Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority

The MBTA provides services in five different modes (boat not pictured) around Greater Boston.
Locale Greater Boston
Transit type Commuter rail, rapid transit, light rail, bus, BRT, trolleybus, ferryboat
Number of lines 12 (commuter rail)
4 (rapid transit)
5 (light rail)
4 (trolleybus)
4 (ferryboat)
183 (bus)[1]
Number of stations 123 (commuter rail)
51 (rapid transit)[2]
74 (light rail)[3][4]
22 (BRT)[5]
Daily ridership 1,299,900 (weekday, all modes)[6]
Chief executive Beverly A. Scott
Headquarters Massachusetts State Transportation Building
10 Park Plaza, Boston, MA 02116
Began operation 1897 (light rail)
1901 (rapid transit)
1964 (MBTA)
System length 1,193 miles (1,920 km) (total)
38 miles (61 km) (rapid transit)
26 miles (42 km) (light rail)
8 miles (13 km) (BRT)
751 miles (1,209 km) (bus and trackless trolley)
368 miles (592 km) (commuter rail)[7]
Track gauge

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, often referred to as the MBTA or The T, is the public operator of most bus, subway, commuter rail, and ferry routes in the greater Boston, Massachusetts area. Officially a "body politic and corporate, and a political subdivision" of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,[8] it was formed in 1964. Its immediate predecessor, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), was immortalized by The Kingston Trio in the popular folk-protest lament "M.T.A." Locals call it "The T", after its logo, the letter T in a circle, adopted in the 1960s and inspired by the Stockholm Metro.[9] In 2008, the system averaged 1.3 million passenger trips each weekday, of which the subway averaged 598,200, making it the fourth busiest subway system in the United States.[10][11] The Green Line and Ashmont–Mattapan High Speed Line comprise the busiest light-rail system in the U.S, with a weekday ridership of 255,100.

The MBTA operates an independent law enforcement agency, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Police. In 2006, 31.60% of workers in the city proper commuted by public transport.[12]

The MBTA is one of only two U.S. transit agencies that operates all of the five major types of terrestrial mass transit vehicles: regional (commuter) rail trains, "heavy" rapid transit (subway/elevated) trains, light rail vehicles (trolleys), electric trolleybuses, and motor buses. The other is Philadelphia's Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA).[13]

The MBTA is the largest consumer of electricity in Massachusetts,[14] and the second-largest land owner, after the Department of Conservation and Recreation.[15] In 2007, its CNG bus fleet was the largest consumer of alternative fuels in the state.[16]


Main article: History of the MBTA

Mass transportation in Boston was provided by private companies, often granted charters by the state legislature for limited monopolies, with powers of eminent domain to establish a right-of-way, until the creation of the MTA in 1947. Development of mass transportation followed both existing economic and population patterns, and helped shape those patterns.


Shortly after the steam locomotive became practical for mass transportation, the private Boston and Lowell Railroad was chartered in 1830, connecting Boston to Lowell, a major northerly mill town, via one of the oldest railroads in North America. This marked the beginning of the development of American intercity railroads, which in Massachusetts would later become the MBTA Commuter Rail system and the Green Line "D" Branch.


Starting with the opening of the Cambridge Railroad on March 26, 1856, a profusion of streetcar lines appeared in Boston under chartered companies. Therefore, in spite of changes of the companies, Boston is the city with the oldest continuously working streetcar system in the world. Later, many of these companies consolidated, and animal-drawn vehicles were converted to electric propulsion.

Subways and elevated railways

Streetcar congestion in downtown Boston led to the establishment of subways and elevated rail, the former in 1897 and the latter in 1901, resulting in the Tremont Street Subway, the first active subway in the United States. These grade-separated railways both added additional transportation capacity and avoided delays caused by intersections with cross streets.[17] The first elevated railway and the first rapid transit line in Boston came three years before the first underground line of the New York City Subway, but 34 years after the first London Underground lines, and long after the first elevated railway in New York.

Various extensions and branches were built to the subway in both directions, bypassing more surface tracks. As more elevated lines were built, streetcar lines were cut back for faster downtown service.


The Boston Elevated Railway started replacing rail with buses in 1922. In 1936, it started replacing rail with trackless trolleys. The last Middlesex and Boston Street Railway streetcar ran in 1930. By the beginning of 1953, the only remaining streetcar lines fed two tunnels - the main Tremont Street Subway network downtown and the short tunnel (now the Harvard Bus Tunnel) in Harvard Square.

Public enterprise

The old elevated railways proved to be an eyesore and required several sharp curves in Boston's twisty streets. The Atlantic Avenue Elevated was closed in 1938 amidst declining ridership and was demolished in 1942. As rail passenger service became increasingly unprofitable, largely due to rising automobile ownership, government takeover prevented abandonment and dismantlement. The MTA purchased and took over subway, elevated, streetcar, and bus operations from the Boston Elevated Railway in 1947.[18]

In the 1950s, the MTA ran new subway extensions, while the last two streetcar lines running into the Pleasant Street Portal of the Tremont Street Subway were substituted with buses in 1953 and 1962.

