Features, Tips and Trends, Tips

Elevating Your MBTA Riding Experience

This summer, I sat (well … more frequently stood) alongside the 216 million annual riders of the MBTA subway as I commuted from Boston College to my internship in Charlestown, Mass. On my 40-minute rides to and from my office, I couldn’t help but observe the variety in the city around me. From nurses in scrubs to button-downed business men and women, double-strollers and fast walkers to the infamous loud talkers, no ride was ever the same. Despite this, I did pick up some patterns and establish routines to romanticize my rides. Whether a quick trip down the C line from Cleveland Circle or a trek to North Station to transfer to the commuter rail, here are some suggestions to make the most of your T riding experience!

Map Out Your Course of Travel

The MBTA can be confusing for a new rider. What are all the colored lines? And why do some have letters attached to them? To brace yourself for a smooth ride, it’s important to be familiar with the ins and outs of the MBTA. 

There are four main lines of the MBTA system, each with a color name and distinct pathway through the city: green, blue, orange, and red. The green line, the most complex, travels east and west and has four divisions, each numbered B through E. As the train heads west and reaches Kenmore station, it diverges into offshoots from the city. This line is the most relevant for BC students, as three stops—Reservoir, Cleveland Circle, and Boston College—are within a mile of BC’s campus.

To avoid getting off at the wrong stop, plug in your route before stepping foot on the T. Most map applications have a transit feature to identify your path. Mark the station before your exit so you know when to push the sidebars to signal your stop is next. If you will be in a time crunch or have a set time for arrival, allow yourself more travel time than needed in case of unexpected inconveniences. 

No matter the distance or line traveled, each one-way T ride currently has a fare of $2.40. You can pay in cash upon arrival, but for the quickest travel, purchase a CharlieCard and load it with money in advance. You’ll simply tap your card on a kiosk either at the station or after you step on the train. 

Brace Yourself for Surprises

I’m here to help you further optimize the MBTA system. But to do so, I need to be upfront that the MBTA isn’t the most reliable transportation system out there. It’s frustrating when a 20-minute commute turns into a 40-minute ride because the train car shows up 10 minutes late due to ongoing traffic lights. And don’t get me started on the B line’s indefinite construction. Yet there are pleasant surprises, like when I’m greeted with a new tram at Government Center and get first pick of the seats, or when it’s announced that a train will be express from Fenway to Reservoir, and I arrive home 15 minutes early. 

The MBTA is full of surprises, so it’s best to give yourself plenty of time to embrace them. Be patient when a train suddenly stops running at Kenmore, and you have to hop off and onto another line. Clap along with fans warming up their vocals on their way to a concert, or soak in the lively energy of Red Sox nation after a win. Surprises make life more interesting—be the person who welcomes spontaneity. 

Keep Personal Belongings in Order

Alongside preparation for your travel itinerary, prepare yourself for the journey on the train. Before you board, have your method of payment ready, whether it’s your stocked Charlie Card or $2.40 in cash. No one likes to wait behind the person blocking entry into the train. 

You’ll want to shuffle through your belongings as little as possible, so organize your bag to easily pull out your AirPods, a granola bar, or sunglasses. Have a podcast or playlist downloaded in case the internet becomes spotty when the train goes underground. Put your phone away in a closed pocket so you can hold onto a handlebar when the train is too full to claim a seat. 

Pause … and Pull Out the Patience 

We’ve all been there: When you turn your earbuds down but leave them in your ears to listen to the conversations and sounds around you. On the T, embrace this moment. Not to eavesdrop on the gossip and giggles around you, but to gather further awareness of your environment. You’re bound to notice something new in your surroundings. 

Amid the chaos and uncertainty of the world, the everyday scenes are filled with great excitement. It’s the subtle risk a young boy takes to stand in the doorway so an elderly man has time to step on the train with his walker. It’s the smile I receive from the little girl waving in her stroller, and the compliment on my Colorado water bottle that makes me proud of my home state. These little moments of connection surround us every day. 

On the T, many of us are so caught up in our own worlds that it’s hard to be patient during disturbances. Try to take a breath after you get cut off boarding the train. Look up after you turn on that playlist and smile at the six-year-old who keeps bumping you with their backpack. Say thank you as you exit. The drivers might not be the only ones who need to hear it. Riding the T reminded me of the significance of everyday routines. I just had to unplug for a few minutes to see them more clearly.

September 7, 2023