another country, you may be accustomed to subways, trains, and buses arriving and departing according to a schedule.  Please be aware that being on schedule doesn't happen here. 

Boston subway schedules are only useful for telling you approximate service start and end times, and intervals that would be between stops barring other things such as traffic backups. 

Since delays and changes of various sorts do happen, the details of the schedules are meaningless

Haymarket station on Boston subway's Orange and Green Lines  / Boston Subway - www.boston-discovery-guide.com
Haymarket Station, on the T's Orange and Green Lines

Very useful, though, are the station links on the right side of the screen. 

Click on any of them, and you'll get detailed information about things like how many bike spaces are available, a photo of the station, service alerts (if you need accessibility options such as working elevators, be sure to check these as elevators often don't work), and detailed trip planning information. 

The only thing that's missing is a description of the very cool public art and the performers found in and near some stations.

You'll also find T maps at several points in all subway stations and near bus stops on the Silver Line routes.

 

More important things to know about Boston's T

Boston subway hours

Operating hours vary slightly by line.  The earliest morning departure time is 5:01am, and the latest evening (early morning, actually) departure time is 1:05am. 

This link to the T Frequency Schedule will give you the big picture and "peak" vs "non-peak" hours for each line, as well as the scheduled interval between trains for various periods within the day. 

Like the schedules for each line, the Frequency Schedule isn't necessarily accurate but it will give you a general idea of what to expect, especially if you're planning to use the T on the weekend when service is sparse on some lines.

Tip:  If you're planning to enjoy some of Boston's nightlife and then return to your hotel on the T, remember that bars can stay open until 2.  Your last drink will probably need to be well before last call . . . unless you want to call a cab.

Inbound vs Outbound - Definitions

Boston subway system Outbound sign at a Silver Line stop on Washington Street in Boston's South End / Boston Subway - www.boston-discovery-guide.com
Outbound sign at a Silver Line stop on Washington Street in Boston's South End

Go to any Boston subway station and you'll see signs and hear announcements about "Inbound" and "Outbound" service.  You might logically infer that trains going in toward the center of Boston are "Inbound" and going out are "Outbound." 

That's more or less true, but because there's no central station where all lines converge, the switch from Outbound to Inbound occurs where lines intersect:

  • Green Line and Blue Line:  Toward Government Center is Inbound; away is Outbound
  • Red Line:  Toward Park Street is Inbound; away is Outbound
  • Orange Line:  Toward Downtown Crossing is Inbound: away is Outbound
  • Silver Line:  Toward South Station is Inbound; away is Outbound

Your best strategy?  Look carefully at the sign in the front car to see the end point where the train is going. 

The T on Google Maps

Google Maps have been upgraded to include detailed T information - quite cool!  So instead of finding your destination on the MBTA map, you can simply search by address in Google.  However, the MBTA website's has much more extensive information that's not on Google . . . yet.

Customer service by telephone

If you can't find the Boston subway information that you need on the MBTA website or if you'd simply prefer to speak with someone in person, you can get customer support by phone during certain hours. 

MBTA customer support representatives are available by phone on Monday through Friday 6:30am to 8:00pm, and Saturday-Sunday from 7:30am to 6:00pm.

Customer support phone numbers:  617-222-3200; 800-392-6100
Deaf or hard of hearing:  TTY 617-222-5146
Accessibility hotline for elevator/escalator/lift updates:  800-392-6100 - press 6 

Things to not be alarmed by

  • Lurching and screeching - Hey, the T is old...it deserves to be a little, um, quirky.  So if you're new to Boston's subway, don't be alarmed by a ride that's less than smooth.  Lurches are normal, loud screeching noises are normal ... you get the idea.
  • Unexplained stops between stations - No need to be alarmed...don't know why this happens, but it happens a lot.
  • Furry creatures with long tails running around the tracks - The good news is that as far as I know, they stay at track level and don't come up on the platform where you're waiting.  More good news...I'm pretty sure some of them are mice, not rats, although it is true that most are rats.  They're entertaining to watch if you have a long wait.  And I repeat, they do stay down at track level ... as far as I know. 

 

Boston Subway FAQs

Here are a few FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) based on questions that I've received about Boston's T (if you have other questions, use the form at the bottom of the page to ask them):

Can you bring your pet on the T?

Dog in a shopping bag on Boston's subwayYes, with some restrictions. 

During "peak" hours, when traffic is busiest, you can bring what MBTA calls "small domestic" animals in lap-sized containers. 

During "off-peak" hours, you can bring non-service dogs at the discretion of the T operators. 

The dogs must be on a leash, and must not annoy other passengers or take up a seat.

The well-behaved cutie in this photo taken on the Green Line seemed to enjoy her ride in the shopping bag and provided lots of entertainment for other passengers. 

The T welcomes service animals at all times.

Check the MBTA website to read all the details of their pet policy MBTA website. and definition of peak vs non-peak hours for each line.

Can you bring your bicycle on the T?

The short answer is that during non-peak hours, yes.  A number of restrictions apply, so you should check the MBTA bicycle guidelines carefully.  Policy seems to be evolving quickly as more and more people are using bikes for transportation and the T finds ways to accommodate them - so check the MBTA policy periodically for updates.

You'll find bike cages at some stations such as Alewife and Forest Hills, and MBTA adds more as funds become available.

 

 

Questions about Boston's Subway (The "T")?

Have a question about Boston's subway? Ask, and I'll do my best to answer.

First, though, check out what others have asked - I might have already answered the same question for someone else.

When asking your question, please fill out the whole form, including lines for name and location that say "optional."

After you send your question, you'll see a page that thanks you and asks you to set notification options. I highly recommend that you check the first 2 boxes so you'll be notified when I reply - otherwise, you'll have no way of knowing other than checking the website periodically. When you see my reply, please let me know if it was helpful!

Thanks for getting in touch, and enjoy your visit to Boston!

Susan

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Bicycle rider heading toward Charles - MGH station on Boston T - photographed from Charles Street on Beacon Hill / Boston Subway - www.boston-discovery-guide.com
Bicycle rider heading toward Charles - MGH station on Boston T - photographed from Charles Street on Beacon Hill

 

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