On August 3, 1964, the MBTA succeeded the MTA, with an enlarged service area.[19] The original MTA district of 14 cities and towns was expanded to 78 cities and towns. The MBTA was formed partly to subsidize existing commuter rail operations. As this happened, the MBTA acquired 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.[19]

The MBTA assigned colors to its four rapid transit lines in 1965, and lettered the branches of the Green Line from north to south. Shortage of streetcars among other factors caused bus substitution of rail service on two branches of the Green Line. The "A" Branch ceased operating in 1969 and was replaced by the 57 bus.[19] The portion of the "E" Branch from Heath Street to Arborway was replaced by buses in 1985.[19]

The MBTA purchased bus routes in the outer suburbs to the north and south from the Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway in 1968.[19] As with the commuter rail system, many of the outlying routes were dropped shortly before or after the takeover due to low ridership and high operating costs.

In the 1970s, the MBTA received a boost from the Boston Transportation Planning Review area-wide re-evaluation of the role of mass transit relative to highways. Producing a moratorium on highway construction inside Route 128, numerous mass transit lines were planned for expansion by the Voorhees-Skidmore, Owings and Merrill-ESL consulting team. The removal of elevated lines continued, and the closure of the Washington Street Elevated in 1987 brought the end of rapid transit service to the Roxbury neighborhood. Between 1971 and 1985, the Red Line was extended both north and south, providing not only additional subway system coverage, but also major parking structures at several of the terminal and intermediate stations.[19]

Kickback scheme

On April 30, 1981, MBTA General Manager James O'Leary found on his desk an envelope with the words "To Jim O'Leary For B.M.L." written on it. Thinking that it read "To Jim O'Leary From B.M.L.", O'Leary opened the envelope meant for MBTA Chairman and state Secretary of Transportation Barry M. Locke. Inside were four progressively smaller envelopes, with the smallest containing ten $100 bills and an anonymous note instructing Locke to use a lower price when determining how much a Belmont man would have to pay for abandoned MBTA land. That evening, O'Leary went to the home of Massachusetts Attorney General Francis X. Bellotti and turned over the money and the envelopes to him.[20]

The following day, Locke was placed on an unpaid leave of absence from his posts after Governor Edward J. King learned that Bellotti was investigating Locke for accepting kickbacks in connection with MBTA leases in South Station and the contract for advertising space on MBTA vehicles.[21]

A total of seventeen people, including Locke, and one corporation would be indicted for their roles in the kickback scheme.[22]

On February 2, 1982, Locke was convicted on five counts of conspiracy to commit bribery and larceny.[23] He became the first and currently only Massachusetts Cabinet Secretary to be convicted of a felony while in office since the state's adoption of the cabinet system in 1970.[24][25] At sentencing, Judge Rudolph Pierce, who described Locke as having an "insatiable appetite" for payoffs, sentenced Locke to 7 to 10 years in Walpole State Prison.[25]

In the 21st century

By 1999, the district was expanded further to 175 cities and towns, adding most that were served by or adjacent to commuter rail lines, though the MBTA did not assume responsibility for local service in those communities adjacent to or served by commuter rail.

A turning point in funding occurred in 2000. 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 5% state sales tax. The MBTA now had to live within this "forward funding" budget.

The Commonwealth assigned to the MBTA responsibility for increasing public transit to compensate for increased automobile pollution from the Big Dig. The T submerged a nearby portion of the Green Line and rebuilt Haymarket and North Stations during Big Dig construction. However, these projects have strained the MBTA's limited resources, since the Big Dig project did not include funding for these improvements. Since 1988, the MBTA has been the fastest expanding transit system in the country, even as Greater Boston has been one of the slowest growing metropolitan areas in the United States.[26] When, in 2000, the MBTA's budget became limited, the agency began to run into debt from scheduled projects and obligatory Big Dig remediation work, which have now given the MBTA the highest debt of any transit authority in the country. In an effort to compensate, rates underwent an appreciable hike on January 1, 2007. Increasingly, local advocacy groups are calling on the state to assume $2.9 billion of the authority's now approximate debt of $9 billion, the interest on which severely limits funds available for required projects.[27]

With the 2004 replacement of the Causeway Street Elevated with a subway connection, the only remaining elevated railways are a short portion of the Red Line at Charles/MGH, the Red Line between Andrew Station (once the train exits the tunnel beyond Andrew Station going southbound) and proceeding southbound to either Ashmont Station on the Ashmont line or Braintree Station on the Braintree line, and a short portion of the Green Line between Science Park and Lechmere.

In 2006, the creation of the MetroWest Regional Transit Authority saw Framingham, Natick, Weston, Sudbury, Wayland, Marlborough, Ashland, Sherborn, Hopkinton, Holliston, and Southborough subtract their MWRTA assessment from their MBTA assessment. Communities that are also members of other RTAs such as CATA, MVRTA, LRTA, WRTA, GATRA, and BAT may also subtract their RTA assessment from their MBTA assessment. The amount of funding the MBTA received remained the same; the assessment on remaining cities and towns increased but is still allocated by the same formula.

