How to Ride the T




One of the best ways to get to know Boston, and of course, to get around, is to ride ye olde T.

The MBTA, or the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, controls the many forms of public Transport in the Boston area. There are trains, busses, and even boats, but the most reliable form of transport in Boston is also probably its most famed: the T, or, the Blue, Orange, Red, Silver, and Green lines.

For this instructable you will need:
Money to ride the T, $2.00 or under, depending on your method of payment, one way.

Riding the train is an item on the Neighbors Project Neighbors Checklist.

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: Make Sure You've Got Fare.

There are three ways to pay on the T. At above-ground stops with no ticket machines, cash is accepted. At other stops, you will need to use a CharlieTicket, or add money to a CharlieCard. The CharlieTicket is paper, and while you can add money to it over and over again, it is not very durable. It's kind of intended to be a one-time use thing, for tourists or forgetful people who left their CharlieCard at home. CharlieCards look kind of like credit cards. You can get one at the larger train stations, such as Kenmore or South Station, for free. The CharlieCard will also save you money. It costs $1.70 to take the T one way with the Charlie Card, where as it is $2.00 with a Charlie Ticket or Cash.

Step 2: Research Schedules and Rails.

Figure out what stop is your stop. (Hasn't anyone made t-shirts of different stops yet?) You can probably take a short walk and find a stop near you, but it might be helpful to visit the MBTA website ( and get a better idea of what stops you are near and where they are in relation to everything else. The B, C and D Green lines can be really close together, so be sure to check them all out if you live near them; one may turn out to be faster, another less crowded, etc. Oh, and get to know game days for the Red Sox; you're pretty much better off avoiding the Green and Red lines on game days. Trust me.

Be aware that you pretty much have to pass through downtown to get from one end of town to another if you use the T, particularly if you have to connect. The T-maps are NOT to scale! You may be able to get there faster by taking a cross town bus or biking part or all of the way.

Get acquainted with where trains go and at what times, or just use this trip planner. Look at where lines intersect (such as, you can switch from the red to green line at Park Street.) Since trains come every ten minutes at most, it would be silly to look up arrival departure times for trains. However, you should know when the trains start running in the morning and stop running at night to plan your trip. This is REALLY important if you're heading out for the night and may be decidedly less sober in a few hours, and therefore ill equipped to do any research. If all you have is cash, make sure you can use cash at your stop. Finally, the MBTA offers a T-alert system, which sends you notifications about delays of 15 minutes or more on your usual route.

Step 3: Wait for the Train.

This may look easy, and it generally is, but many a new rider has gone afoul by not figuring out the whole "Inbound" "Outbound" thing. Get on the train going the wrong direction is a surefire way to feel super stupid. Here's the trick: ignore the inbound, outbound part and concentrate instead on the destination on the sign (e.g., "Alewife"). Of course, all names in New England sound about the same, so don't get lulled into the whole, I'm looking for the line that sounds vaguely British. You'll go no-where. If you're on the red line going inbound, or especially, the green line going outbound, be sure you that you get on the right train, as these trains fork off and go different places.

OK, once you've double checked that you're waiting in the right place, this part's easy. Sit or stand and wait for the T. Try to get there on time, it will save you some stress and you'll feel more organized if you're the first one standing in line when the doors open up.

Boston is, as we all know, student central. So this is usually a good chance to watch sort of adults making total asses of themselves in public. Or maybe that's you?

Step 4: Get On.

Stand behind the yellow line so that you don't get hit by the T (need we say that this would be painful?). If you're at an above ground stop and the driver's doors are the only ones that open, sorry guys, you probably have to pay fare, so get on and do so. Wait for the people getting off to actually get off before you get on. It's polite, and makes it easier for you to get on in the long run. Try to move in as far as possible as to prevent parts of the train from getting crowded and uncomfortable. If there are seats available, sit in them, but give them to those who need them most before you steal them.

Savvy riders position themselves in the train so that they're closest to their exit when they get off.

Step 5: Ride.

