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Friday, October 19, 2007

Boston T

posted by on October 19 at 6:19 AM


I tried to make up for my ridiculous limo ride yesterday by taking the Boston T to Logan Airport this morning. It took 40 minutes to get across Boston and to the Logan International Airport during the tail end of rush hour here. Best of all it was, er, free. I couldn’t figure out where to buy a ticket and no one asked me for one when I boarded the train. The T’s underground stations are pretty grimy, but the aboveground parts of the system are beautiful.

But Logan? What a shithole. It’s like the Greyhound Terminal in downtown Chicago in the early 1980s. Ugly like Logan doesn’t happen by accident. Someone did this on purpose.

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Ah, Boston. I used to visit my SO there often and loved being able to take the night train from DC to Boston and grab the T to a station near his apartment in Somerville. Then I could walk to his apartment in 5 minutes.

I love the underground T stations b/c it brings home just how OLD that system is. It really is just trolley cars in tunnels--so unlike the sleek/boring Metro in DC.

Posted by Michigan Matt | October 19, 2007 6:47 AM

I think you are supposed to pay the drivers with coins, but, strangely, if you only have cash you wad it up and stick it in a little metal slot. They don't take cards, except when getting on in a tunnel.

Thanks what I recall, for future reference.

Posted by Jude Fawley | October 19, 2007 6:58 AM

I believe you can buy tokens at the larger stations, or pay cash to the driver at the small stops. Or something. It's a pretty messed up system.

Logan wasn't designed - it metastisized over many years into the oozing tumor it is today. It's so horrible, airports in Providence, RI and Manchester, NH are slowly-but-surely taking over its business.

Posted by Providence | October 19, 2007 7:02 AM

Chicago. Boston.

It's kinda cool that Dan Savage is taking this tour of cities I can consider moving to after Prop. 1 goes down in flames and it becomes apparent that there's no Prop. 2 waiting in the wings to take its place.

Here in Seattle, we rely on buses. Buses that keep erratic schedules, buses that are usually late but may be early, buses that may never show up at all. Seattle is a city that every day sends a message to its residents, "Buses are for losers. If you care about your time and your schedule, drive." *

This is the Seattle of Ron Sims and the two Mikes, O'Brien and McGinn. It's my dear hope that, once people like me are gone, people like the two Mikes can get elected to the Seattle City Council and serve alongside their soulmates David Della and Nick Licata. And you can have your Governor Rossi. And Erica Barnett, Josh Feit, Knute Berger, and Joni Balter can be the most influential journalists in the city when it comes to transportation and planning decisions.

Yes, it's my dear hope that you all will get the Seattle you deserve.

* Just this morning I got to my bus stop a few minutes early, and the bus simply did not show up. I stood there staring in the distance, fearful that if I sat there actually doing something productive on my laptop, the bus driver would miss me and zip right by.)

Posted by cressona | October 19, 2007 7:13 AM

They got rid of tokens a year or two ago and replaced them with cards. On regular stations you have to go to a card-making machine -- much like the Sounder. But BC is on the B line, a street-level stop. I haven't done those since the token days, but I guess you were supposed to put $2 in the fare box.

Government Center, where you switched from the Green to the Blue, is hardly the aesthetic gem of the T, though it's also one of it's busiest stations. Basically; the Green Line is the college student line, so who cares; the Blue Line is the blue-collar laborer line, so again, who cares. If you'd wanted to see the nice stations, you'd've had to go on the Red Line (which goes to Harvard and MIT).

Anyway. The MBTA is 109 years old. If it's a little dingy, it's because it's been around forever. And despite those 109 years and dingy stations and fare increases and card-swipe systems, it's still the #1 way that people get around Boston. (Take that, light rail haters.)

Posted by K | October 19, 2007 7:28 AM

Dan - we no longer have tokens. You have to buy a ticket, much like in DC where you can add money to it. On certain routes of the above ground T, the ride is free between certain distant stations, which is what I suspect happened to you.

And I will agree - Logan International Airport is a pit and MassPort who runs it, has been demolishing/building that friggin' POS airport since I moved to the Boston area 25 years ago. You're lucky your gate didn't disappear while you were waiting for your flight hom.

Posted by RG | October 19, 2007 7:28 AM

I was in Boston this summer, and stayed at my brother's place in the North End, and from there took a 10 minute water taxi to Logan. I think it was $10. I could have taken the T for only $2, but how cool is it to be able to take a quick boat ride to the airport? And I have to say, as horrendous as the Big Dig has been, the whole North End area is so much nicer now that the highway is under ground. It's such a great city to walk around in.

Posted by Emily G | October 19, 2007 7:41 AM

Oh cool. I was in Milwaukee this summer and drove my mom's Cressida everywhere. Sorry, please do continue with the town/name dropping.

move along

Posted by heywhatsit | October 19, 2007 8:24 AM

"It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression 'as pretty as an airport.'