On October 31, 2007 the MBTA reestablished commuter rail service to the Greenbush section of Scituate, the third branch of the Old Colony service.[28] Rail renovation on the Green Line "D" Branch took place in the summer of 2007. New, low-floor cars on the line were introduced on December 1, 2008.

In 2008, Daniel Grabauskas (then the MBTA General Manager), revealed that the MBTA cut trips from published train and bus schedules without informing passengers, referred to as “hidden service cuts”, saying this misrepresentation of service had been happening for years. Grabauskas said this practice has been ended.[29]

On May 28, 2008, a westbound trolley on the Green Line "D" Branch slammed into a stopped train between the Waban and Woodland stations shortly after 6 p.m. At least seven people were injured, and the operator of the moving train, Terrese Edmonds, 24, was killed.[30] On May 8, 2009, two Green Line trolleys collided between Park Street and Government Center when the driver of one of them, 24-year-old Aiden Quinn, was text messaging his girlfriend.[31] A rule banning cell phones for operators while driving their bus, train, or streetcar was put into place days later.[32]

On June 26, 2009, Governor Deval Patrick signed a law to place the MBTA along with other state transportation agencies within the administrative authority of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), with the MBTA now part of the Mass Transit division (MassTrans).[33][34][35][36] The 2009 transportation law continued the MBTA corporate structure and changed the MBTA board membership to the five Governor-appointed members of the Mass DOT Board.[37]

Rhode Island, which has funded commuter rail service to Providence since 1988, paid for extensions of the Providence/Stoughton Line to T.F. Green Airport in 2010 and Wickford Junction in 2012. The Fairmount Line, located entirely in the southern reaches of Boston, has been undergoing an improvement project since 2002. The first new station, Talbot Ave, opened in November 2012.[38]

Immediately following the Boston Marathon Bombings on April 15, 2013 the MBTA was partially shut down and National Guardsmen were deployed in various stations around the city.[39]

MBTA operations and services


Main article: MBTA Bus

The MBTA bus system is the nation's seventh largest by ridership and comprises over 150 routes across the Greater Boston area. The area served by the MBTA's bus operations corresponds to that served by the subway, but is significantly smaller than that served by MBTA's commuter rail operation. Seven other regional transit authorities also provide bus services within that larger area, these being Brockton Area Transit Authority, Cape Ann Transportation Authority, Greater Attleboro Taunton Regional Transit Authority, Lowell Regional Transit Authority, Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority, Montachusett Regional Transit Authority, and Worcester Regional Transit Authority. All of these authorities have their own fare structures and subcontract operation to private bus companies, but in many cases their buses serve as feeders to the MBTA commuter rail.[40]

Within MBTA's bus service area, transfers from the subway are free if using a CharlieCard (for local buses); transfers to the subway require paying the difference between bus and the higher subway fare (for local buses; if not using a CharlieCard, full subway fare must be paid in addition to full bus fare). Bus-to-bus transfers (for local buses) are free unless paying cash. Many of the outlying routes run express along major highways to downtown. The buses are colored yellow on maps and in station decor.

The Silver Line is the MBTA's first service designated as bus rapid transit, even though it lacks many of the characteristics of bus rapid transit. 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 until January 1, 2007, when the fare system was revised. The "Washington Street" segment runs along various downtown streets, and mostly in dedicated bus lanes on Washington Street itself. It is categorized as a "bus" service for fare purposes.[41]

The "Waterfront" 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 bus outside. Service to Logan Airport began in June 2005. The Waterfront segment is classified as a "subway" for fare purposes.[41]

A third, tunneled segment is proposed to connect the two lines for through service. Currently a transfer between phases is possible at South Station. "Phase 3" 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 expand upon existing Crosstown Buses.

The MBTA contracts with private bus companies to provide subsidized service on certain routes outside of the usual fare structure. These are known collectively as the HI-RIDE Commuter Bus service, and are not numbered or mapped in the same way as integral bus services.[42]

Four routes connecting to Harvard Station (Red Line) still run as trackless trolleys; there was once a much larger trackless trolley system.[43]

In FY2005, there were on average 363,500 weekday boardings of MBTA-operated buses and trackless trolleys (not including the Silver Line), or 31.8% of the MBTA system. Another 4,400 boardings (0.38%) occurred on subsidized bus routes operated by private carriers.[44]


The subway system has three rapid transit lines—the Red, Orange and Blue Lines, and two light rail lines—the Green Line and the Ashmont–Mattapan High Speed Line (designated as part of the Red Line). The system operates according to a spoke-hub distribution paradigm, with the lines running between central Boston and its environs. All four colored lines meet downtown at a square configuration, and the Orange and Green Lines (which run parallel) meet directly at two stations. The Red Line has two branches in the south—Ashmont and Braintree, named after their terminal stations. The portion from Harvard to Park Street Under represented the city's first rapid transit subway, 1912. The Green Line has four branches in the west—"B" (Boston College), "C" (Cleveland Circle), "D" (Riverside) and "E" (Heath Street). The Green Line's underground section between Park Street Station and Boylston Street at the Boston Common was the first subway line in the United States, in 1897. The "A" Branch formerly went to Watertown, filling in the north-to-south letter assignment pattern, and the "E" Branch formerly continued beyond Heath Street to Arborway. The colors were assigned on August 26, 1965 in conjunction with design standards developed by Cambridge Seven Associates,[45] and have served as the primary identifier for the lines since the 1964 reorganization of the MTA into the MBTA.

