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Getting around Boston can be fairly simple if you follow these simple guidelines.
Don't be shy. At each of the Boston's T Stations, there's someone manning a booth located downstairs from street level where you can ask your questions. Booth masters sometimes don't look at you and sometimes they are hard to hear through their plexiglass barriers, but don't be put off.
The ubiquitous fare tokens are no more; you now must purchase a "Charlie Ticket" (paper and purchased from automated machines located at each station) for your fare of $2 point to point, or $1.70 point to point on a "Charlie Card" (plastic and purchased in advance). These tickets/cards have a magnetic strip on one side (that hold the stored value of the ticket) and are inserted in an entry turnstile and pop out at the other end when you go through. DON'T THROW YOUR TICKET AWAY as you can add more fare value at any of the automated machines. There are four city subway lines colored green, red, blue, and orange; a "rapid transit bus" silver line; and commuter rail lines colored purple (unless you are traveling some distance out of the city, you probably will not ride on the commuter rail). The silver line bus services the Convention Center/waterfront area to and from South Station, where there is the red line. The red line runs from Braintree north through Quincy to South Station to Park Street Station and on to Cambridge at Kendall/MIT and Harvard. The green line runs from Lechmere in East Cambridge south to North Station and Haymarket (Faneuil Hall Market), to Park Street, and then out to Copley and Kenmore (Fenway Park) where there are branch lines going further west to Brookline and Boston College. Logan Airport is on the blue line in East Boston then crosses under the harbor to the Aquarium and on to Government Center. The orange line runs between North Station and Chinatown to Back Bay (the Prudential Center area). There is NO central station for the four subway lines, instead the lines cross each other at Park Street for the red and green, at State Street for the blue and orange, at Government Center for the green and blue, and at Downtown Crossing (the Washington Street shopping district) for red and orange. There's no charge to transfer between lines at these stations. At $2 point to point, and since downtown Boston is a compact area easily and safely walkable, it's recommended the subway is best for inclement weather and when you destination is at a distance from your starting point. For instance, downtown to Kenmore and Fenway Park, or to and from Logan Airport, or downtown to Cambridge. The MBTA is one of the oldest subway lines in the US and stations are sometimes reflective of that status (trains have A/C, stations don't). Trains are usually clean, well lit, and mostly safe (uniform police are present both at stations and on the trains; the orange line can be dicey south of Back Bay). The "T" has a good web site at www.mbta.com that has an interactive map of all the transit lines showing each station and its surroundings, as well as a trip planner function. The "T" may not be the best in transit, but it sure beats driving in the city. UNLESS YOU LIKE TAKING ABUSE AND HAVE NERVES OF STEEL, forget the car and walk, take a cab, or ride the "T". Boston streets are not for out-of-town amatuers. You ain't in Kansas.
Before you spend your money on a trolley ticket to take a self-guided tour of the city, find out which of the three trolley companies you are using. If you take this option you can get off at a site that interests you, wander around a bit, then get on another trolley to go on to the next stop. But you cannot just hop on any trolley that comes around - you need to use the one you bought your tickets for. If the on-and-off idea doesn't hold a lot of appeal, you can go on a narrated tour of the city by trolley car and stay on the same trolley for an entire tour of a portion of the city. This is a better solution for larger groups, or if you have a lot of kids that will tire out or get impatient waiting around at trolley stops.
Allow time to figure out the new machines for purchasing the new Charlie Ticket. There's been some news and publicity about the new Charlie Ticket, which allows you to get around on the T without having to purchase lots of tokens and then figure when you have to use them and when you don't. At South Station, below street level, just before boarding the Red Line, there is a bank of machines where you can make selections on a touch screen and purchase the Charlie Ticket using either credit card or cash. There are machines for credit card purchases only and machines for cash purchases only.
Charlie Tickets are not yet available at all T stations, mostly the newer stations. Just buy a one way ticket and anticipate purchasing a token at your next station.
First you make your selection, then you put your money in a money slot that accepts dollar bills and coins. The catch is, if you're standing in front of a credit card only machine, there's no place to put your money.
Each line in the system is color coded. While the colors make easier to remember than say, a letter or number, it's also part of Boston's history.
The Blue line is named because it takes you to the ocean- it runs east under the harbor and eventually to Revere Beach. The Revere Beach station is two blocks from the ocean.
The Red Line is for Harvard (hey, it's easier than crimson). Until 1986 the north Red Line terminus was in the center of Harvard Square.
The Green Line is named for the Emerald Necklace, a series of parks created by Frederick Law Olmsted that form a chain through the City of Boston.
The Orange Line, named for Orange Street, which is now part of Washington Street, and the only part of the MBTA that ran on elevated tracks. The last of the elevated Orange Line was put underground in the mid-eighties when it was combined with the Amtrak rails.
When it comes to the actual train lines themselves, the Green Line is often where people get most confused. After Copley, the Green Line splits into the B, C, D and E train. The B, C and D can get you to Kemore. The E can not. It's worth repeating - The E Line will not take you to Kenmore which is where you will get off for Fenway Park. The B line heads out to Boston College and can be agonizingly slow as it seems to stop every couple hundred feet to pick up a neverending stream of BU and BC students during the school year. The C line goes towards Cleveland Circle with stops at Coolidge Corner and parts of Brookline. The D Line travels through Brookline towards Newton. The aforementioned E Line takes you to the Pru (the Prudential), Symphony Hall, the Longwood Medical Area, the museums, Northeastern University and into Mission Hill and Jamaica Plain.
The non-trolley Lines (Red, Blue and Orange) are usually faster for getting around the city since they're not bound to traffic laws like the Green Line. The Red Line is probably the most diverse T Line due to its course which runs from the neighborhoods of Dorchester and Mattapan to the affluent Beacon Hill and Cambridge.
The Blue Line is the cheapest way for you to get to the airport and there are shuttle buses to the different terminals once you reach the Airport Station. The new Airport station, completed in June, 2004, gives arrival and departure information on the platform for all flights.