Airports are ugly. Some are very ugly. Some attain a degree of ugliness that can only be the result of a special effort. This ugliness arises because airports are full of people who are tired, cross, and have just discovered that their luggage has landed in Murmansk...and architects have on the whole tried to reflect this in their designs."

Douglas Adams -- Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul

Posted by Douglas Adams | October 19, 2007 9:22 AM


posts 5 and 6 are correct. The MBTA has switched to Charlie Card. Tokens went out about two years ago. they had a few issues during implementation.

and yes, the red line has the newest and best stations. orange line stations are in the middle. the green lines are being upgraded. for decades, they had high floor LRT, which was slower and less reliable than the subway lines.

the new silver line connects downtown with the airport under the harbor. it has not yet been connected with the BRT segment.

you should check out the multimodal station on the red line at Harvard Square. there is a trolley bus tunnel next to a subway station.

and note that the commuter rail services out of north and south station run all-day and two-way. Boston had many old rail lines to convert to transit.

Posted by eddiew | October 19, 2007 9:49 AM

Defending the T.
A)It is the oldest system in the US. (Yes kids, older than the NYC subway)
B) I think the grimy stations have s sort of urban chic, like the NYC subway.
C) Logan is not that ugly. Attractive, hardly, but C'Mon, have you flown through Dulles?

Posted by StrangerDanger | October 19, 2007 10:02 AM

Another Boston ex-pat here, the aboveground part that's in the picture is the part that runs through Brookline, which is "where all the Jews and doctors live." Walk outside of Brookline into neighboring Allston and you immediately see the difference. The brick sidewalk ends and the concrete one begins, almost exactly on the border. The decorative plants are gone, no nice wooden benches, etc...

The aboveground parts for the college kids are (or at least were a few years ago) akin to Seattle bus stops, only longer. Even the Harvard and MIT stops, underground, are somewhat dank, but with touches of art here and there.

Posted by JC | October 19, 2007 10:05 AM

Lived in Boston in the early 80s. The T was great. A train came every 8 minutes. Even during blizzards. Only complaint was that service (the Red Line)didn't extend over to Cambridge much beyond Harvard Square (now Alewife). You'd have to bus from there to go to places like Belmont and Arlington. The southern and western suburbs were much better served.

The Green Line destinations did seem to take longer to get to. Had a friend in Brookline - which isn't far from downtown Boston where I lived - and getting to her place took about 40 minutes on the T.

Logan is depressing. Most of east Boston is depressing as well. It's like a dreary, sad, black-and-white movie about post-war London.

Posted by Bauhaus | October 19, 2007 10:13 AM

Logan's a shithole? Gee, that's funny, I was there last week, as well as JFK and Hartsfield. All about the same from what I saw. Now, if you REALLY want to see a shithole, check out Philly. From someone who supposedly flies a lot, you sound awfully na´ve.

Posted by Fifty-Two-eighty | October 19, 2007 10:46 AM

Count me as another vote in favor of the older underground stations. Park Street is a masterpiece; it even smells great. And the lovely grating steel noise!

The lesson of the T is this: if you want a decent transit system, Step One is "start a hundred years ago".

Posted by Fnarf | October 19, 2007 10:52 AM


Yeah, my bus left three minutes early this morning. I watched hopelessly as the damn thing passed by. I was only a half block away! With Metro, you basically have to get to your stop five minutes early. Then, you can look forward to the bus being ten minutes late, assuming it shows up at all.

Posted by keshmeshi | October 19, 2007 10:58 AM

Since we're griping about buses, I just want to add: fuck the 36. Not only does it smell bad from all the homeless drunks, but I've regularly waited for 20 minutes and seen no buses pass by, then had two show up at the same time - the one in front packed with people, and the one in back nearly empty.

Posted by Greg | October 19, 2007 11:05 AM

Keshmeshi @16:

With Metro, you basically have to get to your stop five minutes early. Then, you can look forward to the bus being ten minutes late, assuming it shows up at all.

Metro ought to incorporate that guidance into their riders handbook.

Posted by cressona | October 19, 2007 11:27 AM

Fnarf - It's the creosote! Well, that's what I'd bet my 20 bucks on. Smells better than gasoline. Arlington green line station (for all intents and purposes an extension of Park St.), and Government Center blue line stations are cool, too.

Hardly ever drove (got driven) into Boston as a kid. Always took the Red Line. It wasn't so much the traffic that was prohibitive but finding a place to park was nearly impossible.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | October 19, 2007 11:42 AM

Boylston, I mean. The one with the ancient street car tucked off on some unused spur track. Arlington station sucks.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | October 19, 2007 11:45 AM

Yes, Logan is really ugly, but they have that rule that restaurants can't charge more for food in the airport than they do in the city. Paying 8 bucks for a McDonalds burger just ruins the aesthetic appeal of prettier airports. That little rule is so totally worth the ugly.