In FY2005, there were on average 628,400 weekday boardings on the rapid transit and light rail lines (including the Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit), or 55.0% of the MBTA system.[44]

The Orange Line is so named because it used to run down Orange Street (now lower Washington Street), the Green Line because it runs adjacent to parts of the Emerald Necklace, the Blue Line because it runs under Boston Harbor, and the Red Line because its northernmost station used to be at Harvard University, whose school color is crimson.[46]

The three rapid transit lines are incompatible; trains of one line would have to be modified to run on another. Orange and Blue Line trains are similar enough that modification of some Blue Line trains for operation on the Orange Line was considered, although ultimately rejected for cost reasons; some of the new Blue Line cars from Siemens Transportation were tested on the Orange Line after hours before acceptance for revenue service on the Blue Line. There are no direct track connections between lines, except between the Red Line and Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line, but all except the Blue Line have unused connections to the national rail network, which have been used for deliveries.[47]

A segment of Green Line tunnel from Park Street opened in 1897, making it the first subway in the United States. The downtown portions of what are now the Green, Orange, Blue, and Red lines were all in service by 1912. Additions to the rapid transit network occurred in most decades of the 1900s, and continue in the 2000s with the addition of Silver Line bus rapid transit and planned Green Line expansion. (See History and Future plans sections.)

Commuter rail

Main article: MBTA Commuter Rail

The MBTA Commuter Rail system is a regional rail network that shares its tracks with inter-city passenger and freight trains. In 2007, the system was composed of twelve lines, three of which have branches, and another branch provides access to Gillette Stadium for special events in or near Foxborough. The rail network operates according to a spoke-hub distribution paradigm, with the lines running radially outward from the city of Boston. Eight of the lines converge at South Station, with four of these 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. 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."[48]

There is no passenger connection between the two sides. The opportunity for a North–South Rail Link, in association with the burying of the Central Artery in the Big Dig, was furthered by designing the Big Dig tunnel to permit the construction of a rail bed below the level of the automobile roadbeds.[49][50] Passengers continue to take the Orange Line between Back Bay and North Station, or the Red and Orange, or Red and Green Lines between South and North stations, or take a bus or taxicab.

A south-side commuter rail line, the Greenbush Line, recently completed construction and testing and opened for commuting on October 31, 2007. A south-side branch to Fall River and New Bedford is in the planning stages.[51] Track exists to extend the Middleborough/Lakeville Line to restore passenger service to Cape Cod, formerly part of the Old Colony Railroad lines.

Each commuter rail line has up to nine fare zones (previously ten on some lines), numbered 1A and 1 through 8. Riders 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, such as the Anderson Regional Transportation Center. If a local vendor is available, riders must purchase a ticket before boarding to avoid a surcharge. Fares range from $1.70 to $7.75, with multi-ride and monthly passes available.[52] In FY2005, there were on average 135,900 weekday boardings, which was 11.9% of the MBTA system as a whole.[44]

The MBTA commuter rail network was the first in the nation to offer free Wi-Fi onboard trains. MBTA recommends use of the service for simple web services.[53] After a successful test on the Framingham/Worcester line, the MBTA has been increasing Internet connectivity for passengers. It now offers at least two wi-fi-enabled coaches per train with the hopes of adding access to the other coaches by the end of the 2010.[53]


Main article: MBTA boat

The MBTA Boat system comprises several ferry routes via Boston Harbor. One of these is an inner harbor service, linking the downtown waterfront with the Boston Navy Yard in Charlestown. The other routes are commuter routes, linking downtown to Hingham, Hull, Salem and Quincy. Some commuter services operate via Logan International Airport.

All boat services are operated by private sector companies under contract to the MBTA. In FY2005, the MBTA boat system carried 4,650 passengers (0.41% of total MBTA passengers) per weekday.[44] The service is provided through contract of the MBTA by Boston Harbor Cruises (BHC) and Water Transportation Alternatives, Inc. (WTAI) under the name Boston's Best Cruises.


Main article: MBTA accessibility

The MBTA contracts out operation of THE RIDE, an on-demand pickup and dropoff service for people with mobility challenges. Paratransit services carry 5,400 passengers on a typical weekday, or 0.47% of the MBTA system.[44][54] The three private service providers under contractual agreement with the MBTA for THE RIDE service are: Greater Lynn Senior Services (GLSS),[55] Veterans Transportation LLC,[56] and The Joint Venture of TTI/YCN, LLC.[57]


The MBTA operates park and ride facilities at many outlying stations, with a total capacity of almost 46,000 automobiles. The number of spaces at stations with parking varies from a few dozen to over 2,500. The larger lots and garages are usually near a major highway exit. Lots often fill up during the morning rush hour. There are some 22,000 spaces on the southern portion of the commuter rail system, 9,400 on the northern portion and 14,600 at subway stations. The parking fee for a day was raised by $2 on November 15, 2008, to $7 at subway parking garages, $5–6 at subway surface lots, $4 at commuter rail surface lots, and $3 at commuter ferry lots. Most stations also have parking racks for bicycles. Management for a number of parking lots owned by the MBTA are managed by LAZ Parking Limited, LLC.[58]

