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The city of Boston is notorious for traffic gridlocks and temperamental drivers who often lack the driving scruples taught in traffic school. To make matters worse, parking spaces are in short supply and can be very expensive even if you do find a good one. If you are staying inside the city—or really anywhere close—for only a week or a few days, there really is no need for a car. Most hotels on the outskirts of Boston and in the suburbs have parking lots where you can leave the car—for free or for a fee, depending on the hotel—and use Boston’s first-class public transportation system to get around.
This public transportation is managed by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority , the MBTA, commonly referred to as the "T”. As you walk through the streets of Boston, you will see a common sign repeated periodically—a white circle with a bold black T in the middle. These signs are located at the T’s many access points around the city of Boston.
The T encompasses three high-speed subway lines (the Red, Orange, Blue and Silver lines) and two trolley lines (the Green line and a streetcar that runs from Ashmont to Mattapan). All of these lines are color-coded and identified by their color. The T’s subway service runs less frequently on the weekends, especially on Sunday, but during the week it is generally very reliable and efficient, especially considering the large number of passengers it services every day. During major events, like Red Sox games at Fenway Park or conferences and conventions, the T is usually prepared with even more service. The subway begins running each morning between 5:00 a.m. and 5:30 a.m., depending on the line, and continues until 1:00 a.m. However, the last "inbound" train may be as early as 12:15 a.m., depending on the station. Be warned that the T does not operate on a fixed schedule, so although it is typically dependable, there may be unadvertised delays that could make you late if you need to be somewhere on time. Construction projects may also cause delays on parts of the subway system on weekends, particularly with the Green Line north of Government Center, so check the T website in advance of weekend trips. As long as you leave a reasonable amount of time to get where you need to go, the T is a great option—during rush hour, it is often faster than taking a cab or driving and looking desperately for a place to park.Still, the T is the best way to get to the airport and take advantage of free shuttle buses, operated by the T, to deliver you to any and all terminals.
Besides the subway system, the MBTA operates a bus service with lines that go just about everywhere the subway does and to many places it does not. Figuring out the bus system can be a little trickier, but schedules are available at most subway stations and are usually posted on the sign at bus stops. Buses do run on schedule, so make sure to do your research before you go either at the T’s website or in one of the paper schedules. Asking the bus driver whether the bus goes where you want to go is a good idea, as they’re usually pretty good about helping.
The Silver Line
The Silver Line, another bus route that has routes from downtown Boston to South Bostonand Roxbury and, most important for travelers, a direct line from South Station to Logan Airport. Silver line buses are generally very spacious and have ample space for luggage—taking one to Logan or going into Boston from Logan can be more convenient than taking the Blue Line to Airport Station and riding one of the Logan buses from there. This, however, all depends on where you are staying. Be sure to acquire some maps online or in print before you go and decide on the easiest route that way.
The Commuter Rail
Lastly, for those staying outside Boston, there is yet another means of public transport for getting from the suburbs into the city. The commuter rail, shown as a purple line on some Boston subway maps, runs into and out of Boston from towns as far away as Ipswich, Worcester, and Providence. Complete information may be found at www.mbta.com, which includes a machine translation service allowing you to select 14 languages. If you’re staying in a suburb of Boston, there may not be a station within walking distance of your hotel. Every college in the suburbs will tell you how to get there by commuter rail -- just consult the college web site. Brandeis University is on the Fitchburg line. Wellesley Colelge is on the Framingham line.
Most stations have ample parking spaces as well. As with the T, commuter rail schedules are widely available at stations and online. Tickets for the rail are a bit more expensive and depend on the number of “zones” you travel through on your journey—traveling from Providence to Boston is of course more expensive than going from South Station to Back Bay. The two main commuter rail hubs in Boston are North Station and South Station. Tickets for the rail can be purchased at some stations or aboard the train if tickets are not for sale where you get on. Take note—the commuter rail is extremely efficient. Delays are rare, and if you are a minute late for your train, you will probably miss it. Be on time.