Ride the train. If you're having any doubts about the direction of your life, riding the T might be just what you need. No other transit system has quite as many ads for educational degrees of all kinds (want to be a welder? A biochemist? A lawyer? There's a program for you!). It'll make you think twice about that phD in English you were considering.

If you're standing, you will betray yourself as a rube fresh off the turnip truck if you do the whole falling over when the train starts moving thing. Even if you weren't a physics major, you should be able to figure out how to position your feet and body so that you will absorb the motion of the train once it starts moving or needs to jerk around. Long-time riders have the ninja skills to ride without holding on to anything, but it's best for you to grab on to a pole if you're standing. Obviously, mind your hands if you're sharing the pole; no one wants to feel you, no matter how much Sephora you wear.

If you need to switch lines to get to where you're going, do so, being on the lookout again for the whole "inbound" "outbound" trick. Keep listening to your music, but don't get invasive by singing along or something - the other passengers won't like it. You could also read a book or the newspaper, whatever you like to occupy yourself with. Just don't get too distracted and forget to get off at your stop. Or fall asleep, which can be extremely tempting.

During the week day rush hours, you'll quickly discover that silence is the norm. During other times, particularly at night and weekends, it's much more acceptable to chat with your friends along with you. Just be mindful that your fellow passengers may as well be wearing t-shirts that say, "I am silently judging you."

If the T is at all crowded, please, please take off your backpack/messenger bag/purse/rucksack/etc and place it between your feet or hanging in front of you. People who wear bags that intrude and knock other people are fair game for heckling and dirty, dirty looks from their fellow passengers.

Finally, please, please, please do not ever pretend to pole dance or encourage your friends to pole dance on the T pole. The lighting on the T makes you look incredibly unsexy. Again, "I am silently judging you."

Step 6: Get Off.

So, it's your turn to get off the train. If the T is crowded and you're having trouble getting off, don't be afraid to say "Coming off!" If you say it with some level of authority and start moving forward, people will usually get out of your way.

Now that you've arrived, make sure that the trains run late enough for you to get back, and consider the fare home. As in, don't spend your ride money on a beer.

Step 7: Speak Up.

Loved your ride? Hated it? Rather than making random t-shirts about the MBTA, call or e-mail them to share your thoughts here.

Be the First to Share


    • CNC Contest

      CNC Contest
    • Teacher Contest

      Teacher Contest
    • Maps Challenge

      Maps Challenge

    28 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    If you have an android device, there is an useful app for MBTA Green Line riders. Install MBTA Green Line Tracker from Google Play Store. It has arrival time predictions, MBTA alerts, MBTA maps etc... try it!

    Ha! I was just in Boston this last week and had a 7 day link pass and it was so useful! Probably would have been nice to read this beforehand tho! Would have saved me some time figuring everything out :)


    9 years ago on Introduction

    We have something like that here. South Lake Union Trolleys. You may know it as The SLUT.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    and downtown and uptown, eastside and westside, and in Brooklyn, depending on where you are - going downtown means taking the uptown...


    One thing they taught me in that bestest of cities was to never ever say northbound or southbound - say headed uptown or downtown. :D


    11 years ago on Introduction

    How do you navigate crossing the streets on the outside T stops, especially by Harvard? There are no rail crossing gates and it seemed more dangerous than a New York City street crossing the tracks and then walking on that thin strip of sidewalk to get to the train stop in the median of the street.

    2 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    No, we were there for a short visit a while back and explored the neighborhood a bit. Interesting riding the T for the first time. Didn't know if you should only board at the front in the first car to pay the fare. It was crowded. The buses from NYC get you to Boston at warp speed though.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    See - if you buy a bottle of pills at Target they might put in a "T" token. 'Course, I got mine in Pasadena, Calif. where I live, thus reducing the likelihood of ever getting to use it. But I'm going to use it next week!

    1 reply

    11 years ago on Introduction

    Totally enjoyed this one! Being stuck on the left coast for the last 25yrs I still have fond memories of my Medford to Cambridge commute 5 days a week back in the 70's. Do the cars still smell bad in the summer??