Pay by Phone

Customers parking in MBTA-owned and operated lots with existing cash honor boxes can pay for parking online or via phone while in their cars or once they board a train, bus, or commuter boat.[59][60]


From time to time the MBTA has made various agreements with companies that contribute to commuting options. One company the MBTA selected was Zipcar; the MBTA currently provides Zipcar with a limited number of parking spaces at various subway stations throughout the system.[61]

Public funding

Fares and fare collection

The MBTA has various fare structures for its various types of service. The CharlieCard electronic farecard is accepted on the subway and bus systems, but not on commuter rail, ferry, or paratransit services. Passengers pay for subway and bus rides at faregates in station entrances or fareboxes in the front of vehicles; MBTA employees manually check tickets on the commuter rail and ferries.

Since the 1980s, the MBTA has offered discounted monthly passes on all modes for the convenience of daily commuters and other frequent riders. One-day and seven-day passes, intended primarily for tourists, are available for buses, subway, and inner harbor ferries.

The MBTA has periodically raised fares to match inflation and keep the system financially solvent. The latest, a substantial increase effective July 2012, raised public ire including an "Occupy the MBTA" protest. A transportation funding law passed in 2013 now limits MBTA fare increases to 5% every two years.[62]

Subway and bus

As of 1 July 2012, all subway trips (Green Line, Blue Line, Orange Line, Red Line, Ashmont-Mattapan Line, and the Waterfront section of the Silver Line) cost $2.00 for CharlieCard holders and $2.50 for CharlieTicket or cash payers.[63] Local bus and trackless trolley fares (including the Washington Street section of the Silver Line) are $1.50 for CharlieCard holders and $2.00 for others.[64] All transfers between subway lines are free with all fare media. Passengers using CharlieCards can transfer free from a subway to a bus, and from a bus to a subway for the difference in price ("step-up fare").[65] CharlieTicket holders can transfer free between buses, but not between subway and bus except between rapid transit and the Washington Street section of the Silver Line.[65] Paying directly with cash is only available on buses, Green Line surface stops, and the Ashmont-Mattapan Line; it is discouraged as it slows boarding times.

The MBTA operates "Inner Express" and "Outer Express" buses to suburbs outside the subway system. Inner Express bus trips cost $3.50 with a CharlieCard or $4.50 without; Outer Express trips cost $5.00 with and $6.00 without. Free transfers are available to the subway and local buses with a CharlieCard, and to local buses with a CharlieTicket.[64]

The fare system, including on-board and in-station fare vending machines, was purchased from German-based Scheidt and Bachmann, which developed the technology.[66] The Charlie Cards were developed by Gemalto and later by Giesecke & Devrient.[67][68] It replaced the use of tokens, which had been used on transit systems in Boston for over a century, in 2006.

Until 2007, not all subway fares were identical - passengers were not charged for boarding outbound Green Line trains at surface stops, while double fares were charged for the outer ends of the Green Line "D" Branch and the Red Line Braintree Branch. As part of a general fare hike effective January 1, 2007, the MBTA eliminated these inconsistent fares.[69]

Commuter Rail

Commuter rail fares are on a zone-based system, with fares dependent on the distance from downtown. Rides between Zone 1A stations - South Station, Back Bay, most of the Fairmount Line, and eight other stations within several miles of downtown - cost $2.00, the same as a subway fare with a CharlieCard. Fares for other stations range from $5.50 from Zone 1 (~5-10 miles from downtown) to $11.00 from Zone 10 (~60 miles). All Massachusetts stations are Zone 8 or closer; only T.F. Green Airport and Wickford Junction in Rhode Island are currently Zone 9 and 10.[70]

Interzone fares - for trips that do not go to Zone 1A - are offered at a substantial discount to encourage riders to take the commuter rail for less common commuting patterns for which transit is not usually taken. Discounted monthly passes are available for all trips; 10-ride passes at full price are also available for trips to Zone 1A. All monthly passes include unlimited trips on the subway and local bus; some outer-zone monthlies also offer free use of express buses and ferries. An cash-on-board surcharge of $3.00 is added for trips originating from stations with fare vending machines.[70]


The Inner Harbor Ferry costs $3.00 per ride, and is grouped as a Zone 1A monthly commuter rail pass. Single rides cost $8.00 from Quincy/Hull or Hingham to Boston, $11.00 from Quincy/Hull or Hingham to Logan Airport, and $16.00 from Boston to Logan Airport.[71]

The Ride

Fares on The Ride, the MBTA's paratransit program, are structured differently than other modes. Passengers using The Ride must maintain an account with the MBTA in order to pay for service. Fares are $4.00 for trips originating within three-quarters of a mile of fixed-route bus or subway service, and $5.00 for trips originating further away.[72]