Posted by satyrgrl | October 19, 2007 12:00 PM

@3... Totally agree about Manchester and Providence taking over. I used to fly into Logan when visiting my parents in Maine, since it was ridiculously less expensive than Portland. But, for the past 6-7 years I have flown into Manchester -- Southwest flies there so fares are pretty low all around, and I don't have to deal with Logan or the drive (or the bus) out of Boston.

Posted by Julie | October 19, 2007 12:01 PM

if you look at that photo you could easily imagine it as a new station where Alaska Way is if you tore it down and if the train would be heading to Sea Tac.

Posted by -B- | October 19, 2007 12:11 PM

yeah, the Boston subway is cramped, slow and noisy but it does generally get you there. The airport is indeed ugly. I remember when the modernist eastern airlines terminal was torn down. After that it just decayed and festered. Have they extended the subway to the actual terminals yet?

Posted by MSW | October 19, 2007 12:50 PM

Here's a link to the truly stunning new Beijing Airport, designed by Foster and Partners, to be completed in 2008.

Truly majestic --if only they all looked like this:

Posted by Original Andrew | October 19, 2007 1:55 PM

In terms of airport beauty, nothing - NOTHING - can or will ever top the Saarinen TWA terminal at JFK. (In its days of glory, that is.)

And once again - don't even start to argue, 'Cause you'd just be wrong, wrong, wrong. There haven't been books solely about the place for nothing.

Posted by Wowza | October 19, 2007 7:10 PM

Boston (actually Salem north of town) was my pre-Seattle home. Haven't been back since before the change to cards, in fact I didn't even know about it. The things one learns from the Slog--thanks 5 and 6!

After 10 years out here the T sounds like heaven. One agency controlling the entire public transport system for the whole region, meaning no political turf battles, no monorail vs light rail dilemmas, no having to transfer over to a whole different system just because you have crossed a county line. Rush hour service that actually goes in both directions (why? why on earth? does the King County Metro not provide any busses for those of us who live in Seattle and commute to the east side?) A service that everyone uses--college students, homeless people, suburbanites and snooty old money Back Bay matrons stand or sit next to each other and no one even notices. The stations may not exactly sparkle, but the T is safe, cheap and reliable, at least it was in the late 90's.

As for the airport, yes Logan sucks but I'm with 14 on Philly. I wonder if that rude ugly bitch at the US Air counter there has been fired yet?

Posted by david | October 19, 2007 8:18 PM


Here in Seattle, we rely on buses. Buses that keep erratic schedules, buses that are usually late but may be early, buses that may never show up at all. Seattle is a city that every day sends a message to its residents, "Buses are for losers. If you care about your time and your schedule, drive." *

* Just this morning I got to my bus stop a few minutes early, and the bus simply did not show up. I stood there staring in the distance, fearful that if I sat there actually doing something productive on my laptop, the bus driver would miss me and zip right by.)

Don't worry, buses in Boston are just like this as well. The subway is only marginally more reliable.

For what it's worth, the GM of the MBTA, Dan Grabauskas, lives about 3 minutes from one of our commuter rail lines, but doesn't take it to his job in Boston because "it's not convenient". Instead, he drives 35 miles which probably takes at least 2 hours given the route he would have to take. Personally, I think the head of a transit system should actually have to ride it on a fairly regular basis.

Posted by Tape | October 20, 2007 5:14 AM

Caught this post via a boston news blog site. I have lived in Boston most of my life although I did live in Seattle for a year. I miss the Stranger and Dan Savage (we have the Boston Phoenix but it is not nearly as cool).
Depending on where you're going and how badly you need to get there, the T can totally suck or run fairly reliably.
I was shocked by the bus system when I lived in Seattle (1993-1994). In a good way. My experience with buses was that they were awful - the buses in Boston absolutely suck. But the buses in Seattle were amazingly punctual - I really couldn't believe it. I suppose a lot could have changed since then, I've heard traffic has gotten a lot worse there.
Too bad that monorail doesn't really go anywhere.

Posted by Matt | October 20, 2007 7:52 AM

You know, the more I think of it, there really isn't an airport in the world that I actually like. It's just a matter of degree of dislike.

Funny, that statement pretty closely applies to public transit as well.

Posted by fifty-Two-Eighty | October 20, 2007 1:30 PM

Dan, you probably flew Alaska to Boston from Seattle? They use Terminal B which is now the terminal at Logan which has gone the longest without a refurb. It was built in 1975 and apart from stuff beyond security, it has not changed or been rehabbed.

Posted by Erik | October 22, 2007 12:53 AM

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