Discounted fares

Discounted fares (As of 1 July 2012, $1.00 for the subway and $0.75 for local buses) as well as discounted monthly local bus and subway passes are available to seniors over 65, and passengers who are permanently disabled who utilize a special photo Charlie Card (called "Senior ID" and "Transportation Access Pass", respectively). Holders of these passes are also entitled to 50% off the Commuter Rail. Passengers who are legally blind ride for free on all MBTA services (including express buses and the Commuter Rail) with a Blind Access Card.[73]

Children 11 and under ride for free with an adult, and students aged 12–17 receive a 50% discount on fares until 11 pm on school days. Student discounts require a Student Charlie Card issued through the holder's school and is good until around the time when school vacation begins.[73]


MBTA Operating Revenues
Revenue Source Amount
(FY 2008 budget)
State Sales Tax $756M
Fares $430M
Municipal Assessments $143M
Parking, Real Estate Tenants, etc. $37.4M
Real Estate Sales and Misc. $20.8M
Advertising $11.0M
Federal government $8.0M
Interest $3.8M
Utility reimbursement from tenants $2.8M
Total $1.413B

Since the "forward funding" reform in 2000, the MBTA is funded primarily through 16% of the state sales tax (with minimum dollar amount guarantee), which is set at 6.25% state-wide. The authority is also funded by passenger fares and formula assessments of the cities and towns in its service area (excepting those which are assessed for the MetroWest Regional Transit Authority). Supplemental income is obtained from its parking lots (reserved for passengers), renting space to retail vendors in and around stations, rents from utility companies using MBTA rights of way, selling surplus land and movable property, advertising on vehicles and properties, and federal operating subsidies for special programs.

The FY2008 budget includes $1,037M for operating expenses and $374M in debt and lease payments.

The Capital Investment Program is a rolling 5-year plan which programs capital expenses. The draft FY2009-2014 CIP[74] allocates $3,795M, including $879M in projects funded from non-MBTA state sources (required for Clean Air Act compliance), and $299M in projects with one-time federal funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Capital projects are paid for by federal grants, allocations from the general budget of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (for legal commitments and expansion projects) and MBTA bonds (which are paid off through the operating budget).

The FY2010 budget was supplemented by $160 million in sales tax revenue when the statewide rate was raised from 5% to 6.25%, to avoid service cuts or a fare increase in a year when deferred debt payments were coming due.[75]

Capital improvements and planning process

The Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization is responsible for overall regional surface transportation planning. As required by federal law for projects to be eligible for federal funding (except earmarks), the MPO maintains a fiscally constrained 20+ year Regional Transportation Plan for surface transportation expansion, the current edition of which is called Journey to 2030. The required 4-year MPO plan is called the Transportation Improvement Plan.

The MBTA maintains its own 25-year capital planning document, called the Program for Mass Transportation, which is fiscally unconstrained. The agency's 4-year plan is called the Capital Improvement Plan; it is the primary mechanism by which money is actually allocated to capital projects. Major capital spending projects must be approved by the MBTA Board, and except for unexpected needs, are usually included in the initial CIP.

In addition to federal funds programmed through the Boston MPO, and MBTA capital funds derived from fares, sales tax, municipal assessments, and other minor internal sources, the T receives funding from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for certain projects. The state may fund items in the State Implementation Plan (SIP) - such as the Big Dig mitigation projects - which is the plan required under the Clean Air Act to reduce air pollution. (As of 2007, all of Massachusetts is designated as a clean air "non-attainment" zone.)

In 2005, the administration of then-governor Mitt Romney announced a long range transportation plan that emphasized repair and maintenance over expansion.

Due to the financial constraints on the MBTA budget, it is expected that funds for all further expansion projects will be funded with money outside the MBTA's budget. A state transportation bond bill is currently being used to fund the Green Line extension to Somerville and Medford, and planning for commuter rail service to Fall River and New Bedford.

Projects underway and future plans

Blue Line

There is a proposal to extend the Blue Line northward to Lynn, Massachusetts, with two potential extension routes having been identified. One proposed path would run through marshland alongside the existing Newburyport/Rockport commuter rail line, while the other would extend the line along the remainder of the BRB&L right of way.[76]

In addition, the MBTA has committed to designing an extension of the line's southern terminus westward to Charles/MGH, where it would connect with the Red Line.[77][78] This was one of the mitigation measures the Commonwealth of Massachusetts agreed to as part of the Big Dig.[79]

Green Line

To settle a lawsuit with the Conservation Law Foundation to mitigate increased automobile emissions from the Big Dig, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts agreed to extend the Green Line north to Somerville and Medford, two suburbs currently under-served by the MBTA. This plan, now under contract, starts at a relocated Lechmere Station, and terminates at Route 16 and Mystic Valley Parkway in Medford (on the Mystic River). The original settlement-imposed deadline was December 31, 2014.[80] There will be an expected daily ridership of 8,420.[81] On September 26, 2013, the MBTA announced the awarding of a $393 million contract to the joint venture of White, Skanska and Kiewit to build the first phase of the Green Line extension, bringing service to Union Square and Washington Street in Somerville.[82] It is expected to serve passengers beginning in 2017.

Another mitigation project in the initial settlement was restoration of service on the "E" Branch between Heath Street and Arborway/Forest Hills. A revised settlement agreement resulted in the substitution of other projects with similar air quality benefits. The state Executive Office of Transportation promised to consider other transit enhancements in the Arborway corridor.[83]

Orange Line

Assembly Square is a planned new station on the MBTA's Orange Line. No new rail trackage is being added, since the Orange Line already runs through the site, but a new platform is being added to allow passengers to board and disembark. The new station is expected to open in 2014.[84] It is being built alongside the planned Assembly Square project (which is also located right next to the Assembly Square Marketplace).

Silver Line

Silver Line Phase III comprises the connection of the two halves of the Silver Line via an underground busway from Boylston station on the Green Line to South Station. An initial proposed route involved a mile long tunnel connecting separate portals located at Charles and at Tremont streets.[85] The local Tufts Medical Center has vehemently protested this proposal, citing possible problems with traffic and noise.[86][87] Environmental review and preliminary engineering were expected to be completed by the end of 2008.[88] A federal funding decision was expected in 2010, with possible construction starting in 2011 and ending in 2016.[89] The MBTA has been managing project planning. As of 2010, planning and construction of the Phase III tunnel has been suspended indefinitely (without any physical construction having begun) due to funding difficulties and community opposition.

Urban Ring

The Urban Ring is a project of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, to develop new public transportation routes that would provide improved circumferential connections among many existing transit lines that project radially from downtown Boston, allowing easier travel between locations outside of downtown. The project corridor passes through various neighborhoods of Boston, Chelsea, Everett, Malden, Medford, Somerville, Cambridge, and Brookline. The capital cost for this version of the plan is estimated at $2.2 billion, with a projected daily ridership of 170,000. Fifty-three percent of the route is either in a bus-only lane, dedicated busway, or tunnel.[90] The Urban Ring would have a higher collective ridership than the Orange Line, Blue Line, or the entire commuter rail system.[90]

Commuter rail

There are several proposed extension to current commuter rail lines. A controversial extension of the Stoughton Line is proposed to Fall River, and New Bedford.[91][92] Critics argue that building the extension does not make economic sense.[93]

A 20-mile (32 km) extension of the Providence Line past Providence to T. F. Green Airport and Wickford Junction in Rhode Island opened in 2012. The Rhode Island Department of Transportation is also studying the feasibility of serving existing Amtrak stations in Kingston and Westerly as well as constructing new stations in Cranston, East Greenwich, and West Davisville. Federal funding has also been provided for preliminary planning of a new station in Pawtucket.[94]

In September 2009, CSX Transportation and the commonwealth finalized a $100 million agreement to purchase CSX's Framingham to Worcester tracks, as well as some other track, to improve service on the Framingham/Worcester Line.[95] A liability issue that had held up the agreement[96][97] was resolved. There is also a plan to upgrade the Fitchburg Line to have cab signaling and to construct a second track along a seven-mile (11 km) stretch near Acton which is shared with freight traffic, so that the Fitchburg to Boston trip will be able to take only about an hour.[98]

The state of New Hampshire created the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority and allocated money to build platforms at Nashua and Manchester.[99] An article in The Eagle-Tribune claims that Massachusetts is negotiating to buy property which has the potential to extend the Haverhill Line to Plaistow, New Hampshire.[100]

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts agreed in 2005 to make improvements on the Fairmount Line part of its legally binding commitment to mitigate increased air pollution from the Big Dig. These improvements must be complete by December 31, 2011. Four new stations will be constructed.[101] The total cost of the project is estimated at $79.4 million,[102] and will divert 220 trips from automobiles to transit.[103]

No direct connection exists between North Station and South Station. A North–South Rail Link has been proposed to unite the two halves of the commuter rail system; but, because of the high cost, Massachusetts has withdrawn its sponsorship of the proposal, in communications with the United States Department of Transportation.

Management and administration

The MBTA has a board of directors which it shares with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. The Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation leads the executive management team of MassDOT in addition to serving in the Governor's Cabinet. The MBTA's executive management team is led by its General Manager, who is currently also serving as the MassDOT Rail and Transit Administrator, overseeing all public transit in the state.[104]

The MBTA Advisory Board represents the cities and towns in the MBTA service district. The municipalities are assessed a total of $143M annually (as of FY2008). In return, the Advisory Board has veto power over the MBTA operating and capital budgets, including the power to reduce the overall amount.[105]

The MBTA's Board of Directors should not be confused with a separate Board of Directors for MBCR.

Key people

Major facilities and offices

The MBTA's buses are administered by several bus garages located throughout eastern Massachusetts:

Rail lines have their own maintenance facilities:

Major administrative facilities:

  • 10 Park Plaza (State Transportation Building), Boston
  • 45 High Street, Boston
  • MBTA Transit Police: 240 Southampton Street, Boston
  • Senior & Transportation Access Pass (TAP) / Disability Office: CharlieCard Store, Downtown Crossing Station concourse (near Arch Street exit), Boston [108]
  • Customer Service Window: CharlieCard Store, Downtown Crossing Station concourse, Boston [108]
  • Revenue Operations: 32 Alford Street, Charlestown

Employees and unions

As of 2009, the MBTA employs 6,346 workers, of which roughly 600 are in part-time jobs.[109]

Structurally, the employees of the MBTA function as part of a handful of trade unions. The largest union of the MBTA is the Carmen’s Union (Local 589), representing bus and subway operators. This includes full and part-time bus drivers, motorpersons and streetcar motorpersons, full and part-time train attendants, and Customer Service Agents (CSAs). Further unions include the Machinists Union, Local 264; Electrical Workers Union, Local 717; the Welder's Union, Local 651; the Executive Union; the Office and Professional Employees International Union, Local 453; the Professional and Technical Engineers Union, Local 105; and the Office and Professional Employees Union, Local 6.

Within the authority, employees are ranked according to seniority (or "rating"). This is categorized by an employee's five-digit badge number, though some of the longest serving employees still have only four-digits. An employee's badge number indicates the relative length of employment with the MBTA; badges are issued in sequential order. The rating structure determines many different things, including the rank in which perks are to be offered to employee, such as: When offering the choice for quarter-annual route assignments ("picks"), overtime offerings, and even the rank to transfer new hires from part-time roles to a full-time role.

Law enforcement and security

The MBTA maintains its own police force which actively patrols all areas and vehicles used by the Authority. MBTA Police conduct routine vehicle patrol, routine foot patrol, incident investigations, and specialized patrol with K-9 dogs, and other specialized methods of explosive and narcotics detection.

The MBTA also maintains several closed-circuit television facilities located throughout its service area.[110] The cameras monitor various areas including trains stations, and MBTA vehicles throughout the system on a 24-hour basis. MBTA phone numbers pasted onto the front of the fare gates can place customers having a problem directly into contact with one of these operations centers.


Ahead of the MBTA's 2009 restructuring with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), the MBTA had a total debenture of over US$ 8 billion.[111] As a direct result, MBTA fares and parking fees have increased significantly.[112] In July 2009, the MBTA proposed a 20% fare increase and significant service cuts.[113] The MBTA has endured criticism that the increases have outpaced inflation.

When the Orange Line was realigned in the 1980s, its course was altered away from the lower income areas of Everett, Chelsea, and Roxbury, where residents are less likely to own cars, and depend more on public transit, toward the more affluent towns of Malden and Medford, as well as sections of the Jamaica Plain neighborhood (where car ownership is higher, and thus, reliance on public transit is far lower). In response, the MBTA built a bus line operated by articulated silver buses equipped with specialized dispatching equipment. The MBTA named the service the Silver Line, and classified it as though it were a rail transit service. The service has been criticized in many respects, most notably for its slow speed, and the fact that it utilizes the same roads as cars and other "street" traffic, subsequently increasing gridlock and collisions, earning it the nickname "Silver Lie" among many.[114]

Transportation advocates in Boston have raised the issue that residents cannot go from one outlying area to another without first riding downtown and changing lines. The Urban Ring Project, which would provide more circumferential service, is in the planning stages and has largely not yet been implemented due to lack of funding. This problem also occurs in the Washington Metro system, where customers cannot travel between suburbs on the same side of Washington without going through downtown, and Chicago's Metra and CTA systems, where all lines lead into and out of the central business district, rather than around it.

The T stops running at 12:45 a.m. each night, despite the fact that bars and clubs in most areas of Boston are open until 2 a.m. Like nearly all subways worldwide, the MBTA's subway does not have parallel express and local tracks, so rail maintenance can only be done when the T is not running, and "with a 109-year-old system", says the MBTA press secretary, "you have to be out there every night."[115] The T did experiment with "Night Owl" bus service from 2001 to 2005, but abandoned it on account of the $7.53 per rider cost to the MBTA to keep the service open, five times the cost per passenger of an average bus route.[116]

See also


Further reading

  • Bierman, Noah, "Transit archeology: Tour of abandoned subway network offers a glimpse of how the T was built", Boston Globe, Saturday, December 26, 2009.
  • Cheape, Charles W., ISBN 0-674-58827-4
  • Lupo, Alan; Colcord, Frank; Fowler, Edmund P., Rites of way: the politics of transportation in Boston and the U.S. city, 3rd edition, Little, Brown, 1971
  • Van Hattem, Matt, "Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA): Boston's commuter railroad and transit agency", Trains magazine, Wednesday, July 5, 2006

External links


  • MBTA official site
  • Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company (MBCR)

Capital projects

  • Official EOT/MBTA Transit Commitment documents
  • State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP)
  • Official Green Line extension website
  • Official South Coast Rail website


  • History of the MBTA (official)
  • TransitHistory Discussion of the MBTA, Greater Boston Transit and national transit.
  • Boston Street Railway Association Boston-based historical organization.
  • MBTA history (archived 2007)
  • nycsubway.org — Boston Transit: The MBTA (station by station history and photographs)
  • City Record and Boston News-Letter


  • MBTA Vehicle Inventory
  • Statistics and video tours of major elements of the MBTA

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